Dreams Coming True is a Thursday feature on my blog, a way to highlight those whose goal is to create community. The dream might be a blog, a published book, a small business, volunteering, or even fundraising for a charity. Something that makes the world a better place . . . for others.
“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin” (Zechariah 4:10, NLT).
Welcome Amy Lively, creator of The Neighborhood Café, to Dreams Coming True! Leave a comment on this post to enter to win a Neighborhood Café Kit!
After many years of rejecting Christ, I finally responded to His Spirit thanks to the powerful influence of many good, Godly girlfriends and countless prayers. This experience taught me firsthand how natural relationships impact our spiritual destiny! Loving Jesus has made me a better wife to David, my husband of 24 years; a better mom to our daughter, Emma, a high school senior; and a better neighbor. I’m on staff at our church and I’m also writing a book, and I created a ministry called The Neighborhood Café.
When did this creative dream begin?
I learned the concept of neighborhood Bible study at a women’s conference for writers and speakers in 2008. My initial excitement about doing this in my own neighborhood quickly turned to fear when I realized the time and effort it would involve… and then there was the slight problem that I didn’t know my neighbors!
After months of arguing with God about this crazy idea, I finally invited my neighbors to an Open House followed by a neighborhood Bible study in my home. It was called the Rosewood Café because we lived on Rosewood Drive. Eventually a ministry was born called the Neighborhood Café that equips women to love their neighbors in a whole new way.
How did this project/idea get started?
Our best ideas start in our own experiences. Long before the Neighborhood Café became a ministry, I ministered to my own neighbors. My heart’s desire was first to teach my neighbors about Jesus, then to teach others about neighborhood ministry. If I wanted to teach others, I knew had to do the work myself. Jesus doesn’t ask us to do anything He didn’t do Himself, so how could I?
I kept track of everything that worked in my neighborhood—and what failed miserably! I saved every invitation I created for my neighbors, every Bible lesson we discussed, every delicious recipe they brought to my home. I created the Neighborhood Café Kit, an adorable keepsake box that contains everything you need to start your own Neighborhood Café in your home! It includes a Planning Guide, invitations, follow up cards, a music CD, and even an introductory curriculum to help you get to know your neighbors. Every piece has been tested and tweaked in my neighborhood and hundreds more across the country. There are now Neighborhood Cafés across the United States and even in Canada! Search for a Neighborhood Café in your own neighborhood at my website, www.theneighborhoodcafe.net.
How does your project create community?
The Neighborhood Café helps women form relationships with the neighbors God has very carefully placed around their home. Friendships begin over coffee at the kitchen table, and spiritual conversations flow out of these natural connections. We also have an online community of Neighborhood Café Hostesses who pray for each other, offer support and encouragement, and share ideas.
Many have creative ideas but trouble following through with them. What advice would you give to creative types who start projects eagerly . . . but then enthusiasm drizzles off?
Live your message. The Neighborhood Café is first and foremost about my personal love for God expressed through my love for my neighbors. I have an audience of One—and He is not my Facebook fan or blog follower.
Be faithful in the small things, and God will entrust you with bigger things. My ministry has had seasons of productivity as well as dormancy. Sometimes this is because I am dutifully fulfilling other responsibilities, which is perfectly fine. Other times, I am delaying and disobeying God’s clear direction… definitely not OK! Prayerfully determine which state you are in, seek God’s path and then take your next best step. Plan ahead but don’t run ahead—let God set the pace.
What’s been the hardest part about getting it off the ground?
Just like me, women are excited when they first learn about the Neighborhood Café . . . and then they get scared. Satan fights hard because the stakes are high! Can you imagine the impact if we all knew our neighbors, let alone truly loved them?
Doubts plagued me as publisher after publisher ooohed and aaahed over the Neighborhood Café Kit, then said, “It’s a wonderful idea, but it doesn’t fit our traditional model.” I finally realized that God not only gave me the idea, but He also gave me the marketing background, internet skills, technical support, and sales experience to manage it myself. I create, design, source, print, assemble, sell and ship each Neighborhood Café Kit myself. I would love to find a partner to help with this.
Have there been any unexpected surprises?
As I’ve taken very small steps, God has opened very big doors! He introduced me to Jennifer Rothschild’s ministry at womensministry.net, where I am a contributing writer; I also write for the Not Quite Amish Living blog. I was invited to write guests posts for Lysa TerKeurst and Courtney Joseph at Women Living Well. He took me to ICRS last year, an incredible learning experience about the Christian retail industry. I was on FamilyLife Today with Dennis Rainey and Bob Lepine last year. I speak across the country at conferences and retreats about loving our neighbors. And—be still my heart!—I am writing a book called How to Love Your Neighbor Without Being Weird that will be published by Baker Books this spring!
What are some ways you promote your project?
I sell the Neighborhood Café Kit on my own website, where I also have a blog. Writing for other blogs, offering giveaways, and hosting guest bloggers have helped me reach new people. I send an email each week to my subscribers (ok . . . most weeks!) and I have the usual social media (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest).
Creating something is one skill. Marketing and promoting it is an entirely different skill set. How has that gone for you? Shocked by the amount of work marketing takes? Or pleasantly surprised?
Marketing is sooooooo hard for me! I just want to do the ministry, not talk about doing it. Scheduling blog posts and social media, creating graphics, formatting messages—ugh! Thankfully, I have several professional marketing advisors; I wish I had a team to actually do it for/with me.
Any marketing mistakes you would avoid?
I can’t conquer every social media. I use Facebook a lot personally, so that’s where I focus my ministry marketing. I hate Twitter (what writer can communicate in 149 characters?!) so the only tweeting I do is automatically generated by my website. I try to remember to pin my own graphics. I have peace knowing I can’t be all things to all people in all social media.
How can we find your creative dream come true?