The first time I met my next door neighbours in my undergrad apartment, I was asking for a corkscrew for a particularly difficult bottle of wine. Embarrassed that we shared walls and yet had never spoken, my neighbours and I had a quick and awkward exchange. Through the years I have felt burdened to meet my neighbours but never seemed to have much success. Unsure what to say, tied to a busy schedule and living in apartments with few common spaces meant that I sometimes never even met my neighbours.
Upon embarking on this journey to be present with and share our faith with our neighbors, I knew I’d need to figure out some way to actually meet them. While I’m certainly not an expert on this, I’d love to share some of the things that have worked for us in this endeavor:
1. Smile. It’s amazing how few people in our culture smile at strangers. I’ve made it a point to smile at people in our building, even when they would just look at me or ignore me. But apparently, it hasn’t gone unnoticed, as our superintendent nicknamed me “Smiley”.
2. Say “Hi.” And then something else. The whole not talking to strangers in the elevator thing is very odd. As I’ve started saying “Hi”, I find it very natural to strike up a conversation and learn people’s names. People usually brighten up when I say “Hi”, and a conversation easily begins about the weather, the building management or the upcoming weekend.
3. Ask Questions. Questions are crucial in getting to know people. In a neighbourhood like ours, people come from many diverse backgrounds and often have fascinating and hard stories. I usually ask people what country they’re from, what language they speak or the name of their child or dog. I’m learning not to ask if they’re headed to work, as the answer is often “No, I can’t work because…” Picking up on clues and asking polite and sensitive questions is key.
4. Bring snacks. The first week that we moved in, I baked cookies and muffins to bring with us as we knocked on every door on our floor. We introduced ourselves as the new neighbors and invited people to come visit us. When a new lady moved in next door, we brought her blueberry muffins. Her surprise told me that our welcome was not unappreciated, as she exclaimed, “Oh, I’m from Toronto. No one is that nice there. I had no idea Hamilton people were so friendly!” Thankfully, God has been opening the door for friendship with this lady.
5. Cross the threshold. Entering someone’s home to visit is a powerful experience.Whether you’re stepping into a cozy home with pictures on the wall or taking in the starkness of a refugee’s apartment, simply being in another person’s home can quickly propel your relationship with them into friendship. When people in our building invite us to “Stop by sometime”, we try to take them up on that offer within a few days. We regularly tell people our apartment number and invite them to come over for a steaming mug of tea. Knocking on an acquaintance’s door and inviting them to dinner feels intimidating, but it’s well worth the effort.
6. Don’t give up! In our quest to befriend our neighbors, we’ve had a lot of moments we are tempted to deem unsuccessful: people turning down our offers of food or not chatting with us in the elevator. It’s easy to feel discouraged or awkward and want to give up and get back to texting, rather than chatting with strangers. But, we believe that God has called us to love our neighbours, and the first step to doing that is to get to know them.
7. Pray! Our team meets weekly to pray for our neighbours by name. We share stories and frustrations and pray for the people we’ve met in the parking garage or the laundry room. As we’ve asked God to open doors or deepen relationships, He has given us more and more opportunities not only to meet, but to love our neighbours. Praying for them is the most precious way I can love my neighbours.
Even as I write this, I feel like a fraud. We are such newbies at this, and I feel like the methods I’ve suggested are so simple. However, this is the beauty of a ministry that’s really just daily life: our mission is to meet people and to love them. Sounds simple enough, but it’s surprisingly challenging. I’d love to hear your thoughts or tips on how to build relationships with your neighbors. Please share!
The mission of Intersection is to help our readers to see how the gospel of Jesus intersects & transforms all of life in a very real way. Our goal is to destroy the false & harmful dichotomy between 'the sacred' & 'the secular' by presenting a wide range of perspectives that focus on different aspects of life in the city. These stories, reflections, observations, & opinions all have one thing in common—the shared conviction that every arena of life can be holy & beautiful when it is lived out in full awareness of the gospel & in full submission to the leadership of Jesus. Although the Intersection team loves, values, & supports all of its contributors, the views expressed in their posts are ultimately their own & may not necessarily reflect the beliefs & values of New City Church.