Thursday, May 31, 2007

Coffeeshops and "Third Places"

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.

HT: faith-journey


Rusty said...

Certainly a church service, in all its structured glory, does not carry with it the intimacy associated with a coffeeshop setting (although I would argue that your local coffeeshop attracts a certain "type" of clientele, not unlike a church attracts a certain type of congregant). The idea of a third place, specifically for discussion and social interaction, is intriguing nonetheless.

Phil Steiger said...

Rusty-you are right about the coffee shop attracting a certain type as well. I am often struck by certain books or conferences that talk about how to attract and keep people that are really about how to attract and keep people with certain personality leanings. A vibrant dance & drama ministry that performs regularly in the weekend services will draw people who have very different tastes that I.

Paul said...

Thanks for the ht!

Great article, I think. Just wish we actually had a decent coffeeshop in my town!