• Jennie Denney

How to Grow Family-Like Community in a Neighborhood by Twyla Franz

Have you ever been the one holding back, skirting the edges of community but not willing to jump all the way in, only opening so little, sharing so much? Because I have.


I know what it feels like to long to be known yet to be the one stopping it.


I know what it feels like to dismiss your voice and your value—to let fear keep you quiet and that critical voice inside convinces you that it’s ok because no one really cares whether you open up and let people in.


I know because I didn’t live open until I chose it as my word-of-the-year. And you will always feel on the outside of community unless you are willing to embrace openness and actually share the imperfect parts of you.


For most of my post-high school years, I was part of a small group. I was part of multiple groups at times, led groups in other seasons. But no matter how real we were with each other when we gathered, we would meet once a week, and in the in-between, I could retreat.


Something inside me knew there was something still missing.

And then I began learning about a missional way of living, where your small group is based on proximity instead of life-season or interest. But it’s one thing to know you have to give it a try and another to take that first baby step towards getting to know the people who live in your actual neighborhood.


Some good friends of ours, my husband, and I said yes one summer. A yes that felt risky. A yes packed with unknowns and what-ifs and all the questions of “Are we really ready for this?” I wish I had known with more certainty then something I’ve been learning all along the way of learning to live missionally inside my neighborhood: God calls us before we feel ready, and he readies us as we grow, and we’re never through the learning.


So we began. We spent more time where we were visible to our neighbors. We made notes to help us remember names. We took a step towards relationships and being real and chose simply to show up, one small way at a time.


And roots of friendships began to grow, and neighbors become more like family than even just friends. Because that’s what baby steps do—they snowball. They gain momentum. They change the trajectory of a life.


I could tell you about how it grows you in humility and grace to openly give and receive help from those who live near you—how this farm table for eight we share meals around was designed and built by our next-door neighbor—how this cutting board that’s now my favorite, he built that too.

I could tell you many times neighbors have helped us carry in the too-heavy-for-just-us things. How you rarely have to buy a tool you’ll only need once when you lend tools back and forth with your neighbors. And how proximity is a prime recipe for growing soul-deep friendships.


But what sums it all up best is this: when we let the people near us actually know us well enough to witness what God is doing on the inside of us, it ripples. And these ripples, they point to Jesus.


*photo credit: Hillary Ungson from Unsplash



Twyla Franz sees our call to fulfill the Great Commission as an invitation to be disciple-making-disciples not just in the faraway places, but also right where we live—in our own neighborhoods. A life-long learner herself of what it means to live on mission in her neighborhood, Twyla loves to gently guide others who feel imperfectly ready to take baby steps into missional living. Her devotional, Cultivating a Missional Life: A 30-day Devotional to Gently Help You Open Your Heart, Home, and Life to Your Neighbors, is available on Amazon. To read the first week of devotions (plus the accompanying group study questions) free, sign up at theuncommonnormal.com.