Your “third place”

Your “first place” is your home. Your “second place” is your work. Sociologists are noting the resurgence of what they are calling “third places” where people can hang out, socialize, where everybody knows your name, etc. These are neighborhood diners, bars, and (increasingly) coffee houses. This is a healthy development, say in the sociologists, in our society of alienation, rootlessness, and so on. See Satisfying a Craving For Someplace Familiar – washingtonpost.com.

This is indeed good to return to, working against that opposite trend of bowling alone. In the past, though, people tended to belong to lots of groups, but this is a start. (Small town Americans might be amused that this is a new trend, since we have been hanging out at such places all our lives. It must be due to our bitterness.)

So, do you have a “third place”? What lifts it above the merely functional, the place to get something to eat or to grab a cup of coffee?

Does the church function as a “third place”? Could it? Should it?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://StevenAdkins.blogspot.com Steven

    I am a 29 year old senior in college. I have a wife of 5.5 years and two children. Suffice to say, as a History major, I am so overwhelmed with duties and obligations, that Church particularly is my 3rd place-if that’s bad, I apologize-I don’t like it either.

    In a few weeks, upon graduation, I hope to find a new 3rd place.

    Steven

  • http://StevenAdkins.blogspot.com Steven

    I am a 29 year old senior in college. I have a wife of 5.5 years and two children. Suffice to say, as a History major, I am so overwhelmed with duties and obligations, that Church particularly is my 3rd place-if that’s bad, I apologize-I don’t like it either.

    In a few weeks, upon graduation, I hope to find a new 3rd place.

    Steven

  • http://www.hempelstudios.com Sarah in Maryland

    Church has been feeling like my third place lately, but mostly because I’ve been going to a lot of meetings.

    I don’t have one third place because I wear a lot of hats. This makes my life interesting, but feeling really fragmented. I have the studio where I hang out with my art friends, the co-op where I hang out with my foodie and environmentalist friends, and church where I hang out with Lutherans.

    Recently, a co-op friend came to church. Worlds are colliding.

    I’d love to have a core group of friends and a place where we go to hang out.

    Everyone knows our names at the local Indian Restaurant. We go there every week. Is that a weird place to have as my “third place”?

  • http://www.hempelstudios.com Sarah in Maryland

    Church has been feeling like my third place lately, but mostly because I’ve been going to a lot of meetings.

    I don’t have one third place because I wear a lot of hats. This makes my life interesting, but feeling really fragmented. I have the studio where I hang out with my art friends, the co-op where I hang out with my foodie and environmentalist friends, and church where I hang out with Lutherans.

    Recently, a co-op friend came to church. Worlds are colliding.

    I’d love to have a core group of friends and a place where we go to hang out.

    Everyone knows our names at the local Indian Restaurant. We go there every week. Is that a weird place to have as my “third place”?

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    In older, homogenous societies, it was easier for the local church to be a third place, because in essentials one church was pretty much like another (this has generally been less likely in America, except in ethnic enclaves). Today it’s even worse. One usually has to travel some distance to find a church where one can worship and fellowship according to one’s beliefs. If I were to attend my neighborhood church, I’d have to join the UCC.

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    In older, homogenous societies, it was easier for the local church to be a third place, because in essentials one church was pretty much like another (this has generally been less likely in America, except in ethnic enclaves). Today it’s even worse. One usually has to travel some distance to find a church where one can worship and fellowship according to one’s beliefs. If I were to attend my neighborhood church, I’d have to join the UCC.

  • Susan aka organshoes

    Seems the third place is really an extension of the first place.
    Home away from home.
    We try to offer events at church as a third place–cookouts and other meals, whole-church activities like games or clean-up, etc.–but for many people of even our small congregation (and I do mean small), the third place is already a conglomeration of many conflicting places: youth sports, school and after-school activities, extended job travels, other jobs, etc.
    Lots of etc. that leaves no room for a second home. They probably consider themselves lucky to spend much time at home, period.
    Still, we try.

