Pastor, your members do not know their neighbors. (Or, do they?)

By Joel Southerland

Are you old enough to remember waving to your neighbor every morning and every afternoon?

Maybe you often sat down with them and had a complete conversations. You knew where they worked, what they did for leisure and where their extended family lived. Neighborly was normal.

But much of America has traded the front porch for the gated back yard. For most, the old days of having even a nominal friendship with one’s neighbors are gone and may not come back.

Research tells us it’s true. According to one study, a full third of Americans have never met their neighbor!

Compare that to the 1970s, when “nearly 30 percent of Americans frequently spent time with their neighbors, and only 20 percent had no interactions with them,” writes economist Joe Cortright. “Today, those proportions are reversed.”

The natural gospel question is this: How are we going to witness to our neighbors, invite them to church, or lead them to Jesus if we have never met them? According to Trulia, 1 in 2 Americans don’t know their neighbors’ names. Knowing your neighbors’ names is fundamental “best practice” for anyone living on mission!

So to lead your people toward reaching their neighbors, here are three suggestions:

1. Help members meet their neighbors.
Most Christians just need a non-threatening reason to knock on their neighbor’s door. The first knock doesn’t have to include an invitation to church, but it can get the process started toward that goal.

Encourage members to:

  • Host a street party.
  • Start a book club.
  • Do an act of service or kindness for a neighbor.
  • Write a neighbor a note, and let them know they were prayed for.

These are a good start and will lead to more.

Tip: Have every church member do it on a particular day or night. The church will get synergy as they do it together and share their stories.

Resource: Introduce them to, a free service that will email them the names of their 100 closest neighbors, five at a time, for them to pray for over a 20-day period.

2. Upgrade their definition of “neighbor”
The fact is, for people living on mission, the word “neighbor” shouldn’t be defined the way it used to be. The old definition is all about geographic proximity. To be honest, this very article you’re currently reading has assumed the old definition for the most part. It’s simply our default understanding of the word.

The new definition is more about affinity groups and digital connection. How would it impact mission if we saw our neighbors as:

  • Co-workers
  • Friends
  • People from our kid’s groups and activities
  • People we connect with on Social Media
  • People we meet in the coffee shop

Based on where they live, some people have no neighbors within walking distance. They have resigned themselves to the fact that they will never know their neighbors next door. Are they excluded from evangelizing their “neighbor”?

So, help every member upgrade their concept of neighbor in a way they’ll take ownership of a group of people in their world for the Gospel’s sake.

3. Adopt a Neighborhood
Finally, let members adopt a neighborhood, one in which they may not actually live. What if everyone in their own community is already a believer? Or, what if they don’t live in a standard, run-of-the-mill community, as we mentioned before? They can adopt a neighborhood.

Keith Weiser, Pastor of Resonate Church in Pullman, Washington, leads his church to put a ‘dot on the map’ every year for the area they are responsible to reach with the gospel. It’s the area they pray over, serve, pastor, invite to church and share Jesus.

Those become their “neighbors.”

We may not live in a society where our next-door neighbor is a vital part of our lives but that doesn’t excuse us from having a neighbor or neighborhood we adopt for the gospel’s sake.

The challenge for those living on mission begins with this simple process: Walk across the street. Meet a neighbor. Begin a relationship that leads to the gospel.

Published May 30, 2018

Joel Southerland

Joel is the Executive Director of Evangelism at the North American Mission Board