As I answered the door at our new home last year I was pleasantly surprised to see an older woman bearing a beautiful basket. This friendly woman, although she was a paid Welcome Wagon employee, was acting like the long-ago neighbor who would greet new families with a loaf of banana bread and a sincere smile.
Thomas Briggs, a newspaper ad man in Memphis, Tenn., started the Welcome Wagon in the summer of 1928. He reasoned that sending personal greetings to new neighbors was the friendly thing to do and if the greeting came with a gift or two from local companies, it could provide a good source of business for his clients. Since it's founding, this greeting service has helped more than 25 million families settle into communities throughout the United States.
However, several years ago this service drastically reduced its staff of friendly faces and for the most part the wagon has become an impersonal collection of coupons without the warm welcome. On Sunday, October 18, 1998 Laura Pulfer, writer for The Cincinnati Enquirer wrote, "Now that the paid "neighbor ladies" have been fired, solicitations will come by mail, dropped off while we are at work. We will not have to make coffee or chitchat with the person who delivers them. It is unlikely that any unpaid neighbor ladies (or gentlemen) will pick up the slack."
Pulfer's last statement hit me hard. Although the wagon part continues does the welcome have to be history? Do we care about our neighbor only in theory? Do we spend more of our time looking into the faces of our computers than we do into the faces of our neighbors?
During this month, have your group members kept their eyes out for any in-coming moving vans in their neighborhood. After some new neighbors have been identified ask the member that lives in that neighborhood to find out if the new family has any children or pets. Then, as a group, put together a basket filled with items that would be appropriate for that family. Start with a phonebook (usually available for free at local grocery stores) and a city map and flyers about local attractions, libraries, and colleges (these can be picked up for free at your local Chamber of Commerce). Add a list of phone numbers and addresses for local schools, veterinarians, video stores, plumbers, hospitals, your church, etc., depending on their unique needs. Then fill the rest of the basket with fun extras like homemade chocolate chip cookies, packages of microwave popcorn, and a couple of video rental coupons. Include a welcome card signed by all the members of your small group. Encourage the member that lives in that neighborhood to leave their name and address with the new family and continue to build a relationship with them. Have them personally invite them to attend your small group and church.
Make your group's welcome basket an on-going outreach project as other members alert the group of new families in their neighborhood.