Krissy and I have lived in our house with mostly the same folks for two and a half years now. We’ve gotten used to the sounds (car alarms, loud engines, helicopters, other languages being spoken) and the sights (dogs walking by, trash, some graffiti) and the smells (flowers, smog, fresh-baked bread). We have our favorite Thai places, we know the best coffee shops, and we know the place to go for coconut popsicles.
We’ve gotten to know the neighborhood really well.
But we don’t know the neighbors really well. And we want to. Not primarily to get them to come to our church, or talk about the things we believe, but to develop a sense of community, friendship, and relationship with people we live in proximity to.
So together with our housemates, we decided to throw a block party.
We picked a date. We put up signs. We made fun snacks. We borrowed lawn games and fired up the grill.
In my mind, this is what success looked like: lots of people laughing, dogs chasing each other, neighbors meeting for the first time, kids jumping in the bounce house, and everyone exchanging cell phone numbers and singing Kumbaya as the sun set on the Hollywood cityscape.
That’s not exactly how it turned out. There were no kids in the bounce house (not because they didn’t want to bounce, but because the housemates wouldn’t let me rent one!). We never ended up grilling anything. We had a lot of food left over (and lots of soda…and none of the six of us drink soda!). And the small number of people we invited face-to-face (a few who said they’d definitely come) didn’t show up.
But, looking back, I would still say it was a success. Here’s why:
(1) We met some neighbors we hadn’t met before. They were walking their dog and we struck up a conversation. Their dog was fascinated by our cats, and I was fascinated by their dog. We’re not best friends (yet!), but we know the names and addresses of some people on our street.
(2) With the people who stopped by the block party, and even with the people who didn’t show up, a conversation started/continued on our street about being neighborly.
And here’s a few things I learned:
(1) Even though there wasn’t a huge crowd at the party, all of our intentional community was present and we had a blast. We played Blongo Ball. We had a mess of food. We chased the cats around the yard. We smiled, waved, and said hello to people walking and driving by. We made a bit of a spectacle of ourselves. We got face time with our neighbors by hanging out in the front (we have a great backyard and usually hang out back there, but no one sees us when we’re back there), and being seen – recognition – is the first step towards relationship.
(2) The best way to meet strangers is not to invite them to an event, but to develop rapport in the everydayness of life. I assume people noticed the fliers all over our block. But that doesn’t get then to a party. Knowing someone’s name (or their dog’s name) or at least their face (or their dog’s face) is the huge and often necessary first step towards relationships. Parties should not precede relationships!
I’m excited to continue the journey towards missional block parties, engaging our neighbors, and playing with all the cute dogs who live on our block.