Several years into owning our first house in Idaho, we realized that many of our neighbors were practically strangers to us. Rather than a network of life-giving relationships, we had a collection of next door acquaintances that we could wave to from a distance, but whose names, hopes and needs were a mystery to us.
As we were preparing to move houses in 2013, I discovered Nextdoor.com and we determined to do things differently in our new neighborhood. Nextdoor is a website that creates a private social network restricted by geographical boundaries.
Leveraging the disruptive power of being a new arrival, we launched our own Nextdoor site and set about getting to know the people around us. We saw people begin to share their belongings, their skills, and more time in each other’s homes. It was a great experience of building a more connected localized community.
Last year we moved back to my native Britain with a focus on pioneering a new movement of disciple-making. We had no personal network in the town in which we settled, but we’d seen the impact of deliberate neighborhood initiatives. And just as we arrived, Nextdoor UK was launched.
We pioneered a site in November 2016, and have seen a lot of the normal “service” style usage. People share recommendations, information and resources, and you can see a solid neighborhood bulletin board emerging. But the mission of Nextdoor (and, providentially, part of our mission) is the establishing of flourishing local communities where people are known and cared for.
Moving beyond the bulletin board requires contextualized intentional activity. We began a monthly meeting to get to know our neighbors. We meet in the upstairs function room of a local pub. We gather to share ideas about building community and in the process, recognize people who could take a lead role in caring for their streets and surrounding areas. We get to sow the seeds of compassion, care and loving our neighbors which emerge from the very heart of God.
We are currently challenging people to plan events to engage more of our immediate neighbors, such as front-yard hangout nights, hosted wine-tasting evenings and book clubs. Each time someone has an idea, we seek to encourage them, help them plan and release them. Operating outside of the church bubble requires a missional attitude that steps beyond the “what” of our activities and focuses on who we can engage with. Many of the skills we have learned in leadership development fit right into this space.
Like all services, Nextdoor is just a tool. It is not a magic-bullet for building healthy neighborhoods. You cannot set it and forget it. But as a third-place tool for connecting with people you should see every day, it is a great stepping-stone to real world engagement with the very people that Jesus has called us to love as we love ourselves.
Head over to Nextdoor and see if there is a neighborhood already active. If not, consider starting one and put another tool in your belt.