  • Susan aka organshoes

    Seems the third place is really an extension of the first place.
    Home away from home.
    We try to offer events at church as a third place–cookouts and other meals, whole-church activities like games or clean-up, etc.–but for many people of even our small congregation (and I do mean small), the third place is already a conglomeration of many conflicting places: youth sports, school and after-school activities, extended job travels, other jobs, etc.
    Lots of etc. that leaves no room for a second home. They probably consider themselves lucky to spend much time at home, period.
    Still, we try.

  • http://www.faith-filled.com Stephenie

    I think the internet is a third place for most people. It’s another place to socialize and interact with others.

  • http://www.faith-filled.com Stephenie

    I think the internet is a third place for most people. It’s another place to socialize and interact with others.

  • Susan aka organshoes

    Good answer!

  • Susan aka organshoes

    Good answer!

  • Jonathan

    Stephenie,

    I think you’re spot on! Blogs and social networking sites are the taverns of the 21st century.

  • Jonathan

    Stephenie,

    I think you’re spot on! Blogs and social networking sites are the taverns of the 21st century.

  • Bruce

    Stephenie, the next round’s on me!

  • Bruce

    Stephenie, the next round’s on me!

  • Rose

    #3 is church. I’m the 3rd string organist at our ‘Town and Country’ church. (We have a deep bench in organ.)
    I would question that #1 is home because homes are becoming places where people live semi-isolated, more like hotels.
    Families don’t dine together leisurely or talk about their day. We don’t practice hospitality much anymore.
    At home, everyone is rushing in and out or watching a screen. Homes have become ‘pit stops’ for re-equipping. Homes are also emotional ER Rooms for crisis intervention.
    Families interact a lot more in restaurants and cars.
    The solution, I believe, is daily family devotions.

  • Rose

    #3 is church. I’m the 3rd string organist at our ‘Town and Country’ church. (We have a deep bench in organ.)
    I would question that #1 is home because homes are becoming places where people live semi-isolated, more like hotels.
    Families don’t dine together leisurely or talk about their day. We don’t practice hospitality much anymore.
    At home, everyone is rushing in and out or watching a screen. Homes have become ‘pit stops’ for re-equipping. Homes are also emotional ER Rooms for crisis intervention.
    Families interact a lot more in restaurants and cars.
    The solution, I believe, is daily family devotions.

  • Booklover

    In my parents’ generation, church was the “third place.”

    In my generation, growing up in a small town, ball games were the “third place.”

    In my children’s generation, artificial gatherings at the television and internet are definitely the “third place.” Masses of people can watch Survivor or American Idol then talk about the contestants as if they all know them, as if they were a true community. :-( Children gather around MySpace and form a false community where there is no accountability or true way of knowing who someone Really is. I suppose I am doing the same with this blog–I love to communicate back and forth with those of similar beliefs, but we don’t Really know one another, do we? :-)

    On a personal level–my “third place” is making music with high schoolers and college kids and grade school kids and even opera singers as a professional accompanist–it’s not really a “job.” :-)

  • Booklover

    In my parents’ generation, church was the “third place.”

    In my generation, growing up in a small town, ball games were the “third place.”

    In my children’s generation, artificial gatherings at the television and internet are definitely the “third place.” Masses of people can watch Survivor or American Idol then talk about the contestants as if they all know them, as if they were a true community. :-( Children gather around MySpace and form a false community where there is no accountability or true way of knowing who someone Really is. I suppose I am doing the same with this blog–I love to communicate back and forth with those of similar beliefs, but we don’t Really know one another, do we? :-)

    On a personal level–my “third place” is making music with high schoolers and college kids and grade school kids and even opera singers as a professional accompanist–it’s not really a “job.” :-)

  • S Bauer

    This certainly is an interesting question. I agree with Lars that in times past, when more people stayed in one spot most of their lives, the church functioned as the (only) third place people had. I also agree that the internet has become an important third place for many. It seems to me that a lot of churches think of outreach as making themselves into a third place for their communities in the commendable effort of connecting with and building bridges of trust with those who are not believers. Perhaps the (emergent?) tactic of embracing people who do not yet identify themselves as Christian nor are ready to take the step of joining and attempting to move them into the community and get them involved with activities with other members. This approach is a means to easing people into Christianity. Of course, this approach may also mean a blurring of the meaning of church membership and maybe even confession of faith. The other approach is for the church to maintain a distinct separate identity from third places while at the same time encouraging Christians to actively participate in third places where they will develop relationships with non-Christians.

