Why WON’T You Be My Neighbor?

“Why is it that church goers here in Texas are always inviting us to go to their church stuff, but they never want to hang out in the neighborhood and do stuff with us?” This was the question asked to my friend Ryan by his recently relocated neighbor in his thick B-ahhh-ston accent. Awkward silence!

And so how would you field that question? There’s plenty that could be said, but in my opinion Ryan’s friend was giving voice to a growing disconnect between the average North American church’s modus operandi and their neighbors all around them. In short this diehard Red Sox fan was saying, “Why won’t you be my neighbor?

Quietly most churches would acknowledge the trend of shrinking congregations. And a common response to these slumping numbers is to hire consultants, revamp mission statements, pump more money into better buildings, glitzier graphics, and prime time programming. The thought being, if we can just make OUR PLACE better, surely people will want to come here.

Research shows otherwise. Over the past decade churches have continued to loose societal influence and a voice of common good in our communities. Without practically engaging our neighbors in meaningful ways, churches are left competing for a shrinking church attending audience. The younger generation is the least churched.

PRRI (Public Religion Research Institute) just completed the largest survey ever of societal views and trends in Christianity and the church. The results are alarming and call for a better way. This is the link to the entire article. It’s insightful and in part reveals that…

The American religious landscape is undergoing a dramatic transformation. White Christians, once the dominant religious group in the U.S., now account for fewer than half of all adults living in the country…The religiously unaffiliated—those who identify as “atheist,” “agnostic,” or “nothing in particular”—now account for nearly one-quarter (24%) of Americans. Since the early 1990s, this group has roughly tripled in size.

So back to Ryan’s neighbor’s question. Why is it that most churches seem to spend a majority of their budget dollars and emphasis centering on getting people to COME to church and its events? Could this be the wrong approach?

Imagine what might happen if the emphasis shifted and churches empowered people of faith to BE the church, living out the ways of Jesus in their normal rhythms of life in their neighborhoods? What if our teachings took on more of an emphasis of missional practices versus membership expectations? What if we modeled our lives on Jesus incarnational lifestyle of being relationally present in our neighborhoods? (John 1:24)

Last night (annually the 2nd Tuesday of October) was National Night Out. This night is an evening designed and promoted to spend time with neighbors and meet your local police and fire personnel. National Good Neighbor Day (annually the 3rd Sunday in September) is also designed to meet and promote good neighborly relationships.

Wow, days set aside by our community leaders to celebrate neighborhood togetherness!

So could I ask, did you personally grill some hotdogs, pop up the lawn chairs in the front yard, write down some names, and generally have a blast with your neighbors? And did your faith community or church encourage you to organize your neighborhood, promote the value and participation in these community events?

Historically good neighboring has been a bedrock to healthy communities. All major faith traditions embrace good neighbor practices. In the Christian tradition Jesus places extreme importance of being a good neighbor, often referred to as the Great Commandment.

What could happen if we lived out our faith by being good neighbors?

Live humbly and kind,

Jim

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