Updated March 15, 2017
But wait! There’s more!
Funny how the Holy Spirit brings things to your notice. (Even after you’ve hit “Publish”! Hence, the update.)
In one of this week’s web wormholes (not to be confused with ordinary web “rabbit holes”) I found article after article about Christians, non-Christians, and their intersection and interaction.
Here’s some of my findings.
Have you heard of the “Third Place”?
In community building, the third place (or third space) is the social surroundings separate from the two usual social environments of home (“first place”) and the workplace (“second place”). Third Place Wikipedia
As a society, we live in “First Places,” our residences. We work in “Second Places,” our places of employment (and, I posit, places of education).
The “Third Place” is some “where” that is not at home and not at work (or school).
Popular “third places” include:
- coffee shops and cafes
- bars, pubs and restaurants
- shopping centers, stores, malls, markets
- hair salons, barber and beauty shops
- community centers, senior centers
- recreation centers, YM/WCA, pools, movie theaters
- parks and playgrounds
- neighborhood parties, block parties, cookouts,
- schools, colleges, universities, libraries
- clubs and organizations
Characteristics of Third Places include:
- Neutral ground – little to no obligation to be there
- Leveler (a leveling place) – no importance placed on an individual’s status in a society
- Conversation is main activity – although it is not required to be the only activity
- Accessibility and accommodation – open and readily accessible to occupants
- The regulars – regulars who help give the place its tone, and help set the mood and characteristics of the area
- A low profile – never snobby or pretentious, and accepting of all types of individuals, from several different walks of life
- The mood is playful – the tone of conversation in third places is never marked with tension or hostility
- A home away from home – warmth, possession, and belonging; gain spiritual regeneration by spending time there.
The Waning Reach of Church-Organized Mission Service
The article, Service in Community: The Changing Nature of America’s Irreligious Explained, from The Conversation blog, avers:
Most of the public conversation about religious disaffiliation tends to emphasize the idea that with the rise of the religious “nones,” a categorization that goes back to the 1960s, America is becoming more secular and less religious.
The question then is:
What effect does this decline of personal church affiliation have on social service to those in need?
There is a long-established positive correlation between religion and volunteerism in American society. While this can be partly explained by personal religious motivations, it is also true that religious organizations have long been involved in providing important services to those in need.
As religious organizations lose members, we might expect that they will be less capable of providing the volunteers needed to make available the services they have long provided. Service in Community: The Changing Nature of America’s Irreligious Explained
The Expanding Reach of Non-Religious Service Groups
Fortunately, the number of non-religious groups providing social services is increasing.
- As the number of religiously unaffiliated young people continues to grow—estimates from Pew Research Center suggest that a third of Americans under 30 are religious “nones”—service-oriented groups have begun to flourish that are designed to attract volunteers from a wide array of religious traditions, or from no tradition at all. Charting The Future Of Religion
Further positive news:
- Some groups of nones, however, are finding different ways of doing community work, combining their desire to help others with their dislike of formal (religious) organizations. Volunteer groups unaffiliated with any religious group are doing things like feeding the homeless on LA’s Skid Row and providing free laundry service to the homeless and working poor. Service in Community: The Changing Nature of America’s Irreligious Explained
- The dramatic growth of service groups that are attracting religious “nones” suggests that while the altruistic impulse may be specially honored in many religions, it isn’t unique to any of them—or, for that matter, to institutionalized forms of religion. Charting The Future Of Religion
In addition, secular service groups do not simply provide an outlet for philanthropic activities.
Secular organizations are increasingly filling a religious role in the lives of millennials. How Can Secular Organizations Connect to Institutional Religion?
As an example, Angie Thurston, interviewed in How Can Secular Organizations Connect to Institutional Religion? declares
You’d have an organization that was focused ostensibly on something like physical fitness or well-being, but the experiences people were having there had more to do with personal growth and transformation, and a connection with a sense of purpose in their life, a sense that they were part of something bigger than themselves.
Isn’t that what we all want?
- Personal growth and transformation
- A connection with a sense of purpose in life
- A sense of being part of something bigger than ourself
How can we, as Christians, help others, non-Christians as well as Christians, in this journey of change, connection, and purpose through relationship?
The Blessing of Partnership
In my last post, I proposed that, as part of their Mission to the world, Christians work alongside non-Christians in their service to the world.
Whenever Christians are serving with a secular organization, the witness of those believers can be seen by non-believers, as they work alongside one another.
14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot * be hidden; 15 nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16 NAS
This is not to say Christians are not to serve with church or para-church organizations.
Of course not!
But, perhaps we should not limit our “good works” to serving only through religious groups.
In 5 Reasons You Should Send Your Kids to Public School, Brian Jones poses the question:
If we remove all the Christian kids from public schools, who will influence the remaining kids for Christ? And their families?
In the same way, If Christians, solely in groups of Christians, serve the people of the world, who will influence non-Christians who also serve the people of the world?
Once more, I ask:
What if non-believers saw Christians serving the same people, the same cause, as they are serving?
