Dinner and Drama: Reaching Out to Your Neighborhood Via Community Group
[Earlier this Summer, the community group headed by Steve West and Steve Grube, at the initiation of Pete and Becky Shedor, hosted dinner for neighbors along with a bit of drama. During the Summer we were meeting on a monthly and not weekly basis, for dinner, and were seeking ways to involve non-Christians, letting the borders of our group be more porous. I had an opportunity to talk with Becky about the outreach. What she said may inspire your group to try something similar. Steve West]
Steve: Becky, you and Pete hosted a neighborhood gathering. What did you do?
Becky: We invited neighbors on our street and some adjacent streets (most of whom we knew from previous contact) to come for a night of “Dinner and Drama”.
Steve: Whose idea was this?
Becky: We got the idea from Bill Hybels’ book, Walk Across the Room. In one chapter he describes hosting a “Matthew Party” — an event with no agenda but simply one to gather your friends who are not believers as yet with your believing friends. The whole idea is to rub shoulders and allow the Holy Spirit to work in conversations, and perhaps build new friendships.
Steve: What possessed you to undertake this?
Becky: We had the Frazier family over for lunch last Fall and the boys, Guy and Tom, told us about a short three-man play that they had just performed, one written by Zach McClelland, whose family had earlier attended Peace. It sounded like a great idea for an outreach event — short, not “preachy”. I had originally envisioned a whole-church event. The months passed, life was busy. Inertia set in. Guy and Tom refreshed their lines for an art fair event in late spring. So, before all that preparation was lost, we scheduled something more manageable — a neighborhood event — for a Monday night in June. Very few people have conflicts on Monday nights, you know.
Steve: Sure, and who doesn't like a dinner ready made for them after a day of work! How did you invite people? What kind of response did you have? Were you surprised?
Becky: I designed a simple flier with the details and walked around the neighborhood the week before the event, inviting people we knew. Some groundwork had been laid previously. For the past four years we’ve hosted a Thanksgiving Open House either the weekend before or after. We got to know our neighbors through those events and also by attending their parties. To tell you the truth, I stopped inviting people once I got 33 “yes” responses, because I didn’t think I could handle more than 50 for dinner, and I needed to leave room for our small group and other Peace friends who were partnering with us for this event. As it turned out, I had 13 cancellations the day of the event, so I could have invited more.
But, I must say that one of the best experiences was the invitation process. I got to have great conversations with all of the “declines” and was invariably invited in to “catch up” before I headed on.
Steve: It was a diverse crowd as well, right?
Becky: It certainly is, and delightfully so. We had old (a 90-year old man and his wife) and young, liberals and conservatives, tattooed people and those who wouldn't think of it. And all seemed to have a great time. One meaningful comment came from one of my neighbors. As he was leaving, he said that he really enjoyed it, that he thought it was just going to be eating, drinking beer, and shooting the breeze," but that what he experienced was really "authentic." We hope to build on that.
Steve: Logistically, how did you pull this off, and how much time did it take?
Becky: We borrowed tables and chairs from the church and held the event in the back yard, which provided more space and was less intimidating for folks who had not been in our home.
I had lots of great help. Our community group and some Peace friends brought food and helped with set-up and break-down. We had lots of leftovers. I was very busy Monday, but that was it.
Steve: Would you do it again?
Becky: Absolutely! Better yet, though, Pete and I have a better basis on which to pursue deeper relationships with our neighbors, one family at a time. It's already begun.