From Strangers to Missionaries: NextDoor Neighborhood Strategy

Tim Brister —  September 18, 2013 — 5 Comments

A couple weeks ago, I wrapped up the blog series “from strangers to missionaries” with a compilation post and summary. Or so I thought.

Since then more conversations have occurred, and I’d like to offer a few more posts that I believe could be helpful to those of you attempting to work this out. One stream of conversation has had to do with the online platform I use called NextDoor. I started using NextDoor to create an online hub for my immediate neighborhood with the purpose of owning my own square mile. Now more than six months in, I have experienced some highs and lows in seeking to live as a missionary to my own neighborhood. I have said this to more than one person: being a missionary to my neighborhood has to be one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

But it’s worth it. It’s what God has called me, called us, to do.

In our world today, pathways into people’s lives have changed. In times past, permission was given to enter through their front door (literally). People were much more accessible and approachable. Neighbors felt like neighbors. Now neighbors are more like strangers than ever before. People are more insulated and isolated through television, computers, video games, and other indoor hobbies that breed insular lives. People seem to always being in a hurry, with no time to talk and take every measure possible to prevent that from happening (tinted windows, gated entrances, security systems, and fenced in yards).

What I’ve discovered about my neighborhood, in particular, is that almost everyone is a transplant to our city and this neighborhood. The overwhelming majority have lived here less than five years. Several languages and nearly a dozen nationalities are represented in this diverse group of 1,400 people. And the few times I’ve hosted a “meet and greet”, the confession among us all is that we don’t know one another and really don’t know how to be neighbors to one another. There’s a desire, albeit often very small, but there’s a bigger problem of ignorance and incompetency in knowing how to live in community with other people. Someone has to take the lead and work to overcome the massive inertia to build relationships and forge meaningful community.

Utilizing NextDoor for Neighborhood Mission

This is where NextDoor has been helpful to me. First, ND serves as an online communication hub for only those within the parameters of our neighborhood. It is exclusive and private to our community, giving a sense of belonging. Second, ND gives me a legitimate platform to engage my neighbors. Generally, most neighbors want to know their neighbors and be neighborly. ND helps us overcome the ignorance and feeling of incompetence (not knowing what to do or where to start). Third, ND facilitates opportunities for real life interaction. I learn the names of my neighbors and where they live. For whatever reason, it is easier for some to introduce themselves online than in person.

I have sought to incorporate my “strangers to missionaries” strategy of touch, talk, table, and train to see movement happen from stranger, to acquaintance, to friend, to family, and finally to missionary. Here’s the big picture of what I’m seeking to do:

1. TOUCH » Postcard Saturation [Monthly]
[GOAL: Strangers to become Neighbors]

Each month, ND gives you 40 free postcard invitations to send to any of your neighbors for free. All you have to do is pick the homes you want them to go to. I have mapped out the quadrants of my immediate neighborhood to distribute these postcards in ways that will be followed up with talks and tables. But this is a simple way to get in “touch” with those in my neighborhood whom I may have never met. Here’s a snapshot of what postcard saturation looks like (orange represents homes that have received a post card).

Some of these touches will result in new neighbors signing up to get on ND. But even if they don’t, the postcards they will receive will be a forerunner to future anticipated engagement.

2. TAR » Online Discussions [Weekly]
[GOAL: Neighbors to become Acquaintances]

This is not part of my “strangers to missionaries” strategy as previously mentioned. On a regular basis, I try to create online discussions that I believe those on my ND will be interested in commenting. I try to be creative and light-hearted with them as the goal is to get people to “stick” around and talk to one another online. Perhaps their answers will spawn mutual interests, or maybe they will lead to tangentially related topics worth exploring. Either way, the idea is foster interaction and hopefully build some online community that hopefully leads to real life community in the neighborhood. Here’s an example.

