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.