Because of the ways in which many of our neighborhoods are built, developing community can require neighbors to be more intentional in some areas than others. For example, in suburbs and rural areas where houses are built further apart, more effort must be put in to create the spontaneity, availability and frequency that’s necessary for healthy community to develop.
In order to create a living situation in which these characteristics are more natural, there are some practical things you can do. Taking some or all of these steps will help you to be more likely to succeed in building community with those around you.
Look for a neighborhood, not a house.
If you’re going to make the choice to promote and build community with those around you, you’ll have to prioritize the characteristics of your neighborhood over and above the characteristics of your individual residence. The best types of living spaces for building community will have characteristics that keep people interacting naturally. So look for neighborhoods where residences are in close proximity to each other, use common areas for navigation (like sidewalks and hallways) and have common recreational spaces (like parks and yards).
Cut down on idle time.
If you took an inventory of your time, you just may have a good 10 to 20 hours per week in there that can be totally free because you spend it on worthless activities (entertainment, etc.). Is it just me?!
Cut out less important things.
There is really nothing more important than Christian community. Therefore, you’ve got to make some tough choices with less important activities that you could and should be cutting out (church programs, taxiing the kids, etc.) or circumstances that could be changed with some lifestyle adjustments (like cutting down your commute to work).
One of the things that you may want to say no to if you have kids (and it will be challenging!) is having both parents work, which is forcing all of the other household responsibilities to eat away at time that could otherwise be free. You’re more likely to be fine if you’re a couple with no kids; but if there’s kids involved, just admit that you can’t realistically expect to have free time for community life :).
Yes, I know you “need” to have second income to pay for all those expenses you choose to have. So, along with saying no to the second job, you’ll have to say no to unnecessary expenses. Heck, you may even need to downsize from that home you’re in for something that fits your new budget. Hey, no one said this would be easy!
When you take an inventory of all the things you do and where they truly fall as priorities, you will find out how many not-so-important things you do. You might even need to delete some (cough, cough) online accounts . But don’t stop reading this blog!! 🙂
Stay around the neighborhood.
If you find a good neighborhood and make time available, it won’t do you any good if you’re not around. The temptation can be to take all of this new free time and go hang out at Starbucks, or connect more with friends and family that don’t live in close proximity to you.
Instead, hang out in your neighborhood (especially outside) as much as you can and be proactive in finding activities and situations that will bring you and your neighbors together (we’ll have to talk about some ideas in a future post!). Yes, it’s hard to get the ball rolling at first (and it will take time), but if you push through, I believe the effort will pay off and community will begin to develop around you.
Focus on key people.
No, you can’t be best friends with everyone, nor are you meant to be. As you hang around your neighborhood, you will begin to organically be attracted to and connect with certain people more than others. Some will be Christians (hopefully) and some will not. This is natural and it is OK. Focus on building your relationships with those people and you will form a core through which Christ can build the community as you live out His Kingdom principles together. Remember, if you live out Kingdom principles together, others will be drawn to what you have together (true evangelism right?!?!).
Be a good neighbor.
Good neighbors think about how their presence and actions affect those around them. If you don’t keep your grass cut, some people will be upset. The widow that lives next door to me likes it when the grass in both of our yards is the same length. Do I care? No, but she does. So, being the young buff chap that I am :), sometimes I mow both of our yards at the same time.
Overall, just use common sense and think about things from their perspective. You can even take it to another level and work to better the neighborhood in creative ways. If you do so, it’s likely others will get involved if invited also.
It surely can seem like building community can be impossible when everyone is cramped up in their houses and you haven’t seen anyone out and about in your neighborhood for days. There will be days of doubt. There will be days when you’re not sure if it’s worth it. But, if you’re patient and take these practical steps, you will begin to see community develop around you – and it will be worth it.