“Third place.” If it’s not my position in a race to the ice cream running neck and neck with a five-year-old and a two-year-old, what is it? Fellow saint and sinner Lance Ford has posted an enlightening article (credit: Sentralized) on the nature of these “third places.”
And, having read the article, I’m struck by two things in particular: that on a list of our primary gathering places, “church” as it has traditionally been defined doesn’t even make the cut (home, or neighborhood, and places of work, are first and second places, respectively, with cafes, book shops, salons, farmer’s markets, pubs and other communal spaces vying for third); and, second, that according to a description of the eight characteristics of “third places” as defined by sociologist Ray Oldenburg, in his 1999 book, The Great Good Place, “Fellowship of Saints and Sinners” qualifies (albeit as a virtual gathering place).
All of this to say…I want Fellowship of Saints and Sinners to be that ”third place” for us. A place where we can find safe, neutral ground away from our churches and their tiresome, denominational feuds and political in-fighting. A place where it doesn’t matter where we come from or what we look like or believe- because ultimately we’re all somewhere on a journey of conversion- and where conversation happens across all these divides. A place where we can laugh and poke fun at ourselves. A place where we can ask hard questions and disagree respectfully with one another. A place where there really aren’t any expectations for showing up- and when we do, we keep it low-key, fun, engaging and conversational, like a home away from home.
Here are the definition and characteristics of a “third place,” as excerpted from the Sentralized article:
But what exactly is a Third Place? According to Oldenburg the first place is our home and the people with whom we live. The second place is where we work and the place we spend the majority of our waking hours. A Third Place is a public setting that hosts regular, voluntary, and informal gatherings of people. It is a place to relax and have the opportunity to know and be known by others. It is a place people like to “hang out.”
Oldenburg identifies eight characteristics that Third Places share:
- Neutral Ground. People are free to come and go as they please. There are no time requirements or invitations needed. Much of our lives in first places and second places are structured, but not so in Third Places.
- Act as a Leveler. People from all walks of life gather in Third Places. There are no social or economic status barriers.
- Conversation is the Main Activity. The talk is lively, stimulating, colorful, and engaging.
- Assessable and Accommodating. They tend to be conveniently located, often within walking distance of one’s home.
- There are Regulars. It is easy to recognize that many patrons are regulars at the establishment. But unlike other places, newcomers are welcomed into the group.
- Low Profile. As a physical structure, they are typically plain and unimpressive in appearance.
- Mood is Playful. With food, drink, games, and conversation present, the mood is light and playful. The mood encourages people to stay longer and to come back repeatedly.
- A Home Away From Home. At their core they are places where people feel at home. They feel like they belong there, and typically have a sense of ownership.
Why is it so important for Christ followers to understand the concept of Third Places? Because the vast majority of people in the United States are living isolated, relationally impoverished lives. And Third Places offer an opportunity for missionally minded people to do life in proximity to others.
So, my question for you is this: how might Fellowship of Saints and Sinners better live into its identity as a third place? What are some things that we can be doing that we’re not already? What features, ethos, content can we cultivate to make this online gathering place a safe and fun hang-out where folks can be themselves (as much as they “virtually” can be)? Leave your input below, or, if you’d prefer more confidentiality, shoot me an e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tomorrow, thanks to a number of your suggestions: pastors as fashion gurus??? WTF?