There’s a term in urban planning getting a lot of traction these days: positive proximity. The term refers to ways in which neighbors in a community work together in a positive manner to achieve a worthy goal. Revitalized main streets in small towns and parks in subdivisions have resulted from the positive proximity approach.
Churches can be a major player in the concept of positive proximity. Being a good neighbor as a church to the businesses around it can go a long way to build up feelings of goodwill and gestures of kindness down the road.
The church is never to be an island to itself on a street. It is meant to be a part of the action, a major contributor to the needs of those who dwell in the surrounding spaces.
How does this happen? Perhaps after a snowstorm, a church can arrange to have plow trucks clear the parking lots of neighboring businesses as well as their own. I think of a florist that sat next to my church in Cleveland, OH, whom we bought altar flowers from. The florist in turn allowed our church’s school to sell pumpkins for Halloween in their parking lot each October to raise money for ministry.
So many actions can seem so small, but they are really remembered. Just a simple wave to someone who is coming out of their home while you are coming out of church can bring a smile to that neighbor’s face. That neighbor then recalls that gesture when someone else asks about your church. “They’re nice!”
The driving force behind the positive proximity concept is that it can cause a chain reaction of random acts of kindness in a community. One wave can lead to a conversation about working together on a project to keep the sidewalks clean, which can lead to increased foot traffic to shops and storefronts.
It is important in positive proximity to be open and available. Think of the old model of rows of front porches in a neighborhood. Being out and about in front of your church can help neighbors to see that you care about the place you are in and you care about the community. Make a point to engage in conversations with those who walk by while you are putting a new message on your church sign, for instance.
I think of how Jesus was positive proximity in action. He did not stay inside all time during his life on earth. He was more often walking the streets, talking to people, finding out how things were with them and then helping and healing, as we read in Matthew 9:35:
Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.
That is our role as the church, too, to be the hands and feet of Christ and and not just the dwelling place of God in brick and mortar. Be a positive impact on a next-door neighbor to your church today.