He was right!
When we moved into this neighborhood, we were in the middle of starting a new church in Midtown Sacramento ("church planting," for those who need to hear the insider lingo).
We were renting space from an established local church. We were leading a couple midweek Bible studies. Within a few months of moving into our current house, we left flyers on our new neighbors' doors asking them to help our church collect school supplies for a local collection we partnered with. The flyers had our church logo on it and everything. Pretty official.
But it didn't take long for God to show us the real reason he had moved us to this particular area of Midtown. It wasn't because this was the neediest part of the city. Or because there were a bunch of severely broken people here. And it wasn't because there were a ton of Christians just waiting for a pastor to show up and lead them.
No. This area was doing okay. But, the neighbors on this block were not as connected to each other as they could have been. They all knew each other, which is more than can be said of most neighborhoods. They weren't opposed to spending more time together. They just didn't.
So, when we moved in and started getting to know everyone, we knew what God wanted from us. He wanted us to live in community with others. To get out of our Christian bubble and build more relationships with people outside the Church. To grow our understanding of how Christians should interact with the world. And to show Christians how to live in community with people from different backgrounds. God wanted us to represent his church in a positive light to those who didn't have a high perception of Christians, and he wanted to use our experiences to help other Christians do the same.
We talked with our small church group (all of whom still attended and served at other churches too), and told them it was time to move on. There was a little push-back, but everyone understood the direction God was taking us. You can still see our old church website here, but it's obviously a bit outdated.
Narrowing down to a Single Focus
We always knew the reason we moved to midtown instead of just starting a church where we lived before was to really connect in the community. We wanted the kinds of connections with people that living in a city allows. The kinds of connections that are harder to have when you live in the suburbs.
But, in case you've never tried it, starting a church is a lot of work. And it's very time consuming. Which made it hard to put enough time and work into starting this church and serving our Christian community while also sparing enough time to fully engage with our neighbors.
We came to the realization that if we didn't choose one direction to focus our efforts, then we were going to fail at both. So we chose our neighborhood. The neighborhood God had guided us to. The place he wanted us to be.
We started out by finding more excuses to engage with our neighbors. Instead of spending time in the back yard, we started taking the kids into the front yard. Our kids are anything but quiet, so the whole neighborhood knew when we were outside. This allowed us to spend more time talking to more people every day.
And we really started testing and implementing the best missional tools we knew of to connect with the people around us and get to know them. By focusing on this, we were able to meet people and really connect with them easily. It didn't take long to figure out the things that would immediately open up conversations.
We made new friends in other neighborhoods, and they showed us how we could show hospitality to those around us and build a community that made people want to connect. A community that cares for each other, enjoys time together, and looks out for one another. The kind of community we think of when we read about the early church.
So, we started inviting everyone over for a party every week. At first, we provided the drinks and some snacks. All we wanted was to bring everyone together. We called it the Front Yard Happy Hour. As neighbors, we had all become comfortable spending time together multiple times throughout the week. But, we wanted to set aside a time every week that was a little more planned. And, after a while, everyone on the block insisted on pitching in. Now, this little weekly gathering has grown from a basic happy hour into a full blown potluck. And, we regularly have 25-40 people in our front yard. Some of them come from blocks away to join in on the fun. It's fantastic!
And the relationships we've built with members of our little community have been amazing. As we've opened up and made an effort to increase our connection with each of our neighbors, we've seen them doing the same toward us and toward each other.
Our block, and the blocks that surround us, has become a little community in every sense. The kind of community that cares for each other and truly lives life together in ways that we have never experienced before. Not in our previous neighborhoods, and not even in any church environment we've been in. You can read some stories that demonstrate the kinds of relationships we've formed in our Why Be A Better Neighbor Series.
A Pretty Good Congregation
So, when our neighbor said we "have a pretty good congregation here," we heard God saying the same thing. Most of our neighbors aren't Christian. Some are even quite opposed to the thought of ever changing that. But we often refer to this community as our church. We know some Christians might have a hard time with that kind of language, so maybe we'll share why we are so comfortable with it in another article.
But, the things we've learned and experienced over the last few years in this community have truly shaped our understanding of what God wants for his people. The kind of community he desires for us to be a part of. A community that inspires personal growth, makes space for deep relationships, and demonstrates to the world the goodness of God.
We Want You to Experience This too
We hope you've been following along with us as we describe the things God has taught us during this journey. And, we hope you've been inspired to make changes in your daily interactions to see God's presence made known.
If you have, then we want to invite you to join us. Join us as we change people's perception of Christians around the world. Join us as we follow Jesus' example of loving our neighbors.
We've received such great feedback from our book, Bless Like Jesus: Stop Trying to Convert and Simply Show People They Matter. So we created an Action Guide, a Small Group Discussion Guide, and a Private Facebook page to help people like you implement the steps outlined in it.
And, to make it even more accessible and helpful, we put together a Small Group Bundle that will allow you and your small group to read the book together and take action immediately. At a HUGE discount!
Bless Like Jesus is designed to help you recognize opportunities to show Christ's love to people in simple ways. And it will help you turn this into a habit.
But the system works even better when you have a group of Christians making a difference together.