Helpful Tidbits for Organic Church Life                                     December 29, 2008
Church in 'Third Places'
My Reflections
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Although I'm not necessarily a Starbucks fan (just returned to my house from one), I must concede that their Pike Place roast is pretty good and their ability to create 'third places' (or spaces) is nearly second-to-none.
What's a 'third place'? Coined by Ray Oldenburg in 1989, third places are "anchors" of community life. Whereas the 'first place' is the home and 'second places' the workplace, 'third places,' like Starbucks, are natural hubs in a community where relationships develop.

THIS WEEK'S QUESTION/TOPIC: The missiological significance of 'third places' and Gospel 'entry points'
Church in 'Third Places'
Excerpt from After McDonaldization by John Drane

after_mcdonaldizationA Gospel-centered community will be a space in which the human and divine can meet in creative encounter. One aspect of cultural change that accompanies the reshaping of the urban landscape is the unprecedented growth in places that intentionally create a 'third space'. The online journal In Third Space defines this construct as 'a conceptual area that exists beyond conventional categories...a state of hybridity and fluidity'. More prosaically, Starbucks...has applied this terminology to its own stores, promoting them as a third-space experience where people can spend time creating and enjoying a new community that is somewhere between work (where relationships are generally highly structured and McDonaldized) and home (where isolation and boredom are often the norm). Their introduction of coffee cups bearing wise sayings under the banner of 'the way I see it' serves to underline the ever-present search for meaning and purpose in life by offering customers something to talk about that will lift their conversations beyond the mundane and everyday. Starbucks describe this as 'a way to promote open, respectful conversation among a wide variety of individuals'. When I first came across these cups, and engaged in precisely that sort of conversation over coffee with others who happened to be there, I instantly thought to myself, 'But isn't this what church is supposed to be like?' - or, maybe with greater theological accuracy, 'Isn't this actually church, but it's happening outside the boundaries of what we think church is?' Christians who want to make a difference will be a part of the third spaces of the culture, either by operating within such spaces where they already exist (typically city centers and rural locations), or by helping to create them where there is no common meeting ground for lonely people to find community (typically the suburbs). Jesus knew how to occupy the third spaces of his culture, and always operated in a setting where he would naturally bump into people. That is where discipleship was nurtured and the lost were invited to be a part of the conversation. Without this kind of space, it is hard to follow the apostolic injunctions to build one another up in faith. The inherited paradigm has given us structures that model Sunday services, but few third spaces that can model discipleship (2008:56).

 My Reflections
In the next few days I'll be writing a review of Drane's book After McDonaldization for Missiology: An International Review. While writing the review I will, no doubt, highlight Drane's assertion that people generally embrace the Gospel through one of three "entry points" (2008:83).
  1. Behaving: How to live?
  2. Believing: What makes sense?
  3. Belonging: How to relate?

Interestingly, Drane pegs the emerging church movement (that includes organic) as reaching primarily those asking the question, "How to live?" Primarily a younger crowd, this segment of people have a tendency to place an emphasis on right living over right thinking. Perhaps Richard Rohr's statement, "Christians do not think their way into a new life; they live their way into a new kind of thinking," epitomizes the particular lens through which us "emerging" folks peer through (2008:89).

Drane goes on to assert that whereas some expressions of the church excel at the "Behaving" entry point, others excel at the "Believing" (e.g., "older traditional" churches) and "Belonging" (e.g., "traditional charismatic" churches) entry points.
Although I think Drane makes a good point, it pains me to think missiologists looking from the outside-in see our 'movement' as primarily behavior-oriented as opposed to believing or belonging-orientated.
All this is to say, let's be self-aware. Although I do see the organic church movement as obliterating the line between secular and sacred, decompartmentalizing the compartmentalized, thereby addressing the question 'How then shall we live?', let us not neglect issues relating to belief (right doctrine) and experience (generally charismatic).
starbucks_tableNow, back to third places and coffee cups. When seeking to "make disciples" as Jesus commanded me to, I must remember that the person with whom I'm engaged is a whole person, one who needs to behave rightly, believe rightly, and belong rightly. No matter their "entry point," all three points need to be addressed in some way. Neil Cole in his book, Organic Church, addresses such issues via the DNA concept: behaving equates to A or Apostolic Missionbelieving equates to D or Divine Truth, and belonging equates to N or Nurturing Relationship.
Hope this was of some benefit to you.

Traver Dougherty
The Banqueting Table