I am still reading, “The Gospel According to Starbucks” by Leonard Sweet. Until this week I haven’t made much consistent time to read it, but I have this week and have really got a lot out of it.
In one chapter he writes about the findings of Ethnologist Ray Oldenburg.
Oldenburg writes that there are three places that define you: Home, Work, and a third place for community experiences.
It is this third place for community experiences that intrigues me. Here are the essential requirements for a third place according to Oldenburg:
- It is neutral ground
- It is inclusive and promotes social equality
- Conversation is the central activity
- It is frequented by regulars who welcome newcomers
- It is typically in a nonpretentious, homey place
- It fosters a playful mood
For the majority of this century, I would argue that the church was this “third place” where most Americans found their community experiences. There are pockets of society where this is still true. By and large, our churches have gotten away from these essential requirements for healthy community experiences.
Sweet says, “churches increasingly became not relational space but propositional place. Instead of going there to connect with God and with others in meaningful relationship, people started going to church to be convinced of transcendent truth, or, if they already numbered among the convinced, to have their beliefs and religious convictions confirmed from the pulpit.”
Where do you find your “third place”? In your weekly poker game? At your kids little league games? Are some of us finding that deep community experience in our churches? Are some of us simply lacking that third place?
Oldenburg states, “without the third place, the urban area fails to nourish the kinds of relationships and the diversity of human contact that are the essence of the city.”
I can’t help but agree with Oldenburg in this. We need human connectedness, and a diversity of human connectedness at that. In our churches, we need to preach and we need to teach. But are these the primary functions of church? Is not church in its essence the connectedness of the family of God?
I have thought deeply about this “third place” and whether or not Fellowship Baptist Church is providing the opportunities for fellowship and connectedness like we should. I fear we aren’t, but I find hope in the relationships I see between our people.
I guess my question is this: How do we (Fellowship Baptist Church as well as any other church or body of believers) become places of relational space and not just propositional place? I’d like to hear any and all of your thoughts on your church and how it does and does not meet your relational needs.
It is relationship that draws us to church. Our relationship with Christ and our desire to praise and worship Him. Hopefully the depth of our relationships with our family of God as well also draws us in and truly makes us a church. May we be about nourishing these relationships. May we look to our churches and cultivate these characteristics of a place where people want to come for community experiences and may they find these and so much more.