Posts Tagged ‘third place’

Mission or Business?

Monday, March 26th, 2012

“It’s good for the business of the church but bad for mission.”

That’s what Jen said yesterday as we were talking about the church building as a “third place.” Ministry strategy has been a regular topic of conversation for my wife and I as we launch Agape Ann Arbor. She’s helping me hone the language I use as I communicate what we’re doing.

OK, back to this whole church as the third place thing. The “third place” is a sociological theory popularized by the author Ray Oldenburg. In a nutshell, Oldenburg has observed that in the west we inhabit three places; (1) work, (2) home, (3) and the third place. The third place is the place we inhabit by choice. It is the center of our social life. Think Cheers or Central Perk in Friends.

Many contemporary American evangelical churches have created a ministry strategy around this observation. The philosophy of these churches is that their worship facility should be a third place. The strategy is to create environments and activities in the building that will draw people to the building. The goal is to make the physical structure in which the church meets so attractive that people want to spend time there. It’s great for business. The church members meet at the building for Bible study and buy coffee in the cafe. The church members lives revolve around that physical structure and typically they’re willing to pay for the services they receive in that place.

It’s a good business strategy. It’s a bad mission strategy. The mission of the church is to make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). You can’t make new disciples if all the Christians are spending all of they’re limited unallocated time with each other in a third place that non-Christians will never choose.

The theory is that if we create cool, comfortable enough environments non-Christians will join us in our cozy little third place. But why would they do that? Do we really think we can compete with Starbuck’s or the comfortable pub on the corner? The only people that want to come to our church buildings are people who are positively predisposed to them. Virtually by definition, this excludes people who are not a part of our Christian community.

This is why Agape Ann Arbor does not inhabit a specific space especially designed for our community. We want to make new disciples. This means we spend time in places where we can meet and connect with people who are not already a part of our community. We inhabit spaces inhabited by people who are not yet Christ-followers. We seek to build relationships there. And, rather than presuming that everyone there is looking for an invitation to be a part of our community we strive to be the kind of people they want to invite into their community.

Think about this: How many stories are there in the Gospels about Jesus inviting people into his community? How many stories are there in the Gospels about people inviting Jesus into their community?

Here’s a challenge for you. Read through the Gospels this week and notice all the parties that Jesus attended. As you read those stories write down where those parties are held and who hosted them.

What do you think? Is the third place a good mission strategy or a good business strategy?

The Fourth Place

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

Recently the idea of the “third place” has become popular in ministry circles. I’ll try to give a quick definition of the concept here. In the US, we live in three places; home, work, and the third place. There are a variety of expression of the third place; the local coffee shop (think Friends), the corner bar (think Cheers), the local lodge (think The Flintstones). The third place is where people go to socialize. It’s the hub location for their “tribe.”

In ministry circles there have been a lot of conversation about how we should make the church the “third place.” This, theoretically, is a good idea. If people are spending their “third place” time at the church they can connect to the community and grow spiritually.

I’m a little leery of this idea. If I’m spending all my time at home, work, and church, when do I engage with people who aren’t Christ-followers? Yes, I know work is a good place to do that. The people there are stuck with me. I will also concede that the workplace is part of our “mission field.” But is it the most effective place to share Christ? I find the conversations that most often turn to spiritual things are not at work. They’re at third places with third place people. If the church were to become my third place then when would I have these conversations?

I think maybe the church should be the fourth place. We should carve time out of our schedules to engage at church and in church activities but not let it monopolize our time outside of work and home. Prioritize church but don’t make church your third place. Find a place where you can naturally build relationships with people who don’t know Christ and use that “third place” time as mission time. Here are a couple of examples:

• Coach soccer (or whatever)
• Study martial arts
• Join a book club

Don’t make church your third place. You’ll miss way too much of what God is doing outside the walls of the church building. Besides, if the church is people, can the church really be a third place or any place at all?

What are some other third places where you’ve been able to share Christ and see God working?