In his book, The Great Good Place, Ray Oldenburg argues that we need a "third" place. Oldenburg's thesis is that the home is where we live and constitutes who we live with; our workplace/school is probably 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. -Churchandculture.org
The term third place is not new, yet it continues to make a radical difference in people’s quest and desire for socialization and a sense of belonging. It is said that Starbucks coffeehouse became an instant success because it positioned itself as a third place. People from all walks of life gather at Starbucks for a host of reason; kingdom impact should be one of them. While attracting people of like minds, Starbucks provides a seductive product that makes social dialogue easy. Not long after the Starbucks craze exploded in the marketplace, other businesses entered the third place market. The driving factor for most businesses was the profitability and instant success Starbucks was maintaining.
Entering the Third Place Market
While the church has attempted to enter the third place market as a basis for kingdom impact and kingdom building; malls, pubs, restaurants, community coffeehouses, ballparks, cyberspace, female/male styling salons and outdoor recreational venues are somehow doing a better job of attracting people, especially on a day and time that was exclusively reserved for the church (Sunday from 10:00 am – 2:00 pm). Is the church missing something? Declining memberships says: yes.
Not as Easy as it Seems
Although churches have established café’s, fellowship lounges, and gaming centers for children and youth, it seems that overall, churchgoers and the unchurched find greater appeal in non-church venues identified as the third place. Researchers suggest that there are a few reasons the church struggles in this area: tradition, theology, practicality, and missional purpose. I will speak more to these reasons and why they reduce kingdom impact in another blog.
What is the Church Missing?
How often have we realized that more people are at the ballpark, beach, or recreational facility enjoying life as we leave the church of our choice? How often have devoted church members taken sabbaticals while their children are participating in events held at school or sporting events during traditional worship times?
Alternatives to Church-Based Third Places
Oldenburg argues, “we need” a third place. If the church is to compete with third places of the world, it must begin meeting the relevant needs of its members and the people of the community. If the church is not able to make the adjustment to becoming a third place, it can always find a few places in the area and begin frequenting them for meetings, fellowship and basic socialization. You might be surprised at who will become attracted to your church when they see members engage in “holy conferencing” in non-religious venues on a regular and consistent basis. Don't let your church miss out on potential opportunities to make a kingdom impact. Identify venues as your church’s third place or retrofit your facility if possible, to attract people in non-traditional ways.