Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Third Places

I've been continuing to read Exiles and have come across a concept that has been on my mind since last summer when I visited The Freeway and made some comments about it back in October on the blog. One of the things that the Freeway tries to do is create an interactive Third Place (or Third Space) where people can encounter one another and God.

Michael Frost (in Exiles) gives some background to that term.

"The term "third place" was coined by sociologist Ray Oldenburg and appeared in his 1990 book The Great Good Place a celebration of the places where people can regularly go to take it easy and commune with friends, neighbours and whoever just shows up. According to Oldenburg, third places are those environments in which people meet to develop friendships, discuss issues and interact with others. Our first place is the home and the people with whom we live. Our second place is the workplace, the place where we spend most of our waking life. But the third places in our society are the bedrock of community life and all the benefits that come from such interaction. It might be a restaurant or a bar or a social group like the Rotary club or a quilting circle or a coffee shop or a beach or a mall."

Oldenburg says these third places are crucial to a community for a number of reasons ...
* they are distinctive informal gathering places
* they make the citizen feel at home
* they nourish relationships and a diversity of human contact
* they help create a sense of place and community
* they invoke a sense of civic pride
* they promote companionship
* they allow people to relax and unwind after a long day at work
* they are socially binding
* they encourage sociaability instead of isolation
* they make life more colourful
* they enrich public life and democracy

He also lists several essential ingredients for well-functioning third places ...
* they must be free or quite inexpensive
* food and drink are very important factors (though not absolutely essential)
* they must be highly accessible to neighbourhoods so that people find it easy to make the place a regular part of their routine
* a lot of people should be able to comfortably walk to the place from their home
* they should be places where a number of people regularly go on a daily basis
* they should be places where a person feels welcome and comfortable and where it is easy to enter into conversation
* a person should expect to find both old and new friends on each trip to the place

I have a couple of responses to these concepts.
First of all that sounds like a place I want to go.

Secondly, I think church used to be a third place for our culture and it still is a third place for many Christians but for almost no non-Christians.

Thirdly, church is many Christian's third space and it has isolated us from the very people we want to reach. I think that many Christians are so involved in their own third places (church and small groups and church programs/bible studies) that they are never in other people's third place so they never get a chance to meet people who are not like them. And instead of going to other people's third place we want them to come to ours.

Fourthly, I think this concept invites Christians to do a number of things - it's a call to action!

We need to be incarnational and go into places that are other people's third spaces and share them with one another. Any attempt to model your life on the life of Christ must include a genuine attempt to hang out regularly in third places.

We need to be creating and redeeming third places out of our first place by being good neighbours. I realize that one of the most significant places that I meet others is my own neighbourhood. Now I could drive discreetly into my garage and close the door and disappear into my house until I'm ready to leave again or I can make my presence known and felt by walking and talking and introducing myself to everyone who walks past my driveway or to everyone I encounter on my walk around my street.

We need to be creating third places instead of more church buildings - or have church meet in third places. Use your imagination here. Open a coffee shop or a second hand bookstore and see what happens!

1 comment:

alan said...

Tov Li is that not our third place?
How about a bicycle store it is a good place to meet pastors.