Won't You Be My Neighbor?

When you see someone whose face you recognize, but then you greet him with a generic, “Hello!” or “Good to see you!” instead of with a name, do you feel like you’ve truly connected?

What if this person has been coming out to your church service, looking for community? And that’s the greeting he received every week - a “Hey” instead of a name?

This was my church experience as a non-believer, and I guarantee, your church has folks who don’t feel connected or even noticed.

Because of my past, I’ve been challenged more and more to properly engage my church community to draw out the unique identity and dignity of those living among us.

God’s commission for us was never about keeping people out — it was always about bringing people in. Since the Fall, the world has been on a perpetual trajectory towards isolation, from God and from one another.

So now, many people are struggling to find connections, but you may not be seeing those who are feeling isolated and alone. How do we concentrate on them? I want to offer three suggestions:

Know Their Presence

We know that God uses things of this world to proclaim the gospel of grace. Out of my own insecurities and fear, I wish that God would use the natural world more to bring people to faith so that I myself don’t have to do anything.

But in Matthew 22:36-40, the greatest commandment is clear: Love God, love others. Jesus is emphasizing a person-to-person connection to bring people to him.

Imagine you’re entering a sit-down restaurant. We appreciate it when we are greeted by a cheerful host. If the host is rude or apathetic, the dining experience is compromised. The same rule applies for our church community.

When we see a face you don’t recognize, a simple, friendly “Hi,” can easily get us started with the process of knowing a new person and making him or her feel connected.

Know Their Name

Have you ever wondered why guest service members wear name tags? It’s because they mark the employees as members of a community, recognized by people within the company and by potential customers.

Recognizing people by their names has the same effect. It means they are known. Therefore greeting someone by name helps bring people into the community and shows that your church cares for that person.

Know Their Story

When Jesus asks us to love our neighbors, I believe it’s more than just shaking their hands and adding them on Facebook. It involves knowing their story, recognizing the brokenness of life, and allowing the grace of the gospel to speak into their lives.

It is easy for people to isolate themselves from the world, and so sometimes their deepest desires are simply to be known and heard, not through the digital stream, but by a neighbor.

For me, this is probably my weakest area, and I realize that this may be difficult for you as well. But that’s where we see the power of God working. God recognizes my weakness and humbles me to reach out, listen, and recognize the same level of brokenness in the other person. From there, that’s where loving others points back to loving God, our ultimate source of recognition.

Known in the Community

When a new person commits to a church, relationship networks are multiplied. When my wife recently joined my congregation, she had a hard time transitioning. She had only experienced small churches, and coming into a congregation with several thousand people was intimidating. She would be quiet to arrive and quick to leave.

But while I was busy doing my Sunday ministries, a few sisters reached out to her. They didn’t have to know exactly how she felt. But instead, they lent an open ear and learned her story to reassure her during the transition, recognize her value, and help her realize her unique journey as guided by the Lord.

Yes, building new relationships will take time and effort, but the results will reflect the unchanging gospel within an ever-changing community that exhibits love and freedom from isolation for everyone.

Stanley Ng is the Executive & College Pastor at Bethel English Church.