3545514293_25c7662b47_b-199x300 I’m thinking a lot about summer lately. It was one of those wintershere in the Chicago burbs that made me long for summer. Well it’s May now. Summer is knocking and I’m running to the door, eager to embrace my long, lost friend.

As suburban Christians who are looking to love our neighbors summer offers us so many opportunities to connect with them. Summer is the time for cookouts and fairs and going to the park with the kids. The beer gardens are open at the local pub and the farmer’s market is in full swing. People will be taking walks in the neighborhood and going to the pool.

So summer is an ideal time to connect with new folks in your suburb as we enjoy the weather and the culture around us. Here are a few suggestions for your summer from the things my family is doing. I hope you will add your suggestions, stories of stuff you’ve done, and share your plans in the comment section.

Be a Participant

Get involved in the life of your suburb. Find a community calendar on your city’s website and put some stuff on the family calendar. We recently attended a very popular fair in downtown Woodstock. My son and I were in the Little League section of the Memorial Day parade and my daughter was in the middle school band. Molly and the other two kids were enjoying the parade with some local friends from school. Through events like these we’ve met new folks, made new friends, and supported the life of our suburb.

Be a Servant

I’m the dad to four great kids, ages 6-12. I made a commitment to try to be a servant when possible as they get involved in public activities. This works best for me with sports. I’ve coached just about every team they played on. Just last night I sat in on the Bittie Ball (“coach pitch” level) coaches meeting. Daniel (6) is on the Devil Rays this year (Satan’s team). So while I’m already an assistant coach for Little League and soccer, I’m now also the head coach for Bittie Ball. It’s going to be a busy summer, but I get to serve a bunch of great kids and their families by being a coach.  It forces me to learn their names and get to know them, and they want to know me too.

If you are going to serve as a coach or help out at the local school (as Molly does) or help with a summer play or whatever else, you need to do it with excellence. It’s frustrating to have someone in your family in a public activity only to find out the people in charge are incompetent. If you serve, do it well. Truly love your neighbor and consider them as more important than yourself. It not only makes folks love the experience, but it endears them to you.

Serving through various cultural activities also provides us the opportunity to serve our neighbors beyond these events. We often see former team members and/or their parents out in public or at their schools. I will always be “coach” to these kids. One thing we work hard at is trying to have at least one cookout a year for players and their parents. And that leads to another suggestion for your summer in suburbia…

Be Hospitable

For Memorial Day (last weekend) we had a cookout. It was mostly community friends we’ve connected to through local school involvement, but we also invited a church friend or two and a visiting couple from the previous week’s worship service. We had about 40 people there, some I knew well and others I met for the first time. It was a blast. Here are a few things you should do to make your cookout a hit.

- Introduce people. If you are bringing folks together who don’t already know each other, and you should, make sure you introduce them so they all feel comfortable.

- Have plenty of good food. We had too much food because we wanted to be generous. Nothing like a cookout where you feel underfed. And make it good food, please. I don’t want to come to your house if you are going to buy the hot dogs with the highest amount of rat hairs and bone chips. Not all hot dogs and hamburgers are created equal. Get quality stuff. And spice it up. We got burgers at Sam’s and then added a layer of Famous Dave’s burger seasoning. People raved about the burgers, though most of them didn’t know why. You want your neighbors happy.

- Let people bring something if they want to. Sometimes people feel obligated. Sometimes they really enjoy bringing something. Don’t presume on people and don’t ask them to bring something. But if they want to bring something it can be a good thing. It makes them feel like they’re a good neighbor too. For our Memorial Day most everyone insisted. Some brought a dish, or chips and soda. One family brought a ton of Edy’s ice cream they got for free in a contest. It added a super-charge to the cookout that none of us could probably afford otherwise.

- Have plenty to do. We had more games we didn’t use than we used. You are providing opportunities, not a schedule. We had kids playing baseball in the church field, jarts, football, a fire pit as it cooled off in the evening, lots of lawn chairs, sparklers for kids after dark. And think of the little things, too. We fogged the yard before people came to kill most of the mosquitoes and then we had several cans of Off available. We had sunscreen. We had music. We tried to cover all the bases, though we learned a few bases we didn’t cover as well as we will next time.

Make this summer a great one, one where you grow in your relationship with folks around you by participating in the life of your suburb, serving your neighbors rather than waiting for someone else to serve you, and firing up the grill to bring people together.

(originally posted at sub•text)