How to have a neighborhood cookout

I’ve always dreamt of living on a street where everyone knows each other (kind of like Cheers, but on a street instead of a bar). Cheers

I presently live on a street where that’s very far from reality- but we’re trying to change that. My wife and I have lived in our house for almost 6 years and have slowly worked on getting to know the neighbors bit by bit and year by year. This past Sunday, we hosted our 3rd neighborhood party and had 38 people come. They had a great time and profusely thanked us for hosting the get together. I can’t wait to have another get together for our street.

I’m no expert on neighborhood parties, but after hosting and organizing a few I thought I’d share how I do it. I bet there’s a lot of people out there who would love to create community on their street, but aren’t sure where to start.

Step 1: Get to know the neighbors around your house. It took us a while, but we got to know neighbors on one side and across the street. If you need help getting to know your neighbors, try taking walks or take some time sitting on your front porch until you have a chance to introduce yourself (It takes time). After you get to know a few neighbors you’re ready to have your own neighborhood party. Here’s what you do next. (You’re welcome to skip this step, but there’s a chance no one or even worse- only one person will come to your party.) 

Step 2: Share your street party idea with your neighbors. My neighbors loved the idea. Once they were on board, we just had to set the details.

Step 3: Choose a place/day/time. Your neighborhood get together doesn’t have to be at your house. One of your neighbors could host it or maybe there’s an empty lot or a park near your street. I’m a pastor and found out that some neighbors wondered what my ulterior motives were for hosting a party the first time. So, we hosted our second street party at a neighbor’s house down the street. The important thing is to set a day and time that the few neighbors you know can attend. (If you host an event in your driveway, be aware that some people might ask to use the bathroom. Usually kids.) 

Step 4: Invite people. I then printed fliers inviting people to my house for a backyard bbq. I went house to house, personally inviting people to my house for the bbq.

  • I went the week of the event. Any earlier and people would forget.
  • I took my 2 boys with me. (Youngest son was just a twinkle in our eye.) Kids help disarm people and help them believe I’m not selling anything and aren’t too weird. (If you don’t have kids, take your spouse. If you don’t have a spouse, take a neighbor.)
  • I had a 2 sentence invite prepared and ready to go as soon as a person opened the door. (People don’t like answering the door for strangers.)
  • If someone didn’t answer the door, I stuck the flier somewhere it wouldn’t blow away and the homeowner would see it.

Step 5: Prepare your yard. My wife and I provided hot dogs, hamburgers and a few drinks. My neighbors brought plates, cups, and a few side dishes to share. We brought together as many chairs as we could find and a few tables. (People will stand and talk, so you don’t need a huge amount of chairs.) On the invitations we asked people to bring a side or dessert and any drinks they’d like to share.

Step 6: Have fun. At our first bbq, only a few families came on top of the few I knew were going to be there. But, one of those two was an amazing couple my wife and I have become close friends with over the last few years. Every time you get to know one more family, you’ll build credit to invite the neighbors who live near them at your next neighborhood party. People will probably show up 30ish minutes after the party starts (no one likes to be first to a party). I’d suggest having nametags available almost every time you meet.

Types of parties you can have:

  • BBQ– hamburgers/hot dogs, classic.
  • S’mores– great during fall
  • Food themed– chili, cookies, ice cream party (I haven’t tried these)
  • Yard Sale– I’ve heard of streets having a yard sale all on the same day.

To Block Party or not to Block Party: Our city allows a person to have a “block party” where the police will block off the street for a few hours. We haven’t had an “official” block party yet. I feel we need to build a little more momentum and trust on our street before we’re ready to have an official block party. If too few people are interested, blocking off the street could just be annoying to people. I want to make sure we have enough “buy in” before we do something like that.

Getting Digits: Nobody likes getting spammed so might be very cautious about giving out their info on some sort of mass e-mail. Be sensitive and consider letting neighborly connections happen naturally. If someone connects with another neighbor, they’ll get their contact info. You don’t need to force info-collecting on anyone. I started a Facebook page for our street, but with minimal success thus far.

Maybe some of you are a little further down the road with building your neighborhood community. If you have any other ideas that have worked on your street, please share below. 

 Backyard BBQ 2011 IMG_0257

S’mores Party 2012 IMG_0001

Had a third child 2013 (FYI- 3 children are a lot of children) 

Neighborhood Party 2014 IMG_3304