Neighbourhood Friendships: The New Common
Do you want to improve your overall quality of life? Do you crave a sense of community around you?
Becoming friends with your neighbours could be an important, yet often overlooked, way to receive the fulfillment of both of those desires. Whether you’re new to your neighbourhood or have lived there for years, there are many ways to make connections and form friendships with the people directly around you.
It may seem scary at first, but if Jesus can make friends with us then we are divinely empowered to make friends with our neighbours. In this post I’ll cover a couple of compelling reasons why neighbourhood friendships are important and talk through some basic ways you can get started, if you aren’t already investing in your community in this way.
According to a study by Statistics Canada, approximately 1 in 5 Canadians reported feeling lonely in 2018. Additionally, the study found that people who reported feeling lonely were more likely to report poor mental and physical health, and were also more likely to report being in fair or poor overall health. If that statistic was true in 2018, how much worse is our situation after the social changes which COVID-19 has brought upon us?
Another study by the University of Waterloo found that Canadians are spending a decreasing amount of time with friends and family. The study found that in 1998, Canadians spent an average of 1 hour and 45 minutes per week with friends, while in 2014 that number had dropped to 1 hour and 24 minutes per week. That’s a 20% decline over 16 years in the amount of time we spend with people we enjoy.
It’s now 2023, and if this pattern continues at the same rate we will have experienced friendship deflation of almost 30% since I was in middle school. This might mean that some people are currently only spend approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes with friends in a week. Of course, we can probably speculate that the rate of decline has accelerated because of recent global events which prevented people from seeing each other regularly.
This all seems to make a pretty good case for going back to the basics of how to make friends in our neighbourhoods. I am hopeful that some of the following strategies might help you create more space and time for friends locally.
The first step in creating new friendships with our neighbours is renewing our mind with the word of God. Who are we, and what are we created for? First, let’s understand that God created us to be in community with one another. In the Bible we see that God created humanity in His image and likeness (Genesis 1:26-27) and that He intended for us to live in a state of harmony and fellowship with one another and with himself.
Second, as Christians, we are called to love our neighbours as ourselves (Matthew 22:39) and to be a light in the world (Matthew 5:14-16). This means that we should be actively seeking out opportunities to build relationships with those around us and to share the love of Christ with them.
Third, and most importantly, keep the vertical component of community strong! Pray with confidence for your neighbourhood (John 14:12-14).
One of the best ways to meet your neighbours is to get involved in community events and activities. Many neighbourhoods have regular events such as block parties, community clean-ups or neighbourhood association meetings. These events are a great opportunity to meet new people, learn about what’s happening in your area and get involved in local causes and issues. Here at Trinity Life, we call it The New Common approach. We don’t need to start our own Christian things. Instead, we can look for what our communities value, and find something we are aligned with to get involved in and bring light into those spaces.
If you must start something on your own because it doesn’t already exist in your neighbourhood, then you might start a neighbourhood group or club. This could be a book club, a gardening group, or even a running club. Not only will you be able to spend time with like-minded people, but you’ll also be able to make new friends while pursuing a shared interest.
If you’re a pet owner, consider how you take your dog for walks around the neighbourhood. Not only are you and your dog getting exercise, but you might also strike up conversations with other pet owners. This can be a great way to make new friends, especially if you have children who also love animals.
Ever had a bad day? You probably didn’t feel like saying ‘hi’ or smiling. It’s OK not to be in the mood to engage sometimes, but it’s also true that your general demeanour over time will impact the likelihood of you making friends. If this is something that you struggle with, I encourage you to pray about being more open and approachable to others. There may be a significant reason God shows you about why this is difficult for you, or maybe it’s just something you’re not conscious of and it would simply take intention to change.
Being approachable is an open door to friendship. Smile, wave and say hello to your neighbours when you see them. This can be hard at first, especially when the fear of rejection sometimes overpowers our authentic desire for connection, but it will become easier with time.
As Christians, we are responsible for sowing seeds and watering them not only so that we can see outcomes, but also in order to live by faith and obedience to Jesus, our friend and Saviour. This means we might just have to be fine with it if some people don’t respond to us at first.
The reality is that we are all trying to recover from the social distance and relational atrophy of the COVID years. If you’re not sure what to say when someone actually does respond to your ‘hello’, try asking about their day or their family. Show them that you’re interested in them and want to build a connection.
People are often looking for a leader, and if you step forward in small ways to build friendship, it can quickly begin a movement that will change the atmosphere of your home and neighbourhood.
Another way of connecting with your neighbours is to offer to help with small tasks, such as carrying groceries or helping with a home improvement project. This will show that you’re a reliable and trustworthy person, which is an incredibly valuable characteristic in friendship.
When I first moved into my neighbourhood, some friends and I spent a few hours in the snow shovelling our entire block. This helped us to build some great friendships over the last couple of years. We met one particular family through shovelling their driveway and now we visit them one or two times a week. Travel time to their house is very short, as they are only 5 houses away!
Hosting a neighbourhood get-together at your place is another fun way to get quality time with your neighbours. This could be a simple potluck, a barbecue, or even a game night. Invite your neighbours over for a fun and relaxed evening, and be sure to include people of all ages and backgrounds. This will give everyone the opportunity to get to know one another and build local connections.
Finally, don’t be afraid to take initiative and reach out to your neighbours individually. If you see someone you’d like to get to know better, invite them over for coffee or a meal. Eating together is an easy way to create space for more in-depth conversations and find out more about what they’re interested in.
We see the evidence of loneliness all around us, in our own lives and throughout society. People are tired, entertaining their stress away, and struggling to maintain healthy relationships or create new ones. Let’s combat that by starting to meet people who are within arms reach of us.
Making friends with your neighbours will show you what you are part of by revealing the stories of those around you, and it has the potential to bring real joy into your life. Remember, Jesus made us friends and called us to love each other as he first loved us (John 15:12-13).
Just like him, we want to be a part of bringing light into dark places–even if that darkness is just simple loneliness. By getting involved in community events and activities, starting a neighbourhood group or club, being more approachable, offering to help, hosting a neighbourhood get-together, and taking the initiative to reach out to your neighbours, you can make lasting connections and build friendships that will increase the scope and joy of your life, as well as the lives of others.