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21 October 2014

Are we good neighbours?

Are we good neighbours?

Jesus told us: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and withall your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbour as yourself.'" (Matthew 22:36-38). But if we are honest, how many of us are really loving our next-door neighbours, or even know their names? And is there a difference between Millennials and other generations? 

Are we good neighbours? is the latest research report in our 21st Century Evangelicals series and explores exactly this question –are evangelicals and their churches really loving their neighbours? 

Our research has found that one in four are regularly supporting a neighbour who is lonely, frail or otherwise in need, while another quarter are actively welcoming newcomers to their area. Most people agreed that, despite the busyness of life, it is still reasonable to expect you would know your neighbours well. But just two percent said they would turn to neighbours first for advice, whereas 65 per cent would turn to a church friend.

Three-quarters said they have prayed for their neighbour in the last three months, and almost two thirds have made it clear to a neighbour in the last three months that they are a committed Christian. More than a third are regularly joining with others to pray for their local community, and the majority are involved in at least one church social action or community project.

The findings show some interesting differences in the opinions and experiences of younger people (those born after 1980). Younger people are more likely to agree that "people in the UK are not as good neighbours as they used to be", and also more likely to say that they tolerate living in their area and expect to move, rather than feeling happy and settled. They are also twice as likely as the wider panel to only return to their community to sleep because they spend most of their time elsewhere.

There are, however, Christians in their 20s and 30s who are passionate about their local communities. This includes Andy Walton from the Contextual Theology Centre, a charity which helps churches engage with their communities and campaign for social justice. He told us: "I don't see being involved in my neighbourhood as optional.The gospel involves caring about our neighbours, and though this doesn't exclusively refer to those living near us, it certainly does include them too!"

Paul Rose agrees: "The story of the Good Samaritan challenged the cultural assumption of that time –that Jews should not associate with Samaritans. Today, in cities like London, it is loving your physical neighbour which is radical."

Paul is passionate about the Angell Town estate in Brixton, south London, and plans to move there with others in September to build friendships and open their home to the community. He was warmly welcomed by St John the Evangelist, the Anglican church on the estate, and is inspired by their vicar Rev Rosemarie Mallett who is committed to building relationships locally and often walks the area,chatting with people and visiting local homes, shops and schools.

"The local Churches Together group in Brixton meets every week to pray together, and from this they've supported Street Pastors,established a foodbank, run collaborative youth activities, Alpha and24/7 prayer throughout Lent, and are now planning to start a CAP debt advice centre. They've had a vision for a Christian community on the Angell Town estate for a while, and are so excited about our plans," Paul explained.

Paul is also a local Street Pastor and loves this opportunity to be part of the community who are on the streets late at night. Paul regularly meets with other young Christians who are living as small Christian communities on estates, and said: "It's so important that we pray for our communities." 

Sam Stephens is another young adult passionate about challenging the norm of "building a castle" and living isolated from those around us. The experience of getting to know his neighbours through sharing simple things like milk inspired Sam to set up Streetbank, a website allowing you to share things and skills with your neighbours. Registering on the site enables you to see the requests and offers ofothers in your area who have registered, and also post information on local community activities.

Sam is full of great stories of neighbours connecting with each other. "Someone became friends with their elderly neighbour and saw theyneeded help with their garden. Through Streetbank they galvanised four others to help, and the neighbour was so thrilled he handed them each a bottle of champagne as a thank you!" Another lady who is moving to Portsmouth has used Streetbank to find four people to help her move in, meaning she has already connected with people in her new community.

Sam suggests: "As Christians we often say we want to transform our communities, but forget that our street and our neighbours are a good place to start. We heard of a street where the neighbours now know each other and look out for each other's needs, and it all started when one neighbour bought a bag of baby clothes for another when they had a baby. It grew into a tradition, with neighbours giving clothes and cooking for any new parents on the street.

"As Christians we have the ability to take our eyes off ourselves and look out for others."

But, Sam adds, really committing to our communities may mean reassessing things: "I sometimes ask myself, to what extent am I willing to compromise some of my friendships outside of my local area to allow me to be more invested here?"

Visit eauk.org/snapshot to read the Are we good neighbours? report, order paper copies and access accompanying discussion questions.

Ways your church can encourage neighbourliness: 

  • Encourage people to get to know their neighbours and be generous to them
  • Ask people to sign up to the Neighbourhood Prayer Network, which aims to see every street in the UK covered by prayer
  • www.neighbourhoodprayer.net
  • Encourage people to use opportunities such as the Big Lunch to host parties on their street www.thebiglunch.com
  • Engage with the online community Streetbank which helps neighbours connect www.streetbank.com/church
  • Find out more about the Eden Network who support teams living in some of the toughest neighbourhoods in the UK http://www.eden-network.org
  • Visit the Contextual Theology Centre's online resources www.theology-centre.org.uk

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