- Without censure of the behaviors of others?
- Without bias toward anyone?
- Without intolerant and argumentative evangelizing?
- With a chance to see Christians living out their faith, living the Christ-life?
- With an opportunity to ask about the Christian faith in a neutral location (the Third Place)?
- With an occasion to see a Christian, without a predetermined perception of Christians?
When we work alongside our secular counterparts, we have to be more conscious of what we say, how we act and how we represent Christ to them. Karl Vaters, 8 Reasons Churches Should Partner with Secular Community Groups
Life in the Third Place?
In horse-racing, the third horse that crosses the finish line is called “Show.”
- Win = First place
- Place = Second place
- Show = Third place
What if Christians took to the Third Place to “show” Christ to the world through our actions?
A third place creates space where someone can belong to before they believe. Missional Community Practices: Third Place by Todd Engstrom
For families with kids in school, much of your calendar may revolve around school events… Be intentional about meeting and building friendships with some of the parents there. It will be really great for the other parents at your school to see your Missional Community [i.e., small group] coming out to support your kids, even if (or especially if) they don’t have kids of their own at the school! Kids And Missional Communities: A Third Place by John Murchison
For Missional/ Small Groups:
So where do missional communities gather for a third place? It depends on the people you’re trying to reach. Ask the question, “Where do people already spend time and naturally go? How can we gather there?” Missional Community Practices: Third Place by Todd Engstrom 4 3 2013
[T]he key is finding a community engagement piece. The diversity in the volunteers is important too. You don’t have doctrinal debates. You just do [service for others] (sic). Greg Ronning, a Lutheran pastor in Orange County [California] Charting The Future Of Religion by Nick Street
Karl Vaders gives 8 Reasons Churches Should Partner with Secular Community Groups:
- It Increases Our Sphere of Influence
- It Can Impact Their Perception of Christians – And Jesus
- It Bursts Our Church-World Bubble
- It Shakes Up Our Comfort Zone
- They’ll Help Us Reach People We Can’t Reach
- It’s Less Self-Serving
- It Stretches Our Faith
- It’s Humbling
In his article, Vaters asks:
How can we reach our communities if they have no idea we love them?
And how will they know we love them if we don’t work alongside them?
But they get to experience Jesus’ love through us. Love without agenda.
And we have to be ready to answer, listen and love them. No matter what.
Third Place Mission Field
What if we consider our “First Place Mission Field” to be in service to the world as a church family?
And what if we consider our “Second Place Mission Field” to be in service to the world as a part of a para-church or Christian non-profit organization?
What if, then, we consider our “Third Place Mission Field” to be in service to the world as a part of a secular group or organization?
Proposed Characteristics Third Place Mission Fields Should Include:
- Neutral ground – little to no obligation to be there; self-selected, desire to participate
- Leveler (a leveling place) – no importance given to an individual’s status in society
- Serving others is the main activity – although civil conversation is encouraged
- Accessibility and accommodation – open and welcoming to multi-cultural diversity
- The regulars – regulars who give the act of service direction, organization, continuity
- A low profile – never snobby or pretentious, accepting of all types of individuals, from several different walks of life
- Friendly and respectful – never marked with tension or hostility
- A home away from home – warmth, belonging, and responsibility; experience connection and fellowship by spending time in service
Sounds good, huh?
So why aren’t we out there, in the Third Places and in the Third Place Mission Fields?
Unless we intentionally make time for people outside our community, we often won’t do it. Missional Community Practices: Third Place by Todd Engstrom
Many churches today are part of “a negative withdrawal from a culture increasingly becoming post-Christian and godless.” They have developed “their own ‘family life centers’– some of them including their own bowling alleys, playgrounds, and ‘movie nights.’ ” They seek “to make the church the culture center for the family (especially the kids) and therefore disconnect them (‘come out from among them and be ye separate’) from the pagan world around them.” Evangelism in Every Place by Tim Brister
I call this type of separation of the church from the world:
“Not of the world. But Not in it either.”
In response to this trend, Tim Brister suggests the use of Third Places. He continues:
“[T]hird places have become the leading evangelistic narrative as living ‘missional’ has challenged people to get out of the Christian subculture/ bubble and get back into the community through thinking and living redemptively in these third places. Evangelism in Every Place by Tim Brister
So, do you take this challenge?
Do you dare to get out of your Christian “bubble’’?
Where are Third Place Mission Fields in your life?
Go out (to a favorite Third Place:) and be a light to the world.
And then let me know what happens.
It’s ok to doubt, if you check it out!
Be a Berean!
10The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. 11 Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Acts 17:10, 11 ESV
Please join me in this journey of discovery.
- Leave a comment, or ask me a question.
- Share this blog with others, whether they are doubting, or not.
- Take what I say and CHECK IT OUT FOR YOURSELF!
Third Place examples from:
Evangelism in Every Place by Tim Brister
Kids And Missional Communities: A Third Place by John Murchison
© 2017 by the author