One of the great things about where I live is that it is a small community of about 7000 people situated over an hour's drive from the closest similar sized towns. The result of this is that you work with the same people you play sport with or go to church with, and you will likely meet the same people at school functions or service club fund-raisers and when shopping.
In this situation developing relationships with other people becomes natural to a certain extent. We live, work and play together. In times of disaster we all rely on each other, and we all celebrate when there is a victory.
In our community, there is a certain amount of turn over as people move away to attend university or retire to the coast, and others come in to take their place. Overall, though, many people live their entire lives here. That means that we see people grow up, mature and take their place in the community, sometimes through several generations.
Of course, this only takes relationships so far. Saints and sinners alike can talk about the weather, the football and the crops. Even in a tightly knit community, people can live in desperate loneliness, yearning to belong.
We have found that regular cell outreach events give us a chance to talk more deeply with the people we invite. In a relaxed atmosphere over a few hours, people are able to open up a little more about their hopes and dreams, perhaps their challenges and fears. That might open the door for prayer or sharing about how God has helped us in the past. It also opens the door to invite them to other events, perhaps to dinner at your home or to the cell group.
The best outreach events start with the guests in mind. We can be tempted to think about what we enjoy doing. We need to think about what our friends enjoy doing and what is relevant to their lifestyle. Make sure that the event leaves time for conversation in a relaxed setting. Planning an event in this way means that you are actually starting from a position of love by putting the desires of others above your own.
I encourage groups to have lists of people that they regularly pray for. We pray about the kind of outreach to organise, the people to attend and the relationships which might develop through it all.
In this way we combine love for our neighbour, prayer and evangelism. As we reach out to our neighbours, we find we are reaching out to God even more.