Third Places

Third Places

Reading another of Jamie Arpin-Ricci great posts, “Tuesdays With Harry – The Ellice Cafe,” I remembered that I had not updated and reposted my lost entry on Third Places, a topic I feel passionate about.

In his book The Great Good Place (Marlowe & Company, 1989), Ray Oldenburg contents that pubs, cafes, markets, coffee shops, community centers, and other “third places” (in contrast to the first and second places of home and work), are central to local community vitality.

He says, “Life without community has produced, for many, a life style consisting mainly of a home-to-work-and-back-again shuttle. Social well-being and psychological health depend upon community.” Oldenburg further argues that, “What suburbia cries for are the means for people to gather easily, inexpensively, regularly, and pleasurably” a “place on the corner,” real life alternatives to television, easy escapes from the cabin fever of marriage and family life that do not necessitate getting into an automobile.”

What do third places “feel” like? Oldenburg lists eight characteristics of third places:

1. They’re neutral ground
2. They’re “levelers” where rank and status don’t matter
3. Conversation is a main activity
4. They’re easy to access and accommodating
5. They have a core group of influential regulars
6. They have a low profile instead of being showy
7. The mood is playful
8. They feel like homes away from home

Since a missional church is made up of individuals willing and ready to be Christ’s people in their own situation and place, who know that they must be a cross-cultural missionary (contextual) people in their own community, creating or using existing third places can be/should be a primary means of being part of our neighborhood. It gets us out of our sheltered Christian world and puts us out into the community.

There are two ways of using third places to become part of your community. You can find existing community gathering places and make them a part of your life and routine. Some groups and faith communities have taken a second route — they have created third places in their communities like a group here in Portland who started Urban Grind.

Existing Gathering Places

I’ve got three third places: 1) Our local cafe (Fat City) where they know me by name and what my order is. I know most of the help and many of the regulars. Sitting at the counter is the best place for conversation. 2) The local Starbucks where I meet friends several times a week and often bump into neighbors, other friends and others from my faith community. 3) A local pub (Raleigh Hills Pub) where I frequent less often, but it works well for many situations. I had a great Irish Stout there yesterday and made it a point to get the name of my regular server.

Creating Third Places

What do you get when you cross a coffee-shop with a faith community? You get the Main Street Crossing.

Ken Shuman, an ordained Baptist minister in the Houston area, is “now the general manager of Main Street Crossing, a popular coffee shop and live-music venue in Tomball, Texas, that has become a kind of Christian community center. By day, it’s just a coffee house. But on nights and weekends several ministries, including Shuman’s Wellspring Church, hold their worship services there.”

Full article is here.

From an article in the Christian Standard dated September 4, 2005, I found the following summary of how three communities are attempting to create third places.

Church! of Park Slope, Brooklyn — In New York City, a church-planting team had to find innovative ways to meet their neighbors. Since the city is a post-Christian environment where suspicion and hostility–instead of curiosity–could be a neighbor’s first response to the new church, the staff must find appropriate ways to intersect with the community.

The Postmark Coffee House helped the staff integrate with the community, meet their neighbors, and give the neighborhood a non-threatening way to stop by, drink some java, and check out this new church. In addition, the staff has invited the community to relationship-building events, like a kids story time or a postcard writing party.

Cedar Ridge Christian Church, Lenexa, Kansas — In the Kansas City suburb of Lenexa, Cedar Ridge realized it could use a multipurpose community center to intersect with its neighbors. A gymnasium, locker room, coffee shop, meeting rooms, indoor playground, and climbing wall are open all week to the community and–oh yeah–a church meets there on Sunday morning.

The adjacent park hosts a number of city festivals. In exchange for parking, Cedar Ridge is granted free booth space. Each event provides an opportunity to inform the community of upcoming children’s basketball leagues, fitness classes, and other happenings at their facility. Arts, education, and recreation fill the weekly calendar of the community center.

Apostles Church, Seattle — In Seattle’s artistically oriented Fremont neighborhood, Apostles Church is engaged in a multiphase plan to renovate a multiuse building that will house a coffee shop/restaurant, art school, and gallery, as well as a large meeting room.

“With the opening of the coffee shop, the neighborhood’s come to understand that we’re for them,” said Karen Ward. “The neighborhood knows we’ve been up front about being part of a church, but since we don’t have any self-conscious church publicity, we’ve been accepted as a contributing part of the community. When a community art center was proposed as a part of our new property, the local businesses and chamber of commerce offered to help us raise the money to make the art gallery a reality.”

