Our culture didn’t need any assistance in further isolating ourselves, and yet a global pandemic has managed to do just that. Each day we hear stories of people who yearn for community and friendship. Singles and shut-ins are just two examples of the loneliness epidemic. So how do we combat that both in normal times and in times of COVID?
The problem with back porch living
I’m no expert on American housing, but it seems that the last few decades have seen a migration to the homeowner’s backyard. Gated neighborhoods, two-car garages that seal us off at the push of a button, privacy fences, and even fire pits have conspired to remove the front porch in favor of the back porch. Add the threat of a highly-contagious virus, and it’s the perfect mix for boxing ourselves off from the world.
What we gain in comfort, we lose in community. Gone are the days of front porch swings and rocking chairs, sipping lemonade while waving a friendly hello or having an impromptu conversation with a neighbor who stops by. Locked in our living rooms or sequestered on the back deck, we miss natural, easy opportunities to connect.
I recognize that this is a first-world problem that not even everyone in the first-world has. I realize that COVID is a real threat to our health and that of our neighbor. That said, I’ve discovered that many of us will take any excuse to stay in the backyard. While I believe that hospitality is the new apologetic, I’ll be the first to admit I’m not always quick to live it out. So how does an introverted, unintentional, comfort-loving guy like me nudge himself to neighbor well in lockdown time or anytime?
7 ways to be a good neighbor
Don’t stuff your schedule. When we redline our lives, we leave no room for life. Include enough margin that you have time to get to know your neighbors.
Hold high the hello. Wave. Speak. Yell across the street if that’s what it takes. Don’t reject an opportunity to connect. Even surface contact can lead to deeper conversations later.
Beware your banners. Political signs, social statements, and pandemic opinions have their place, but prominently displaying them in your front yard or Facebook page could be a way to alienate half of your neighborhood before you get a chance to know them.
Participate in parties. When the coolers come out on the cul-de-sac, be the first to reply to the Evite. Better yet, maybe you can be the one to organize and host a block party. Maintain a safe distance and follow local guidelines, but don’t ditch the chance to gather responsibly.
Know what you’re known for. My in-laws are the “pineapple people.” Every time a new neighbor moves in, they hand-deliver a symbol of hospitality as well as a card with their contact information. The schtick works: they know almost every single person in their neighborhood.
Serve without strings. Provide a meal. Help with virtual learning. Make a grocery run for someone who can’t leave their house. And do it all not because your neighbors are a project, but because they’re people Jesus loved.
Make the gospel your gravitational pull. We’re reminded of the words of the apostle Paul: without love, all of this is clanging cymbals. The gospel should be our driving force and giving them the hope of the gospel should be our primary aim. No, we don’t befriend our neighbors only to share the gospel. But it’s hard to share the gospel without first befriending our neighbors.
Rosaria Butterfield says “Practicing radically ordinary hospitality is your street credibility to your post-Christian neighbors.” Christian friends, let’s get intentional about building street cred with those on our street.
Hospitality isn’t just something we do during the week. In September and October I’ll be offering a series of free webinars to equip you and your church volunteer team on guest services, volunteer culture, and connecting fringe attendees to the mission of your church. To find out more, click HERE.
Posted on September 24, 2020
Danny Franks is the Pastor of Guest Services at The Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina, and the author of People Are the Mission: How Churches Can Welcome Guests Without Compromising the Gospel. Read more from Danny at www.dfranks.com
More from Danny
All great ideas. One caveat: We are in the middle of a serious pandemic. I live in a state that is urging the public not to have gatherings of more than 10 people at their homes and then to take precautionary measures such as social distancing, face masks, not sharing food, and the like. In my state house parties, backyard barbecues, and other social gatherings have been implicated in the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. In the United Kingdom, which is experiencing its second wave of COVID-19 cases, they are considering a new lockdown. One of the reasons for this second wave of cases is too much social contact., arising in part from a relaxation of the more stringent precautionary measures and in part from the public’s ignoring of the remaining precautionary measures. How about recommending some ideas that we can use now without contributing to the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
Robin, this is a great suggestion. Let me work on this for a potential future article!