One of the great commandments is “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). That works a lot better when you actually know who your neighbors are. Even though Jesus was talking about people beyond your physical next-door neighbor, next door is still a good place to start.
But long gone are the days when it was common to bake a plate of cookies and show up on someone’s doorstep to welcome them to the neighborhood or apartment building. Although sweet treats can be a great inroad (I still make something yummy for my students’ last day!), what if your baking skills ended at the Easy-Bake Oven? Or you’d rather not risk that possibly awkward scene at the front door where you shove a platter in their face and grin maniacally?
Never fear, Grit and Grace has come to the rescue! We’ve compiled some fresh and modern ways to get to know your neighbor without baking brownies, resorting to binoculars, or peeking behind hedges.
The Need-to-Know File
Back in the time of that plate of baked cookies and picket fences (although I’m pretty sure people still have picket fences) was something called a Welcome Wagon. It was a cute little container of information about your neighborhood, with lots of coupons and flyers. In this digital and hectic era, the Welcome Wagons have faded away, but there are still need-to-know numbers your new neighbors should have.
Anyone moving to a new place may want recommendations for a mechanic, grocery store, and butcher or baker. Is there a homeowners association or neighborhood watch? Do you have a hairstylist you swear by or a coffee shop you visit regularly? Pass on the information!
You could bring over a couple of business cards or compile the information in a little notebook or note card. Not only will this be helpful to your new neighbor, but it may spark a conversation and opportunities to get together later. If it makes sense, you can stick your phone number in the notebook or on the card as well.
Who doesn’t love a good BBQ? While this term used to actually mean cooking food that was drenched in barbeque sauce, it has widened to include just about anything you can grill. Wyoming? Line those beef patties up. Ohio? How about corn on the cob? Tennessee? Let’s work with some baby-back ribs (OK, now I’m salivating). In my southern California area, just add avocado to whatever you’re grilling, and you’re golden.
Whether it’s your backyard or an apartment courtyard, there’s something alluring about a cookout. The smell can bring people to their knees, and the outside setting is casual and non-intimidating. Plus, if there is an opportunity for people to bring a side, it can help them to feel included to contribute.
One of my apartments had a small front yard, so I borrowed a grill from a friend and invited the neighbors. I actually made little notes and stuck them in all the mailbox holders. Thankfully it worked!
Some of them came on purpose, and some just saw us out there and popped by to say hello. One of the neighbors actually became a good friend of mine, and we stayed in touch long after I had moved out of that area. She was quite older than me, and we wouldn’t have run in the same circles, so that cookout was as much a blessing for me as it was for her!
We’ve compiled some fresh and modern ways to get to know your neighbor without baking brownies, resorting to binoculars, or peeking behind hedges.
The idea of eating and spending time together spills into other activities as well. Do you have a garage door or a wide side of your house? Hang a sheet and project a movie! Pop some popcorn, pull out some chairs or blankets, and it’s like your own backyard cinema.
It’s fun for friends and family, and easy to invite the neighbors.
Another easy activity the neighbors can join in on is a game night. These are resurging across America, much to my delight (I was the corny kid who loved playing board games back before they were cool).
While some may require time for instruction to understand, others like Pictionary, Apples to Apples, Taboo, Wits and Wagers, and Charades are simple to play and normally bring lots of laughter! If you collect the more obscure games that are still a blast, that can work too—just make sure you explain the rules patiently and easily.
Nights Around Town
If hosting people at your home isn’t feasible or comfortable, check out your local calendar. Many towns offer free and fun activities. In the summertime, it’s common to find movies in the park, concerts in the park, or local street fairs. If there’s a pool available, that’s another great way to take advantage of the sun and introduce someone to the area.
Even during the winter, cities and villages often host harvest festivals, movie nights at rec centers or town halls, and holiday happenings. These are non-intimidating places to invite your neighbor to come along, with plenty of activity to fill possible awkward silences.
If awkward silences don’t scare you, how about just inviting your neighbor for a cup of coffee or tea? You can sit in your kitchen, rock on a front porch, or visit your favorite coffee shop. There’s something about holding a steaming mug (or a cold glass of sweet tea in some of my favorite parts of the country) that can refresh the soul and pave the way for conversation. (Check out this article for some conversational tips: Coffee & Conversation: How to Connect With a Friend.)
Regardless of how you say hello, whether through a hot drink or a business rec, the real point is the heart behind it. Anyone who’s moved knows how frazzling that situation can be, and a warm smile and a friendly face can make all the difference. It’s not about how cool you sound or how delicious your food is; it’s about the willingness to welcome someone else into your circle.
Plus, who knows what relationships or friendships can develop when you open your doors and just say hello?
For more articles on connecting with other people, check out this podcast episode from This Grit and Grace Life: How to Be a Grace-Filled Friend in Hard Times – 096