Those in Your Own Backyard

Try these practical ways to introduce your neighbors to Jesus

Dawn Sundstrom

When Florida fishing guide Phil Anthony (Tony to his friends) showed up at the local school to shoot hoops with the guys, he was looking for a good workout, not necessarily a place to share Christ with others.

But he found both.

Combining Everyday Life and Faith

While playing evening pickup games, his excitement for both his church and his Lord bounced around on the basketball court.

"I started playing basketball at the school just after my father died," says Dave Turnbeaugh. "Tony became one of my friends and told me that Christ was important to him. He'd invite me and the other players to dinners or musical programs at the church. He told us that Christ died for our sins and one day He was coming back to gather His people, so we'd better be prepared for that day."

"It didn't turn me off when Tony talked to me about Christ, because that was his way of life," says Dave. "I knew his personality -- he enjoyed fishing, basketball and Jesus. Those were the 3 things that he liked to talk about."

Dave was one of several guys who took Tony up on his offers and visited Tony's church. Soon Dave and his wife, Sue, gave their lives to Christ.

When Tony played basketball with non-Christians, it took Jesus to where the men lived and played. Because of their common interest, the men took Tony as he was and didn't put up spiritual defenses.

Doing something you enjoy with your neighbors helps them see Christ in you. Here are some ideas to help you bring the gospel to those nearby. Maybe among these ideas, you'll find one that fits your personality or would be just right for your neighborhood.

Being Prepared to Transition Your Conversation

Several years ago, I realized that although I'd taken the time to greet my neighbors and chitchat about small stuff, I didn't know how to transition from an everyday conversation to explaining the gospel. So my husband and I came up with a plan.

We asked Orlando and Evelyn and their daughter to our home for dinner. After we ate, and our children ran off to play, we said, "You know, we've lived as neighbors for a few years now and we've really come to care about you. You probably have already seen that our relationship with God is very important to us, but maybe you don't know why. We wanted to share a booklet with you that has meant a lot to us -- it explains how to have a personal relationship with God. Can we read it with you?"

Orlando and Evelyn said yes, and we read through Would You Like to Know God Personally? Orlando seemed ready to invite Christ into his life, but Evelyn was not. At least they both left knowing how they could receive Christ.

I've found it very helpful to have in my mind a transitional phrase like the one I just mentioned, for it helps get me to the point of communicating the gospel with people. I've used a similar phrase when I've invited over moms from my children's school.

Once I get to the booklet, it's just a matter of reading through it. If tangential questions come up while reading, I simply say, "That's a good question. Maybe as we read on, your question will be answered. If it isn't, I'll answer it at the end."

I used to fret that if people didn't like my telling them about Christ, I could lose their friendship. Then I realized that there are varying levels of friendship. I could continue having a surface-level relationship with my neighbors for years to come.

But if I never told them about my faith, our relationship wouldn't have the chance to deepen. Funny thing, though, as I've shared Christ from a heart of love for my neighbors, our friendships have gotten better than ever.

Celebrating Holiday and Special Events

Another way to lovingly present your faith with neighbors is to throw a party. Shortly after Barbara Ball moved to Florida, she decided to host an Easter brunch for her neighbors. She delivered invitations to their homes, then cooked up a tasty meal for those who came.

After the women ate, they told about their backgrounds and got to know one another in a new way. Then Barbara closed with a short, inspirational reading. The women loved it, and shortly afterward, when Barbara began a 6-week Bible study in her home, 6 women came.

When Barbara visited her mother in a retirement home, her mother told her, "I haven't been sharing my faith with many of my neighbors in [here]."

So together they decided to host an Easter brunch. When the guests arrived, they served the food and got acquainted. Then Barbara read a Christian poem and gave each neighbor a plastic egg with a Scripture verse inside. All felt they had a special time together.

The season of Lent provides many creative ways to host Christ-centered celebrations. One Good Friday we invited 2 families over for dinner, then watched the JESUS video together.

Besides asking people over, another idea is to give neighbors a gift. Giving the JESUS video at Easter shows your neighbors what the holiday is all about.

Athletes in Action, Cru's sports division, has produced exciting videos that can be given as gifts to friends with whom you want to know Christ. Currently they offer evangelistic videos for fans of basketball, football, Olympic-style wrestling, NASCAR, surfing and tennis. One of my friends gave the Left Behind book series to her sister, who became a Christian as a result.

A week or so after giving such a gift, ask your neighbor 4 questions:
1. Did you watch (or read) it?
2. Did it make sense to you?
3. Have you ever made the decision to invite Christ into your life?
4. Would you like to?

Using these follow-up questions helps you bring a neighbor to a point of decision. If they haven't watched or read your gift, let them know you're looking forward to hearing their thoughts at a later time.

Getting the Kids Involved

Finally, don't overlook the wee ones who live nearby. With 3 children of her own, Judy Gerrard noticed that neighborhood kids were often traipsing in and out of her house and yard. Instead of viewing them as a nuisance, Judy decided to invite them over all at once to hear about God's love and plan for their lives.

Together with a Christian neighbor, she opened up her place to host a "Backyard Summer Club" for 4 evenings last summer.

When 42 children gathered for crafts, games and a Bible story, the laughter and excitement filled the cul-de-sac. Judy's church coordinated several clubs to reach into the neighborhoods and formed their own material using the popular Survivor theme. Some parents dropped off their children, while others stayed to watch.

On the third night, they gave an opportunity to receive Christ, and on the last night they sent them home with "survival bags," goodie packets including a Bible.

One boy later told Judy's then 9-year-old son, "I've been reading that book you gave me."

Imagine that -- kids in the neighborhood reading the Bible.

Like this boy, there are people near you searching for God. Through your life, they can see Him. Why not run with one of these ideas that suits you as well as pickup basketball suited Tony?

No Time to Waste

A few years ago, Tony backed his fishing boat down the ramp to take a client out for a day's catch. Without warning, his heart stopped beating and he slumped over the steering wheel. He stepped into eternity, leaving his family and friends behind -- but not before giving them clear instructions of how they could follow him to be with Jesus.

"Tony and I used to go to a lot of Orlando Magic basketball games together," says Bob Schaeffer. "The whole way there and back he used to talk to me about the Savior. Sometimes I got tired of it. But now I wish I could hear him again."

We only have one brief life to tell others about Christ and the place He's preparing. Let's invite the whole neighborhood.

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