We talk about loving our neighbors and communities a lot, because we want to to what Jesus told us to do, and He said, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39). And I don’t think he means for us to just tolerate them. He’s asking us to really love them. As Church Planters we should be prioritizing our calendars around real relationships with the people, businesses, and organizations who actually live and exist in our communities.
A little over a year ago, my wife, daughter and I moved from Columbus, Ohio to an apartment complex in West Los Angeles. We only knew one family a few blocks away. From the start, we knew we wanted to be great neighbors to our immediate neighborhood. However, in a city that prioritizes social networks over proximity neighboring, we knew that we were in for a challenge. LA is not the Midwest. It’s just not as welcoming and friendly like my neighbors back in Columbus, Ohio. We knew it would take time for our family to adjust and to start building relationships.
We’re not experts, but here’s how we began:
We started by being available and friendly. After we settled in to our new apartment, we hung out. We drank margaritas on our patio area right where everybody passed by us to go to the carport area. We said “hi” when we passed people on our way to take out the trash, get the mail, or on the way to the pool. We felt no pressure to make a relationship happen. We just did what we could in the amount of time we were allotted to connect with somebody and then we just let it be until the next time.
We continued by asking questions and being helpful. Being a good neighbor started by learning people’s names. We learned where they worked and where they moved from before they moved to LA. When people would ask if we were available to help move a heavy dining room table, we said yes.
We sustained by being patient and natural. Over time, opportunities developed and grew from being acquaintances to becoming friends. We had to be patient. We didn’t try to force anything. We had to continue to be “out there” and be available to the people, but we didn’t push it in a needy and desperate way. When you are patient and relaxed about it, you set up the foundation to have a healthy friendship.
A year and a half later, we’ve developed friendships with our neighbors. We’ve learned every single one of our neighbors’ name. We know about their families, their work, and what they do for fun. We even learned some of their struggles as well as their dreams. Our next-door neighbor babysits for us weekly. I lift weights with my neighbor upstairs. I have deep philosophical and religious discussions with my other upstairs neighbor. We’ve moved furniture, installed TVs, organized a book club, babysat cats, and have thrown some great parties—where 90% of the attendees come from within a two-block radius.
We don’t take full credit for this but we have noticed that the apartment complex has grown together. There’s a greater level of trust. We don’t fight with each other. When we have a problem, we go directly to each other.
I encourage everybody to start neighboring by doing what’s obvious and by taking advantage of each opportunity in front of you. It will take time to become a good neighbor. I promise that over time you will suddenly find yourself thrust into opportunities to be not only a good neighbor, and you might even make a few real friends along the way.
Chris and his wife, Nicole, both live and work in Los Angeles with their daughter, Maren. His wife, Nicole, is an analytical lab supervisor with Neutrogena. You can learn more about what the Meekins are doing in LA at www.seemeekins.com.