In my last couple of posts, I wrote about getting past the initial awkwardness of initiating relationships with your neighbors so that you can fulfill God’s call to everyone to build biblical-Kingdom-organic-church-body-life community in your neighborhood. After all, Jesus didn’t tell Peter to throw down his nets to come hear him speak every Sunday morning at 11 am. He invited Him to a new Kingdom community that lived life together.
The first secret brilliant tactic
The first secret brilliant tactic that I gave you that will help in getting from stranger to acquaintance with your neighbors is to hang out where you will be visible. This enables spontaneous and frequent interaction to occur naturally. It helps “break the ice” if you will; without invading personal space unnaturally.
You will get to learn names and make observations about their lives that you can use as fodder for subsequent conversations. Depending on the individual personalities of those who live around you, this will only take you so far in an acceptable period of time.
Sure, you’ll run across some people that will open up more easily. But for many people, if you don’t take it to the next level, you’ll just have nice conversations once in a while. While you can never force a relationship to develop, you can supplement spontaneous interactions with invitations to environments where relationships can begin to form. And not just between you and another, but all that live around you. This way you don’t just form linear relationships with a bunch of separate people, but you form circular relationships that form community.
A second secret brilliant tactic
To do this, I’m going to give you another secret brilliant tactic that will help you easily provide the opportunities for acquaintances to turn into relationships.
My current book selection The Art of Neighboring helps us see the importance and practicality that parties carry in forming relationships…
Parties are natural environments in which neighbors will often take steps from being acquaintances to actually being friends. Parties create space for us to talk to others we already know and to meet people we don’t. Maybe this is the reason Jesus spent so much time at parties – he knew the power of a party. He understood they were an important means for people to share their lives with one another in very real and practical ways.
Create neutral, fun environments on a regular basis
Side note #1 about parties: In order for them to be effective for relationship-building, you’ve got to make sure the environment that’s created is welcoming, non-threatening and comfortable for those that attend. What does this mean practically? It means you do activities that make it so while staying away from activities that may not make it so. Basically, your party activities should be very neutral.
This means you don’t break out the guitar and start doing praise and worship music. It also means you don’t break out the booze and play spin the bottle! In relationship-building parties, you might play games or have a barbeque or a bonfire or watch a popular sporting event. You do things that people in your culture are used to doing to have fun.
You know how many small groups ask people to jump into sharing deep spiritual and emotional problems with others before relationships in the group naturally evolve to the point where this type of activity is appropriate and comfortable? This could be the #1 cause of why most small groups fail to achieve what they hope for.
Move the relationships along
Another note about these parties. When you invite people that you don’t know and that don’t know you all that well, there may be things that go on and people may act in certain ways that are not pleasing to God. Not that you would purposely provide opportunities to do so or that you condone sinful activities, but you must be aware and prepared to deal with this.
You have to be careful to react in ways that are loving so that relationships are built and not destroyed. You’re going to have to use discernment about where your line is and how and what you should be involved in, as well as how to deal with it while preserving relationships with those you’re called to love. (This sounds like a good topic to dig deeper into in the future!).
Remember – Jesus stuck around at parties where these types of things were happening in order to connect with people (see Luke 5:27-32). Why else would the Pharisees question Jesus’ attendance? What do you think the “sinners” they refer to when they question him were doing? It’s not like they were playing Apples to Apples and drinking slurpies!!
Remember what you’re there for, and do what’s going to move the relationships along in the best and healthiest manner.