How Dancing Created an Opportunity to Share the Gospel with my Neighbors

July 2nd, 2014 | John Chandler

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Last year, I started going to a Zumba class. I took a Hip Hop class in 8th grade, so obviously, I’m really good at dancing. I returned to my dancing roots because of a retreat, which doesn’t really clarify things, but stick with me.

A little more than a year ago, I attended a retreat where Dave Runyon was speaking. He co-wrote the book The Art of Neighboring with Jay Pathak. It raises an interesting question about Jesus’ call to love our neighbors – how well do we love our literal neighbors?

Sitting in the conference room of this retreat center, I wondered why I had never made the connection between Jesus’ command and the person who lived next door. The reason Pathak and Runyon began focusing on building relationships with their neighbors came from a conversation with local city officials who suggested that the biggest way that they, as pastors, could make an impact on their city was to help their neighbors, particularly through shoveling sidewalks.

They decided to begin investing in their neighborhoods and were amazed at the impact it had. City leaders noticed, too.

As he challenges in his book, Dave Runyon asked us to draw a tic-tac-toe board and put our address in the center box. Easy. Next, he asked us to write the names of the households that surrounded us. Not so easy. I knew the names of people in two of the apartments in my stairwell, but my coworkers lived in one of the apartments! I was not doing so hot. Always the competitor, I added names to the boxes from people within my apartment complex, but I was still unable to fill out all 8 boxes.

In his book, Runyon explains how he has done this “test” with numerous churches and only about 10% of people are able to fill out the names of all of their neighbors. The next step was to write down two facts about the people in those houses beyond what you could know from the outside of their home. I knew that information for a few people in my boxes, but again fell short. From Pathak and Runyon’s research, they found that only 3% of the Christians they asked were able to fill out this information for all 8 boxes. Granted, 8 homes is an arbitrary number, but it was sobering to see how poorly I had been loving my literal neighbors.

Discussing the session afterward with my roommates, we decided to try to begin building relationships with our neighbors. We started by baking cookies for our neighbors and inviting them to dinner at our apartment. We also started going to the Zumba class held for free at our apartment complex.

We ended up meeting several people through that class with the help of my Hip Hop skills. One neighbor we met at Zumba class had just moved to Austin from India with her husband. We invited her to neighbor dinner and kept attending classes with her.

Asking questions about her background and culture made it easy to talk about spiritual things. It’s been amazing to see how God has worked through these conversations and opened up doors for conversations about God. She and her husband have even attended church a few times as a result!

Having the opportunity to share the gospel has come naturally in the midst of relationship over about a year and a half. As my roommate and I have transitioned to different jobs in the past year, we have had less time to invest in neighbor relationships as there have been steep learning curves for our jobs, but as the summer approaches, we want to invest in these relationships at a more consistent level.

I’d definitely recommend Pathak and Runyon’s book The Art of Neighboring as you ponder how Jesus’ command to love our neighbors applies to your literal neighbors. It emphasizes the importance of investing in neighborhood relationships in the midst of busy lives at the same time as offering practical ideas.

This will help if you’re unable to rely on your mad dancing skills like I can.