Finding a Church in My Neighborhood  

Even if you don’t live in a major city or urban center, there are plenty of ways you can “walk” through your neighborhood and consider how your spiritual life is impacted by your community and how your spiritual life impacts the community around you. 

In the fall of 2022, I started the search for a new church home. It’s the first time ever that I felt like I could take my time to find a community I wanted to join for worship. In college, I went to the church all of my other friends went to. During my first few years after undergrad, I picked the first church I could make friends at because—well, I needed to make some new friends.  

But as the world continues to open up post-COVID-19 lockdown, and after leading an online community of believers for two and a half years, I took the time to think about the most important things I wanted out of a church.  

A lot of expected things ended up on the list, the most important being how we could continue to foster our relationship with Jesus while also pouring His love into the world. As my spouse and I spent time praying and discussing what we were looking for, we landed on this phrase as the best measure of our church-hunting process:  

“We want to be able to walk to church and meet our neighbors.” 

To Be a Neighbor 

The word “neighbor” can mean many things. But it wasn’t until moving to a major city like Chicago right before the pandemic lockdown that I really stopped to assess what I wanted that word to mean to me.  

In college, my neighbors were the people who lived in my dorm or the people I shared classes with. Right after undergrad, when I lived in my hometown, I would have defined my neighbors as “the strangers I live next to who are nice.”  

It didn’t matter to me then because my relational and spiritual needs were met in other places. I had friends I regularly saw who took me out of the place I lived and into their homes or restaurants and coffee shops. I had online friends across the country who I could play video games with or co-work with on Zoom.  

But when I was trapped at home, and the only people around me other than my spouse were the people I shared an apartment building with and shopped at the grocery store with, my definition of neighbor began to grow. I began to ask myself how the people around me came to live here. 

I was a transplant. I moved from a relatively middle-class part of California to a working-class Chicago neighborhood. Parts of the transition were familiar: the ethnic food, the diversity of languages and businesses. But parts of the transition were also new. This was no longer somewhere I grew up. There are relationships and histories here whose formation I wasn’t present for. 

Living here and doing nothing to understand the new place I lived in felt a little too much like being part of a privileged problem, not a solution. So my spouse and I made a choice to live as close to the ground in our part of Chicago as we could. 

Now that we are church hunting, that is still true. 

“We want to be able to walk to church and meet our neighbors.” 

Spiritual Formation through Being in My Neighborhood 

As we have lived here, my spouse and I have made a few intentional choices as a way to belong to our neighborhood. We work daily to create a life where God can meet us through the part of Chicago we are in. We’ve worked hard to create a life that ties us to the stories and history of this place.  

The most significant example I can think of is the act of walking through the neighborhood. A  few years ago, our car was totaled overnight. We made the choice not to replace it and committed ourselves to walking or using public transit to get around. 

In doing so, we made a certain set of sacrifices. It was harder to go and see friends and family in the suburbs or other parts of town. It took significantly more time and energy to shop—we couldn’t just go to Costco and grab everything we needed in one go. Groceries, household goods, and even takeout took a commitment to walking, relying on transit times, and knowing we could only carry so much in our hands.  

This restriction tied our day-to-day life to the business and people within a 30-minute walk of us, and we began to ask ourselves, “What is the cost of leaving the neighborhood?”  

What resources do we spend outside of this community that we would rather see come back to the people who live life around us? What relationships would we miss forming because we didn’t get to wait by this bus stop and have a chat, or because we weren’t regulars at that store?  

Most importantly, what parts of God’s beauty and story would we miss here if we left our neighborhood more often than stayed? 

I want my spiritual formation to connect to where I live, and I want to develop a relationship with the local businesses, homes, and community events near me. And I want the place where I worship to be part of that too. 

The Act of Walking to Church 

In the stories about Jesus, the act of walking is a chance to encounter Jesus’ power and hear his words. People walked miles upon miles to hear Him speak (Mark 6:33), and He walked from town to town (Matthew 9:35) intentionally to bring healing, deliverance, and the good news. He built relationships and embodied the gospel with His feet, and He invites us to daily do the same.  

So, if God is forming me as I walk through the streets where I live, and through encounters with the baristas, cashiers, cooks, and business regulars I meet—and if I made the choice to look for a church because I knew I wanted a place to deepen my spiritual roots—then the statement that my spouse and I crafted together weighs deeply on my soul.  

“We want to be able to walk to church and meet our neighbors.” 

I want to grow spiritually with my neighbors. I want my community of faith to have a relationship with the rest of the people and places around us. 

I want to share some of the same favorite restaurants and be able to visit without the disengagement of a 40-minute drive somewhere. I want to build connections with people who are engaged in our community, who understand the need for service project funding in our ward, or who know who our local alderman representative is.  

I want to be part of the life of the neighborhood, and I want my church to be involved in the life of the neighborhood. I want it to be easy to invite people in the community to walk over to church with me when I meet them.   

When something good or bad happens, I want my church to celebrate or mourn with what’s going on nearby.  

I want a church that thinks carefully about how it impacts the local organizations and about how the money coming in and out of church activities affects the business and people in the area. 

I want to know my neighborhood better by being involved with my church—because I also want my church to be invested in me and my community. 

*You Can Do This too 

Maybe you’re thinking, “Great idea, but what if I don’t live in Chicago like you?” 

Even if you don’t live in a major city or urban center, there are plenty of ways you can “walk” through your neighborhood and consider how your spiritual life is impacted by your community and how your spiritual life impacts the community around you. 

Here are a few questions to get you thinking: 

  1. How much do you know about the history of the place where you live? Take a minute to search your city or town on Wikipedia. Look up why your town was founded and some major events that helped it become the way it is now. 
  1. Where do you spend your resources most of the time? What kind of relationships do you have with the people at the business or locations you shop at?  
  1. Where can you take a walk in the place where you live? Is there a park or sidewalk nearby? Take a walk and ask God to show you something new about your neighborhood.  

By more intentionally investing in the physical spaces around us, we are also creating a clearer space to better see how we can connect with the people we pass on a daily basis.

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