I was trying to explore how we might build such a sense of community among people with some interest in Buddhism. I don't think it's easy.
I'm not sure it has to be just neighbors. It's more that the people you see at the centre are the people you interact with in other ways - having dinner, going on trips, and so on. Not just meeting for meditation...
We are exploring it for the last 7 years. The results are not so good as they could be, and two main factors for this are, lets say, "neighbourhood" and "not native religion". Dhammacenter is too far away for many - not a "5 min walk", like in the case of most asian local communities. So, someone pays a visit and then we don't see him for weeks or a month. For him, it takes too much time and "effort" to get there, because it's like a small trip. This is why people see themselves as "guests" all the time. Most of them can't say "Ow, this is my
community" - they don't have such a feeling, simply because of rare visits.
However, we succeeded in forming good internet community of people (from different towns) who know each other personally and even rarely meet together, either coming to our dhammacenter in Spb, or even travel in a small group to Thai, Burma, Lanka as pilgrims. Such people support our center financially and we are 100% dependent on them (we have to pay monthly rent - and have been doing it for these last 7 years - without any "asian support" at all, and this is already an achievement -). Some of them even made such a nice video
on our 7th dhammacenter "birthday".
Interesting thing is that none of them really meditates (at least "hard") or interested much in meditation. Those who do, usually don't have interest in our community. Some of them found us via website or forum, some - via lectures & meetings with our Ven. Monk -) To keep such people we drink much tea and talk a lot about different things (non-dhammic as well), so to create warm and informal friendly atmosphere. This works very well. 3 times a year we hold 2 buddhists holidays (Magha puja and Vesak), and a 3rd one, Kathina day conjoined with Dhammacenter "birthday" - up to 40-50 people come (including those from another cities), they bring tons of food and chat a lot (just like in Asian local monasteries). However, from our side we have to make a good program every time - with thematical games and quizes, speeches, ceremonies, showing spec. videos/photos, etc etc, and trying to get a full Sangha (4 monks) if possible
. All this also works very well for creating community spirit. Also I'd add that having a monk plays a crucial role. He is like a magnet. Without him everything would collapse I think, because he, being a monk, spends a lot of time communicating with people, answering questions, giving advice, giving lectures, and so becomes a central driving force.
To move things further we need to somehow strengthen "horizontal connections" among "guests", so that they could become "friends" among themselves. The problem is - you can't just order people to become friends -) So atm I'm thinking about starting a social network group (like Facebook group for example) where these "guests" could post notes about where they want to go, what to do in leisure time, so that others could join if they want to. Not sure this will work, but I don't see what else can be done in our present situation. The problems is - people come as "guests", but then, even if they want to be in a community, they either disappear, because, well, there is none for them as "guests" who pays rare visits. We haven nice "vertical connection" (a person --> monk/dhammacenter), but no horizontal (guest --> guest) -- and "neighbourhood" factor plays a big role here. People become friends only when they see each other frequently or do something together frequently.