3. TALKS » Personal Flyer Invitations [Weekly]
[GOAL: Acquaintances to become Friends]

My boys and I love to ride bikes or take jogs in the neighborhood. This is part of our normal weekly rhythm of life. To incorporate ND into the mix, I keep with me a stack of flyers (created by ND) that are customized invites that we hand-deliver to our neighbors. So where do we ride or jog? The same streets that received the postcards that month. Going with my two boys to people’s front door does two things: it disarms the fears of my neighbors who think I am a bad guy, and it trains my sons to love their neighbors and learn to approach life like a missionary. They are watching daddy talk to neighbors and helping daddy by ringing doorbells. 🙂

Typically, we try to generate talks twice a week (on my day off and on the weekend). The goal is to have 2-3 conversations (talks) with people for the purpose of introducing ourselves and forging a friendship. To have friends, you must show yourself friendly, and that means taking the time and intentional effort to reach out to them where they are.

4. TABLES » Hospitality Dinners [Weekly or Bi-Weekly]
[GOAL: Friends to become Family]

Hopefully the talks online and on the streets will develop friendships that lead to opportunities of sharing life together. The place of the table is significant on a group and individual level. On a group level, it is a place of invitation, specifically our “meet and greet” times when new folks in our ND neighborhood meet one another, usually for the first time. This is a time where we are not rushed and can enter into one another’s story. People generally come nervous but leave connected if not excited.

On a personal or individual level, we want to host hospitality dinners where families or individuals whom we have come to know as friends to share life with us and hang for the evening. My hope is that they see and feel the love of Jesus Christ in us as we seek to share the good news of God’s abundantly rich and free grace. When I’m in town, our goal is to schedule one weekly, and when traveling, our goal is to have one twice a month.

5. TRAIN » Gospel Community [Weekly]
[GOAL: Family to become Missionaries]

Christians are not intended to live as isolated individuals on mission. They are saved into a gospel community wherein we learn to live as a new society under the reign of King Jesus. That takes training–specifically how to apply the gospel to our lives as Christ is being formed in our lives. A gospel community is a missional outpost in the neighborhood with an agenda of love–loving God supremely and loving one another sacrificially. This commends the gospel by their love as they communicate the gospel by their message.

Our gospel community meets weekly on Sunday nights for fellowship, prayer, and discussion of how God’s Word (especially the gospel) applies to our lives based on what we have received from our corporate gatherings. In this context, those in the family of God can be trained together to live on mission in their neighborhoods.

I hope that helps a little. A few other suggestions I recommend is taking the long route around your neighborhood in the morning for a “prayer drive.” Driving by your neighbors’ homes reminds you that God put you there providentially for their good and His glory, so praying for His kingdom come is a great way to begin the day and your commute. Another suggestion is to work to memorize the names and stories of those who you have the opportunity to get to know. I’m horrible with names, so it takes a lot of practice (and writing things down). Having a phone with dictation capabilities comes in handy for me.

If anyone would like to give NextDoor a try and start one where you live, here’s the link to get going.

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  • derekiannellismith

    Thanks Tim, I signed up and shared with our HOA members, GCM group, etc… this is AWESOME!

  • John

    TIm, I love the posts you’ve been writing about this. However, we currently live in an area where any concept of neighborhood is gone. It’s in the North and the culture is such that my neighbors just see me as a guy who lives near them. They aren’t really looking for community. Now, there are exceptions to this, but for the most part, we have only seen anything close to this after YEARS of small conversations and interactions. So, my question is this: should I just plan for the long game using the strategies you’ve outlined? Or do you think there is another way to make inroads more quickly? Thanks for your persistent drive towards sharing Christ.

    • Tre

      You can change your neighbors perception of you, through the anointing of the Holy Spirit. Praise God you aren’t even who you think you are, so surely your neighbors do not know who you really are.
      Boldness and humility in the Spirit lead to blessing. What if you began prayer knocking? I mean, going from house to house and telling your neighbors where you live (if you have kids bring em!), and letting them know you are going to be praying for them tonight and want to know if there was anything you can pray for? Then, what if you did that one day every week? Your neighbors would begin expecting you to show up and you would see their hearts soften as the Holy Spirit begins speaking life to them through your sacrificial love.
      My wife and I did this, but I included my mens home group with me so they could take part in the faith step as well. Meanwhile, my wife had her small group praying for us while we were out. It was AWESOME!
      We are going to be doing that again as we recently moved to the other coast.
      May God be glorified.

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