By Mary C. Frances, Senior Associate Consultant
Last summer I noticed a little gray bird flitting around my backyard. Between the leaves and how quickly the bird flitted around it was hard to get a good look to identify the little guy. Yes, I am a birder and so it’s hard for me to see a bird without naming it – especially one I haven’t seen before. But, as often as I watched this fellow flit around my yard, usually way up high in the trees, I could never get a good enough look to tell who he was.
Fast forward to today – now – Springtime! Today I sat at my desk and saw not one but two of these birds in the tree outside the window in front of my desk. And, because it’s just Spring and there are no leaves on the tree yet, I was able to get a good look at – and identify – the blue-gray gnatcatchers grabbing their lunch just a few feet away from me. Truly a joyful moment!
In that exciting moment of bird identification, I wondered what keeps us from identifying those around us, our neighbors, who may need extra attention or effort in order to be truly seen. With the birds, I was looking carefully for an eye ring, the color (was it gray or really blue), the length of the tail, and the flitting behavior. With people, the characteristics we are looking for or our needs may not be as easily distinguished. Instead of leaves getting in the way, it may be that we are driving right past our neighbors on our way to and from church. Perhaps we already think we know who they are and so we stopped paying attention (last summer I thought that bird was a Vireo) or we just don’t think we have enough ______ (fill in the blank – time, energy, people, resources) to consider what our neighbors may need or want from us.
Perhaps the place to start is just getting that better look, without anything to get in the way. Starting with the Neighborhood Insights Report to get an overview of over 40 data points to help understand who is right around us – and then take full advantage of this Spring weather to begin walking the streets around your church and meeting the people you’ve driven past all winter to find out who they really are. Like bird identification, it’s just a first step but that first step can lead to all kinds of great ministry happening.