In this great little article by David Swanson, the importance of what have been called the “third places” is highlighted. A “third place” is a niche in a society between the home and the church where people find themselves relating. In some cultures it may be a bar or a pub, a lodge, or a neighborhood park. In our culture, it tends to be the local coffee shop.
Swanson notes one of the characteristics of a place like this as opposed to a church gathering:
Not only don't I know who I'll bump into at the coffeeshop, chances are, they won't look like me. While many churches tend to attract people who are similar, the coffeeshop doesn't have a target demographic....Our church is a highly structured and very busy suburban environment where spontaneous interaction with friends rarely happens....At the coffeeshop, however, I can count on bumping into someone who will be up for some conversation.
The “third place” offers an atmosphere that a church or even a home cannot, and it invites people a church or a home cannot. Is there a way for the church to engage in what the author calls “coffeeshop discipleship”?
It seems to me that there may be a great deal of upside to a third place where discussion and social circles can be more free-flowing than in a pre-structured environment. They might be great places for small groups, for planned discussions, and for impromptu meetings. Just recently I had a good discussion with a young man in a local coffee shop simply because I was sitting there reading a book.