A few weeks back I wrote about connecting with suburbanites during the summer. I mentioned participating in cultural events, being servants through things like coaching sports, and having hospitable events like cookouts. With 5 full weeks left we still have a lot of great opportunities to connect. I’ve noticed in my life and in the life of my family that 5 tools have stood out this summer as helpful for connecting with our neighbors. Here they are for you. I hope you’ll add to the list.
1. Invite Cards — My church, Doxa Fellowship, just recently had some branding work done and immediately had some invite cards created. If your church doesn’t have them, I highly recommend getting some done. They are simple, attractive business cards with key church info. On ours we have the church name, website and email on the front and our Sunday location and time, including a map, on the back.
I have invite cards in my wallet, backpack, both cars, camera case, etc. I don’t drop them under windshield wipers or “accidentally” leave them lying around. The last thing people need is to feel like your church is the same as the going-out-of-business furniture store. I use them relationally. They give a better connection to our church when meeting someone or having a conversation.
I think after a shipping snafu we ended up paying $25 for 1,000 cards. You can get them plenty cheap, and they are of great value. I pass them out all the time. I keep them in front of my face as an encouragement to use them. I have a stack by where I set my wallet and keys. I put 3 on the table at the café when I sit down to read or work and see if I can give them out before I leave. It’s a great tool.
2. Tennis Ball — I have two sports-oriented kids who will watch girls softball if nothing else is on. One thing we have learned to do is always keep a tennis ball in the car, in our swimming pool bag, in Elijah’s bat bag, etc. When we are at the pool and they force that 15 minute break, we grab the ball and play “hot box” in the grass. Hot box is where you have two bases, a guy catching at each base, and everyone else is a baserunner trying to advance but not get an out. And guess what. Kids see us playing and want to join in every time we play.
A few days ago we had about ten kids playing hot box at the pool. Just last night we were on the Woodstock Square for a band concert. We took the tennis ball and started up a game of hot box well off to the side. Sure enough others joined in. We’ve connected with parents and kids by just having fun with my kids and inviting others to join in.
A tennis ball is nice because it’s heavy enough to throw hard and soft enough to not damage someone. But if you aren’t baseball oriented try a good nerf football (you need to be able to really throw it or it’s worthless), a frisbee, hacky sack, bag toss (sorry, I won’t call it “c*orn hole). You have nerdy kids? Cool. Embrace it. Bring extra magnifying glasses and invite kids to burn ants. Or if nothing else works, just play a game of tag.
3. Extra ______ — It’s happened to you. You are at the pool or the park and someone didn’t bring something they needed. Maybe it’s a water bottle. Maybe it’s bug spray or sunscreen. I was golfing several weeks ago and someone needed a Tums. I had one. When you go somewhere, bring extra consumables and be aware of folks around you who might be suffering from forgetting something or a lack of planning. Be over-prepared and generous.
It doesn’t need to just be consumables. Early in the Little League season it was cold and we would have plenty of blankets in the van for our family and for others if needed. Bring an extra umbrella if it might rain. It’s snowing? Bring an extra sled.
The key here is to think of others when planning for your events and
outings. Whatever you need for yourself, just add more. We leave bug
spray, sunscreen, umbrellas, sweatshirts, wet wipes, lawn chairs, and
water bottles in the car pretty much at all times.
4. Camera — I can’t tell you how many times I have my camera with me and see someone trying to get a “family picture” with one member of the family holding the disposable camera. I let them get their shot and then tell them I’m happy to get a photo with my camera and email it to them. They love it. Most often I just tell them I’ll take the photo and they can see and download it on Flickr. I carry Moo mini cards with my name, email address and Flickr address on it.
I also like to grab photos of other people and/or their kids in the park, playing baseball, etc, and then give them a Moo card. In the last few weeks Elijah (8) played on the 7-8 year old all-star team. I took a handful of photos, put them on Flickr, and gave a Moo card to every parent and coach. Same with the 9 year old team. Same with Danny’s (6) bittie ball team. The commissioner of the entire Woodstock Little League organization has been grabbing my photos for next year’s book because of it. Lots of great connections. A few weeks ago a woman in Woodstock was getting a photo of her kids by a piece of local art and I told her to pose with her kids and I’d email her the photo.
If you have a decent camera, it can be a great tool for making connections with your neighbors.
5. Courage — How often do you kick yourself for not striking up a conversation? Or are you so bad at it that you just gave up and don’t even feel bad about it anymore? We need a renewed courage to strike up conversations along the way.
I’m an introvert. Everyone in my church thinks I’m an extrovert because I’ve forced myself to learn to strike up conversations when in public, though I’m still learning how.
Having invite cards, tennis balls, a can of Cutter and a Nikon won’t get you anywhere without a little courage to gently push into the lives of others with an opportunity to serve them. Too often people won’t ask for help. They will swat the mosquitoes rather than asking if you might have spray. Often the kids will stand on the sideline and watch us play catch rather than ask to join in.
Once you are prepared with a few “connection tools” you have to be looking and longing to be involved in the lives of others. You have to find opportunities, and open your mouth. “Want to play with us?” “You know, that picture of your wife would look better with you in it. How about if I get a picture for you?” “Skittles?” Once you have a way to connect, go ahead, connect!
Let me know some tools you have found helpful for connecting with your neighbors.
*Originally posted at sub•text