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The Role of the Third Space

Last April, Allie Conti wrote about the importance of finding a "third space" in The Atlantic. This idea was coined by Ray Oldenburg in the 1980s, as a place to connect that isn't work or home. What sets it apart from most businesses though, is that there can't be a financial barrier to entry. The cost of a coffee or plate of fries is acceptable, but a club requiring a membership fee isn't.


Pre-Pandemic, Conti notes that 2/3 of Americans had a favorite local place that fit the bill, but things have changed drastically since 2019. These years have encouraged connection online, which is incredibly important and shouldn't disappear. However, it's possible we've overcorrected and have lost these third spaces altogether.


After all, these days, where can you linger? Sure, this is an issue overcomplicated by our commitment to productivity or simply trying to get by. But it seems we've lost community spaces that foster meaningful connection.


For decades, we've been encouraging churches to facilitate these kind of connections through the inclusion of a Third Space in their building project. This is generally an expanded entryway that encourages people to linger and chat, rather than be shuffled through a small walkway and out to their cars. But if these are limited to being used on Sunday mornings, before and after a worship service, that's really not what we had in mind.


According to Conti, "the ideal hangout...has a few components: spontaneity, purposelessness, and a willingness among all parties involved to go wherever the conversation leads them." Is it possible that this could happen in a church building? Are there ways we can open our doors to provide space for community connection?


This is not a call to providing more programming, or even to starting a business on your congregation's campus. It's asking you to wonder what might be possible if you simply facilitated connection among your neighbors. If you're not sure where to start, you're probably overthinking it.


Where would you like to go to hangout? Would there be hot chocolate and board games for whoever walked in the door? Maybe a movie night for the kids while adults could catch up on their email or chat? It's a new year and it's time to try new things. They don't need to be sparkly and fantastic; maybe they just need to get back to the basics...and together as a community, you can figure out the rest.

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