A year after settling into our new home, we had the idea to have a little, informal block party and invite the neighbors around us whom we knew — about 15 or 20 people.
At the time, I had no grandiose visions of what God could do with that small step; I just thought it would be fun to get some neighbors together.
Four years later, I’m amazed at the community that has grown in our little village of about 200 homes. We now have a Facebook group, a neighborhood watch, running groups and tons of fun annual events: an Easter egg hunt, a Fourth of July bike parade and a Christmas party where Santa makes an appearance (along with a Christmas lights competition).
This year, we did a huge Halloween extravaganza where kids picked up treasure maps and followed them around to 12 different stations for hot chocolate, s’mores, cider, a haunted garage, hayrides, movies and popcorn. We encouraged neighbors to stay outside that evening and organized people into station teams. Not only was the night exceedingly fun for both kids and adults but it was also a huge community builder!
What’s made planning these events so rewarding is seeing how it impacts peoples’ lives. I remember sitting at a ladies’ night out event when a newly divorced woman who just moved to the neighborhood shared that it was her first time being on her own. She turned to look each woman in the eyes as she thanked us for being an open, welcoming community for her.
Community is watching someone’s kid for the day if needed. It’s having someone get your mail while you’re gone or knowing you can ask for sugar when you’ve run out. It’s watching your kids run around with 10 other kids behind your house and hearing them all laugh and yell from your kitchen window. It’s knowing that help is literally right next door when, not if, you need it.
Evaluate what you can and cannot offer. Everyone has unique gifts and unique limitations. Meeting neighbors can feel overwhelming and intimidating. I have four small children, so ongoing weekly commitments aren’t realistic, but I can plan a few parties for the year.
In our experience, the block party was a crucial entry point. Some friends of ours wanted to try a simpler version, so they set up a few folding tables and chairs and invited the few houses around them for ice cream. See my simplified but thorough notes on everything you’d ever want to know about how to throw a block party.
I keep a note on my phone for neighborhood stuff so that when I meet someone at the pool, I have a quick way to jot down names. Listen when people are talking, and remember them. It communicates that you see and value them.
There’s a vulnerability in taking the first step, especially when you have no idea what you’re doing. But often, people are just waiting for someone else to take the initiative.
When we were first starting, we didn’t have a budget. We used to buy all the food for the Easter Egg hunt as well as the eggs and candy. Other neighbors would pitch in and help cover costs and bring utensils, tablecloths, etc. We saw all of it as an investment in the neighborhood, and it really helped in the initial stages to build momentum.
Try being outside more. Take walks, spend time in your front yard, and wave and say hi to people. If you live in an apartment, spend time in the common areas. All these things say, “I’m available, I’m here.” And when your neighbor asks for help (it takes time and trust to get here), say yes if you can.
This is a big deal. People will feel more connected to the neighborhood if they’re personally invested and have served even in a small way.
One night I Googled “Block Party City of Columbia grant.” Within 10 minutes, I had filled out a few simple questions and applied for $250 for a popcorn machine — all from my iPhone. A few weeks later, we were approved! Local businesses may be willing to donate things for free as an advertisement.
When I host the neighborhood Easter egg hunt, I don’t feel the need to surprise people with Bible verses hidden in the eggs. Ultimate motives are the larger hopes, dreams and desires you have that shape who you are. My husband and I have talked about our ultimate desire to see an umbrella of God’s common grace extend over our neighborhood along with our desire for our neighbors to know Jesus Christ as their friend and Savior. We care about their gardens and jobs and kids and the bachelor’s programs they’re finishing and their aged parents. Small talk takes on new meaning when you value the ordinary parts of people’s lives without feeling like you’ve got to somehow make the conversation “get to church stuff.”
Dave Runyan and Jay Pathak put this well: “If we don’t allow people to meet any of our needs, we limit what God wants to do in our neighborhood and in our life. Our tendency is to put ourselves in positions of power — in this case, always being the one to give. ... When giving is two-sided, everyone feels a sense of worth. ... Receiving ... takes humility.”
If reading this has piqued your interest, go ahead and do it — set a date for that Block Party. Knowing our neighbours has enriched our lives in more ways than I can express. And if God can use this tired, busy mama with four little ones to build community in our neighborhood, He can use you!
*This turn of phrase comes from Dave Runyon and Jay Pathak, “The Art of Neighboring: Building Genuine Relationships Right Outside Your Door” (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2012).
This article originally appeared on EverySquareInch.net. It is adapted here with permission.
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