The plan: Move 300 miles away to help plant a neighborhood church.
The method: Practice radical hospitality, reaching out to our new neighbors and inviting them to be part of our lives and our house church, which will meet in the pastor’s home a few blocks away. (“Come over any time…Share a meal with us…Let us help you any way we can…”)
And…the wrinkle: A global pandemic has sheltered everyone in place—under orders not to get within 6 feet of each other.
Well, we continued to move forward with the plan, trusting that it was what God had called us to do. He worked out the details of completing our home sale, purchasing a home in our new neighborhood, and getting through all the logistics of moving during a growing epidemic.
But I was left wondering how we could possibly practice hospitality in these conditions. Were we going to miss out on the opportunities that moving in might have provided? If we couldn’t meet anyone for months, would we ever meet them?
“Kerry, you’re a writer”
Thank God for putting great friends into our lives. My awesome friend, Peg, who loves Jesus and loves people, was excited about our church plant and what God would be doing through it. While I was in the midst of confusion about how we were going to pull off meeting neighbors, she shared an idea with me. “Kerry, since you’re a writer, you should write a letter to your new neighbors introducing yourselves as the new kids on the block. Let them know you’d like to meet them, but since you can’t right now, you’re sending this letter, and you look forward to meeting them in the future.”
And that’s just what I did.
New Kids on the Block Letter
I wrote the letter just before we moved (so I could print copies before we packed the printer and wouldn’t be delayed if we didn’t unpack that box right away). I included the explanation Peg had suggested, plus a brief introduction about where we were moving from, where we grew up, and other general info, then a short paragraph about me and another one about my husband. I concluded the one-page letter by letting our neighbors know we would be praying for them and encouraged them to reach out if there was any way we could serve them. The letter also included a picture of us and one of our two cats.
Then, I used Zillow.com to look up the addresses of all the homes on our future street. I’m sure there are at least a dozen ways to get that information, but this method was pretty easy. I simply pulled up the map and clicked on each property to get the house number. I addressed each of the 63 envelopes to “Our New Neighbors.”
I then mailed out the letters a couple days after we moved in. I figured, at least people would know who we were and know that we’re interested in getting to know them. And if we got even one phone call or email (I included our contact info), then I would consider it a win.
The response has been amazing. A dozen people reciprocated. Texts, emails, and cards started coming in right away. “We got your nice letter…Welcome to the neighborhood…Here’s a little info about me too…And my contact info…Let me know if you need anything…”
I’ve been blown away. Within two weeks of moving in, we had more contact with our neighbors here than any of our previous 4 homes combined. Praise the Lord!
One couple even responded by writing up a letter similar to ours and emailing it to us. And, get this. We even received two invites to church! Our new neighbors out-evangelized us! 😊
And that’s not all!
Spring weather arrived.
In fact, it was a beautiful day when we moved in. So, our next-door neighbor (the other half of our duplex) was sitting outside, and we got to meet him right away. Of course, we didn’t shake hands, but it turns out, you can have a lot of conversation from the next driveway.
And over the next few days and weeks, as people got out to enjoy the sunshine or walk their dogs, they made a point to stop and introduce themselves if we were working on the pile of boxes in our garage or if we were out taking a stroll ourselves. They would mention the letter, and easily shared about themselves and welcomed us to the neighborhood. One woman from a few doors down even walked over just to meet us. (We stayed 6 feet apart in the driveway.)
It’s now been seven weeks since we moved in. The pandemic is still raging, so we have yet to invite any neighbors into our home, but the stay-at-home/shelter-in-place orders are starting to lift, and we’re hoping that can change in the not-too-distant future.
Meanwhile, we’ve had time to unpack and settle in and get ready to host game nights, dinners, Bible studies, and more. And now we have a great foundation to build on with many of our neighbors, since the ice has been broken and we’ve at least had some initial contacts.
I’m curious to see how God works in all this and what relationships He helps us develop. We shall see what happens!
So, to recap—what’s the secret to meeting new neighbors during a global pandemic?
- Write a letter.
- Get outside.
And if you move during a cold, harsh winter, I’m not sure what to tell you for #3. But I’m curious to hear your ideas!
– Kerry Nenn