LOUISVILLE, Ky. – With the home as one’s primary, or “first” place, the workplace as most people’s “second” place, “third” places are thought of as informal gathering places that foster community interaction.
Two speakers sketched out that framework Aug. 2 during a Big Tent workshop called “Church as Third Place: Inviting and Facilitating Community Interaction,” part of the Evangelism and Church Growth conference at the Big Tent event.
Drawing from sociological data, and significantly from sociologist Ray Oldenburg’s book “The Great Good Place,” the workshop‘s leaders, Philip Lotspeich and Ben Blake, focused on connecting churches with their immediate neighborhoods. Beyond thinking about the people who are present in worship, they said, it is critical to think about those who are not there. With this understanding, the work of ministry largely takes place outside the walls of the church.
The third-place ministry model they described had more to do with ways of looking at existing worshipping communities as “third places,” rather than setting up neutral, self-standing locations (such as coffee shops or pubs). By their explanation, churches could work to embrace the mentality of third places by focusing on building relationships and welcoming strangers.
The shift needs to be away from a focus on membership and toward a focus on relationships, said Blake, vice president of sales and marketing for the Presbyterian Investment and Loan Program. Lotspeich, coordinator of church growth with the Presbyterian Mission Agency, emphasized the need for current church members to sacrifice ease with their current system and personal time to build relationships in new ways.
You want to share your stories, they said, and you need to build relationships in order to do that well.