Is Church a Third Place Anymore?

As I write this I am watching it snow outside. There is a field behind our house with a great panoramic view of the country and the beautiful effects of fresh fallen snow on the ground. I’m glad it’s Saturday morning and I am at home.

Let me confess to you that I love home. I am never bored at home because there is so much to do. First there is a “honey do” list that my wife has for me that changes every day, sometimes hourly, and there are fun things all around. There’s my banjo, my Taylor acoustic guitar, my Fender electric; on my computer I can communicate with friends around the world and retrieve information about any subject thru web sites and even compose this blog.

Then there are those four or five new books I bought that need to be read and crawling under the house to make sure that my duct work is not constricting the air flow. Home is a first place for me followed by work which is second place.

So what gets third place? That is a hot topic at the moment in our culture.

Recently Starbucks unveiled its biggest overhaul in its forty-year history in order to become your third place. It is still in early stages but a new kind of Starbucks has launched in Seattle. It serves regional dishes, along with an expansive plate of locally made cheeses served on china. The barista bar is reconfigured to allow customers to sit close to the coffee.

In a recent blog, Dr. James Emery White said that it doesn’t really look like a Starbucks at all, but more like a café that’s been part of the neighborhood for years. So don’t be surprised when you find an outdoor deck and an indoor/outdoor fireplace. Starbucks is trying to get the after 2 p.m. business that other java joints have been peeling away from them for years. If it works, expect it to come to a Starbucks near you.

It is not about the coffee creating an environment that causes people to want to return, in essence a “third place” in our lives.

Think about where you spend your time. Most of us have two social connections: home and workplace (or depending on your situation home and school).

In his book The Great Good Place, Ray Oldenburg argues that we need a “third” place. His thesis is that the home is where we live and constitutes who we live with; our workplace/school is where we spend the most time but is very “task” oriented in nature. We need a “third” place to provide a mooring for community life and wider, more fluid, creative interaction.

So how do we choose a good “third” place?

Oldenburg suggests that they should be free (or at least inexpensive); provide food and drink; be highly accessible (even walking distance); encourage “regulars”; be welcoming and comfortable; and allow for both new friends and old to be found in its confines.

Sounds a lot to me of what a church should be!

Dr. White also wrote that in the U.K. the “third” place has been the pub. In the Middle East, the Hookah lounge seems to fit the bill. In the United States, we didn’t have one. That is until Starbucks, which might explain the coffee chain business exploding into a $15 billion enterprise.

It really is not about the coffee or food, but it is all about the social connection. It is a place to take your lap top and get on wireless internet, meet a friend, read the paper, work with some other people on an assignment, etc.

So I want to throw out a question…Where should the church be in this third place conversation?

The church should be a “third” place where we go and be with friends and talk and enjoy each other’s company, meet new people, and grow in Christ.

We know that the early church met in homes but they also were in the temple courts on a daily basis – (Acts 2:46). For them it was their version of a first-century Starbucks where they gathered to socialize and share life together. Maybe they enjoyed a cup of goat’s milk and talked about the local economy.

Sadly, today we have let other activities and groups take over third place. The church actually has no place in the lives of many people. For some it may be in seventh or ninth place.  We are allowing the secular culture to control more of our lives and time thus the church is less of a factor or influence.

As disciples of Jesus we must reclaim this spot.  How?  Well that is my next blog.   Sorry Ive got to go, my wife just gave me her revised “honey do” list.

Keep the Son, in your Eyes,

Mike James

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