I’d encourage you to find one of those “Great Good Places” in your own neighborhood. Frequent it often. Encourage the people of your faith community to do the same. Use it for all kinds of social gathering. If the community you live and minister in doesn’t have a good third place, consider starting one.

An Invitation to Conversation

Do you have a regular third place you visit? What is it like and what has been your experience? Do you run a third place? If so, I’d love to hear about it — tell us your story.

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16 Responses to “Third Places”

  1. Jerry says:

    great post rick

  2. Bryan Riley says:

    It is amazing how the Enemy tries to prevent intimacy and relationship in our lives, driving us to worship the god of self and selfishness. God surely didn’t design us to be that way, but we struggle with openness, honesty, community. Great post and we should all be thinking of places where we can be salt and light and simply rest and reflect with others.

  3. Rick Meigs says:

    Thanks Jerry.

    Bryan: How true, and he often cloths it in religious terms like, “You need to keep yourself pure and undefiled, so you better not enter such and such place.”

    He did create us for community and relationship and I think he expects us to be sent as he was sent — into the world to walk with those who need the physician.

  4. Paul Walker says:


    Thanks for the helpful and comprehensive posting. Michael Frost also speaks on this in his ‘Exiles’ book. I continue to find this stuff to be very challenging. As a full-time minister, I wonder where I’d get the time to really make a serious attempt to hang out in third places – which probably says something about how I organise (or not organise!) my life.

    One thing I feel strongly is that I need to support my church folks to give a greater priority to being missional in third places, as opposed to trying to get them into more church meetings with other Christians.

  5. Rick Meigs says:

    Paul: A very real and valid concern. Dan Kimball in his book “They Like Jesus, but Not the Church” talks about this very issue in chapter 2, “Why I Escaped the Church Office” and also in the introduction. His basic contention is that a pastor can’t afford not to get out and hear and learn from the culture.

    One thing he did was to leave the office and do much of his sermon preparation at the local coffee shop. Now keep in mind, our coffee shops on the West Coast of USA are large, spacious, have WIFI, and are designed for business people to work at.

    I’ve read Frost stuff also. Real good and spot on!

  6. Thanks for the link! I wish Harry was still with us, as he was such a great friend and visionary. I guess we’d all better get at it, eh?


  7. Rick Meigs says:

    I would have loved to have known Harry and get to sit in The Ellice Café and chat. The next best thing is to be able to read his writings, so I’m thankful you are posting them Jamie.

  8. Adam G. says:

    I remember the first time this was posted. Very good. My concern is with how the third place may slide into a vendor-mentality rather than missional, especially in possibly not working much in the deeper concept of building strong relationships in discipleship. In program and show oriented churches “fellowship” amounts to talking, laughing and sharing time with other people. I’m not certain that this is the koinonia the Scriptures talk about.

  9. Rick Meigs says:

    That is a valid concern Adam. If we create a “third place” and if it just turns into regular business, then it misses a lot of what I think it should be about — building relationship bridges.

  10. […] A huge issue and potential blessing for the missional church is that there is no road map for what a local church should look like. […]

  11. Monte says:

    A lovely, hopeful post. Way to go.
    Adam, I suspect that how churches support themselves – and what we spend money on – are under-explored area of emergence where truly fresh and shocking ideas are needed.
    Paul, I am finding over and over that my problem isn’t so much faulty organization as it is that I keep creating job descriptions for myself that have little to do with what God appears to have called and gifted me to do!

  12. Rick Meigs says:

    Thanks Monte. There is a group of us working on an eBook on Missional and I’ve done an expanded version of the post for it.

  13. Steven says:

    I love the conversation. It’s a spring of new inspiration to many.
    I’m glad we can be part of the process.


  14. Christina says:

    hi.interesting topic, especially since i’m doing a study on it this semester in one of my reseacrh courses. do people really know the importance of a third place in their lives, are they even aware of the purpose it serves them?
    I’d like to ad that John Urry coined the term “third spaces”.are they any different?how?

  15. Rick Meigs says:

    Christina: On a conscious level, some know the importance, most don’t. Subconscious, I think most people have a sense (feel) of their importance or they would not go to such places.

    How did John Urry use the phase? And do you know where. I’d love to know about its first use in this context.

  16. […] to establish and maintain third places (a captivating […]