They are the stereotypical “third place”: that community meeting place where the missionally-minded churchy folks like to engage with the secular world. It’s a gathering place. It’s a mixing place. And, really, it can be a holy place.
But, we need to be clear…it’s not just the local coffee shop that fits this mold. Bars can be a “third place.” So can local schools. I know of a McDonalds in a small town in Indiana that really is one of these places.
It is true that churches can almost “take over” third places and make them their own. Clergy or missional leaders can get territorial when it looks like another church is taking over “their” place. It’s also true that churches can try to imitate the third places in their communities–trying to be the next new, hip, gathering place where community and world intersect.
Chris Morton notes on his blog, Growth and Mission, says that the best approach to “third places” is to support them. He gives five ways:
- Show up without an agenda. Go to a coffee shop with a book or hang out at the pub. Don’t go if you feel stressed out and have a lot of work to do. Pray for opportunities, and be ready to be interrupted.
- Get to know the staff. Learn the name of the bartender or barista. Ask about their family. Ask them for recommendations. After all, they are the people you are most likely to see on a regular basis.
- Have meetings at third places. Church offices have their purposes, but most meetings can (and maybe should) take place in public. Meetings give you one more chance to be in your third place. It gives you a chance to introduce church friends to third place friends. It’s also got great beverages.
- Learn a few good questions. In some ways, third places aren’t that different than cocktail parties. People are there because they want to engage. Have a few go-to conversation starters on hand, if the moment arises.
- Be your third place’s biggest fan. You need the third place, and they need you. Go regularly. Tip well—really well. Tell your friends about it. Attend official functions. Help make the place fun.
None of this is “rocket science.” And that’s OK. Just the point is that you don’t need to make your church into a “third place” and you don’t need to make your “third place” into a church. I hope I’m already doing most of what he lists at my “third place” of choice. But this is a great reminder.