Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Third Place

There seems to be a lull in the blogosphere. Seven-minute lulls probably do not apply here, but I guess it's not surprising that there would be some sort of blog-equivalent.

Still, Craver-VII (who remarked on the quietude first) recently referred to the concept of "the Third Place," and Charity commented on it. She said she has read up on it and has the sense that the church is trying to be that in some cases, but that maybe it shouldn't. Or something like that. I'm sure she can correct me if I misinterpreted her. Anyway, I thought I'd see if I could mooch off some of the discussion.

Here's a little story. Before I started working at Starbucks, I wanted to have my own independent coffee shop. The reasons for this are given in barebones outline in the transcribed party-conversation. If people don't have to rush their coffee to work with them, they'll talk about anything over it, eventually. I had images of a burgeoning little coffee-community where people gradually warmed up to Christ through the process of warming up to Christians (the presence of warm beverages ameliorating the process). In my head, the coffee-shop itself kind of became church. Not get-dressed-up, sit-in-rows, sing-hymns-and-worship-choruses church, but church where people were growing together as a community and as people who were getting to know and learning to walk with Jesus.

In the plain light of reality, Starbucks was a more solid practical move for someone who has occasional trouble with financial functions as basic as adding. But they weren't kidding about the Third Place there. The specific Starbucks in which I currently live and move and have my being (or whatever) is tiny. But it's also popular. On Saturday, when we were having Line-issues, I said to myself--and a few of my colleagues--while viewing the Line and overflowingly full cafe area, "Why do people come here on Saturdays? How is this mayhem a pleasant experience for them?"

I'm still not entirely sure of the answer, but I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that many of these people are regulars and we know them by name, or at least by drink, and we ask them about their lives. We have a bar-counter at which people can sit, and many do, and some of them talk to us, such that the day isn't complete without a visit from them.

I really don't think that church is only about warm-fuzzies and warm coffee or even just hanging out and talking. But I'm wondering what people think about this as a component for church, or at least pre-church. Mark commented on my last post about how the Line (being an entity separate from the sum of its parts) and the Church (an entity greater than the sum of its parts) are sort of similar. What do you think?

12 comments:

Craver Vii said...

Wow Kiddo, you picked this up fast! It’s quite an intriguing subject. I’m eager to see the rest of your comments. As for me, I’m going to go back to the book where I originally saw this idea, and check with a local expert for his input.
Blessings, my barista buddy!

Annelise said...

Interesting blog, Jenn. I definitely think this format could be a pre-component of church, but probably also needs to be part of building community in a church. Have you read The Celtic Way of Evangelism? It might contribute to your thinking on this issue.

BTW, I thought your In Like a Line blog was brilliant! Sorry I didn't comment sooner--I've been in a blog lull today myself!

Dave Grosser said...

Actually, I think I sometimes do go to stores (or think that I "need" something) because I'm actually craving some kind of human acknowledgment. Good insight, Jenn. Good insight, StarBuck$.

Jenn said...

Thanks, Craver!

Mom--nope, still haven't read that book . . . So, are you saying that the kind of thing that happens at Sbux is the kind of thing that should happen at church, too? I'm not entirely sure what you meant.

Dave--nice in$ight yourself! ;) But seriously. Wait until I tell you about the conversation I had at the 'bucks last evening.

Young Christian Woman said...

I think I am still not sure what the church is supposed to be, actually. It seems simple, but when you get down to it, it's a good question... even beside the question of The Church vs. a church. For instance, Campus Ambassadors is very clear that they are not a church, because for most (not all) it is a temporary thing and they want people involved with real churches in the community. But it is too big to be a small group, though it sometimes has a small group feel, and there are a lot of good things about CA, probably most of what you would want in a church... and there are virtual churches and home churches and house churches and open-air churches....

Annelise said...

Sorry not to be clearer. Yes, I do think that the kind of warmth people get when they're at Sbux is something they should also experience at church. I think Carol McG's coffee set-up at CBC is a stab at that kind of thing--although I'm not sure it's working that way. I do think that when we are "gathered" we do need opportunities to connect, to encourage each other, to fellowship--not in exactly Sbux ways, but in a place where we feel safe and that "somebody knows my name". Maybe Cheers is the atmosphere we're looking for! I have to admit I never watched that show, so I don't really know about that! :-)

I think, though, that while we need to connect with each other in that way, we need ultimately to be drawn into connection with the One who died for us. So how you go from coffee to adoration I'm not quite sure.

I'm rushing, as you can probably tell, so I'm not sure that my response is any more coherent.... But I have a piano student arriving!

L.L. Barkat said...

I wonder... do people really find this to be a pleasant experience (the mayhem of the coffee shop)... or is it just something to do, in the line of life?

Annelise said...

LL Barkat has a good question. Not sure I'd be too attracted to Sbux mayhem on Saturday a.m.! But I sure like it on Monday when no one else is there. But then, I always said that I could be a hermit....

Al Hsu said...

Basically, the "third place" is sociological shorthand for what used to be the public square, civic meeting places where people would gather. (The first two places are home and work.) Robert Putnam and others have chronicled the decline of civic capital and third places in society as we've become increasingly privatized and virtual-ized. Starbucks as third place is a commercial venue that capitalizes on the hunger and need for community and third places, but it's still a commercial enterprise.

Churches can re-inhabit the public square either by becoming third places for their communities and being civic centers and gathering places, opening themselves to community organizations and events, or they can meet in third places like coffeehouses, community centers, etc. to connect with folks who naturally circulate there.

Jenn said...

Yay! A comment from YCW--thanks! I agree there are all kinds of facets that could mean "church." I suppose really it's a topic broader than this one post. You raise some good points, though.

Thanks for clarifying. Yeah, obviously I think the point of church is lost if Jesus isn't it, but I think the opportunity to point to Him is sometimes opened up more naturally through that kind of interaction. Not that it should be a substitute for actual teaching or even confrontation at times, but that it should be at least a component.

LL--Huzzah! She's back! I think probably most people don't enjoy the mayhem. But some of them might enjoy the hum. And a whole lot of people really love being greeted by a familiar smiling face and having their coffee handed to them before they ask.

Al--you're right. It's definitely a marketing scheme on the part of Starbucks. But I think the need or desire they've tapped into is one the church should be trying to meet.

Jenn said...

Oops. I meant to say "MOM, thanks for clarifying . . ."

Stacey said...

Hey, sorry for being so late in the conversation, but I do find this a fascinating question. I love going to a Starbucks where the barista makes an attempt to know me and if they don't I'm likely to try to find another where they will.

Similarly, I am hugely saddened by the fact that I can often walk into church and walk right out again without anyone greeting me. Community at church can be so hard (shouldn't be) and maybe we need a little Starbucks training to make it more of a Third Place atmosphere.

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