What if every Christian saw their neighborhood as a place where God intentionally planted them? What if every Christian saw his or her neighbor as a gift from God with gifts to share? How would that change how we view, interact with, and serve our neighbors?
In 2018, Lutheran Hour Ministries partnered with Barna Group-an industry leader for research-based insights about faith and culture, leadership and vocation, and generational groups-on a critical three-year study of faith in America. We began by looking at how comfortable Christians are talking about their faith with our first year of research, Spiritual Conversations in the Digital Age. From that research, we created tools and resources to help individuals become EAGER conversationalists.
Next, we pulled back the curtains on spiritually vibrant homes to see how faith is being nurtured with those we know best-the spouses, children, parents, roommates, and even frequent visitors who spend time under our roofs. We learned the three characteristics of spiritually vibrant Christian households and developed resources to increase the spiritual vibrancy of households with our second year of research, Households of Faith.
After we evaluate our own spiritual conversations, and the spiritual vibrancy of our households, we can begin looking outward, starting right where we live. During a time where searching for hope and community is more important than ever, we are answering the question, "how can I bring hope to my neighborhood?"
LHM and Barna undertook the third year of research, Better Together, to learn more about the types of people who are taking initiative in their communities-who gather, donate, serve, create, teach, mobilize, and innovate, alongside other passionate neighbors, to meet needs around them.
In his latest book, The Hopeful Neighborhood: What Happens When Christians Pursue the Common Good, LHM Content Development Manager Don Everts shares, "I've become increasingly convinced that significant hope is on the horizon for Christians and their neighborhoods throughout our country. It seems to me that in a day of isolation and loneliness, a simple path to relationship lies right in front of us. In a day of division, a path to unity lies right in front of us. And in a day when Christians and the church are being dismissed as irrelevant, a path to relevance lies right in front of us."
LHM President and CEO Kurt Buchholz shares, "You and I are called by God to right wrongs and show His love around the world. Let's take a moment to stop and ask ourselves, 'what has God prepared me for now right where I am?'"
God calls us to make a difference in the place where we are, in the place where He placed us - in our neighborhood. Better Together focuses on the impact Christians have on their broader community.
It starts with one person in their place, and spreads one by one, until it blankets first neighborhoods, then communities, towns, and regions, and then the whole world is covered in personal connections and meaningful actions that bear witness to the love our God has for His people and the good He wants for the world.
"Imagine the impact of millions of Christians around the world loving their neighbor," says Buchholz. "Together we can make it a reality."
How do we start? How do we bring hope to our neighborhoods?
The Hopeful Neighborhood Project
Drawing from insights learned from the Better Together research, LHM established The Hopeful Neighborhood Project. The Hopeful Neighborhood Project is a collaborative network committed to improving neighborhood well-being around the world. Our resources and online network equip and encourage neighbors to work together, using their gifts and the gifts of their community, to pursue the common good of their neighborhood.
"There has to be a first neighbor who stands up and says: Why don't we stand shoulder to shoulder for the good of the place and people around us?" says Everts. "The research confirms that this is a message our neighbors, both Christian and non-Christian, want to hear, but there has to be someone to bring that message to a neighborhood. Someone to take that initiative."
At Lutheran Hour Ministries we've identified three important steps toward healthier, more hopeful neighborhoods. First, discover the gifts. Second, imagine the possibilities. And third, pursue the common good. When put into action, these steps can help us make real connections with our neighbors, increase neighborhood well-being, and work toward a world where all people experience the love of Jesus.
"This three-step process is a powerful, biblical process that we can still follow today. By starting with gifts, we take God's lead. We recognize that God is the giver of gifts, and it is our role to steward those gifts as Peter put it," shares Everts.
Step One: Discover the Gifts
We've all been blessed by God with real, important gifts, and so have our neighbors. When we start to see all people as valued and treasured gifts from God, each endowed with gifts to share with others, we acknowledge our common identity as children of God, bought for a price, and blessed beyond measure to bless others. We can use our gifts to make a real difference where we are, among real people we know and see every day. Our faith, put into action on a local level, can make an immediate and personal impact in our neighborhood and beyond.
"We believe real change and hope begin with the real experts of a neighborhood: those who actually live in that neighborhood," says LHM's Vice President of Global Ministries Rev. Dr. Tony Cook. "We believe you are an expert on your own neighborhood, and we believe you are surrounded by other experts."
Acknowledging our giftedness and using our gifts to bless others can help us reach out and build strong connections with those around us and become better together in community as we exponentially grow the Body of Christ.
Cook, who also serves as Executive Director for The Hopeful Neighborhood Project, says, "If you want to make a difference in your neighborhood, it's important to begin by discovering what gifts are already there. This includes individual gifts that you and your neighbors already have, as well as neighborhood gifts that are embedded right where you live."
How do we discover our personal gifts? The Hopeful Neighborhood Project's EveryGift Inventory was designed to help you discover your gifts, especially those gifts often taken for granted. The EveryGift Inventory is a free online inventory that was based on our latest research. The inventory takes less than 20 minutes and will give you an individual assessment of your gifts in 12 distinct areas. Visit hopefulneighborhood.org/everygift to discover your gifts today.
Step Two: Imagine the Possibilities
Once you have discovered your personal gifts, you can spend time imagining the possibilities that your gifts could bring to your neighborhood.
LHM's Director of Community Programming Jennifer Prophete, encourages you to consider how you can improve the well-being of your neighborhood. "How can you bring more hope to your neighborhood?" says Prophete. "Can you start a neighborhood garden? What about a weekly or monthly neighborhood happy hour on your driveway, collecting canned food items to donate to your local food pantry, or establishing a neighborhood potluck dinner? Neighborhood library boxes are a great way to encourage reading in kids and adults. The possibilities are endless, you just need to imagine them for your neighborhood!"
Step Three: Pursue the Common Good
Now that you have an idea for what you want to do to make your neighborhood more hopeful, you can begin to pursue the common good. Work with your neighbors to develop a plan. It's helpful to involve others so you can accomplish more together.
"We want every neighborhood to be hopeful," says Cook. "This is why we encourage neighbors to work together, using their gifts and the gifts of their community, to pursue the common good right where they live. We've developed a step-by-step online process that you can use with your neighbors to bring your plan to life and increase your neighborhood's well-being."
Everts says, "It is a good thing when an individual becomes zealous for the common good. And it is a beautiful thing when a small group of these people joins together in the same neighborhood. But it is a profound and history-altering thing when a network brings a bunch of those groups together."
Next Steps: What can I do now?
If you don't already know your neighbors, getting to know them can be a great next step. We invite you to get to know your neighbors better by using some of the ideas listed below. As some of these ideas encourage gatherings, please make plans based on your local social distancing guidelines.
- Bake cookies and hand deliver them to a neighbor. (Store bought cookies work well too!)
- Invite a neighbor over for appetizers on your deck or patio.
- Stop and talk to a neighbor while you are out taking a walk.
- Give greeting cards to neighbors for the next holiday.
- Offer to help a neighbor on a project they are working on.
- Invite neighbors over to your driveway for fellowship. Everyone can bring their own lawn chair and drink.
- Host a block party. It doesn't have to be fancy, and everyone can bring a shareable appetizer.
If you already know a few neighbors and are interested in bringing The Hopeful Neighborhood Project to your neighborhood, go to hopefulneighborhood.org to learn more and connect with our Neighborhood Project Coach who will help you get started.
LHM has a variety of resources to help you become Better Together in community. Learn more about those resources on the next page or by visiting lhm.org/together.