  • S Bauer

    This certainly is an interesting question. I agree with Lars that in times past, when more people stayed in one spot most of their lives, the church functioned as the (only) third place people had. I also agree that the internet has become an important third place for many. It seems to me that a lot of churches think of outreach as making themselves into a third place for their communities in the commendable effort of connecting with and building bridges of trust with those who are not believers. Perhaps the (emergent?) tactic of embracing people who do not yet identify themselves as Christian nor are ready to take the step of joining and attempting to move them into the community and get them involved with activities with other members. This approach is a means to easing people into Christianity. Of course, this approach may also mean a blurring of the meaning of church membership and maybe even confession of faith. The other approach is for the church to maintain a distinct separate identity from third places while at the same time encouraging Christians to actively participate in third places where they will develop relationships with non-Christians.

  • Susan aka organshoes

    Actually, I think the universal 3rd place is inside one’s car, on the road to either
    1. first place
    2. second place
    3. anyplace
    4. nowhere in particular
    5. on the prowl for someplace meaningful to go, or to be.

  • Susan aka organshoes

    Actually, I think the universal 3rd place is inside one’s car, on the road to either
    1. first place
    2. second place
    3. anyplace
    4. nowhere in particular
    5. on the prowl for someplace meaningful to go, or to be.

  • Joe

    It is church for me and for a large number of the folks in my small congregation.

    Home is still the first place for my family – this is one of the huge benefits of home schooling!

  • Joe

    It is church for me and for a large number of the folks in my small congregation.

    Home is still the first place for my family – this is one of the huge benefits of home schooling!

  • Anon

    Megachurches try to be that ‘third place’, but is that wise? Is that not the saltshaker that Becky Piper (IIRC) so long ago said we should get out of? Is not making the local congregation the ‘third place’ conducive to the cultural captivity of the Church, and the problem of being of the world, but not in it? (and we wonder why Missouri is shrinking?)

  • Anon

    Megachurches try to be that ‘third place’, but is that wise? Is that not the saltshaker that Becky Piper (IIRC) so long ago said we should get out of? Is not making the local congregation the ‘third place’ conducive to the cultural captivity of the Church, and the problem of being of the world, but not in it? (and we wonder why Missouri is shrinking?)

  • Joe

    Anon – It all depends on how your church becomes the third place. My church is a solid Confessional Lutheran church that holds strongly to the liturgy. We have made our church the third place by making sure that we have many opportunities to gather for bible study at the church. Currently, we have a bible study following the Divine Service and another every other Sunday evening. We also had a Saturday morning men’s bible study and a Monday evening woman’s bible study that we are planning to restart.

    In addition we have a family game night every couple of months, we do a congregational outing to a brewers game. We organize a monthly ladies’ night out and we are trying to do a similar mens’ night out. We also hold a meal in the fellowship hall every Wednesday during Lent and Advent.

    Our goal is to increase the number of opportunities we have as a congregation to spend time with each other. But we will not compromise on the Divine Service. We boldly proclaim the Word in its purity and perfection.

  • Joe

    Anon – It all depends on how your church becomes the third place. My church is a solid Confessional Lutheran church that holds strongly to the liturgy. We have made our church the third place by making sure that we have many opportunities to gather for bible study at the church. Currently, we have a bible study following the Divine Service and another every other Sunday evening. We also had a Saturday morning men’s bible study and a Monday evening woman’s bible study that we are planning to restart.

    In addition we have a family game night every couple of months, we do a congregational outing to a brewers game. We organize a monthly ladies’ night out and we are trying to do a similar mens’ night out. We also hold a meal in the fellowship hall every Wednesday during Lent and Advent.

    Our goal is to increase the number of opportunities we have as a congregation to spend time with each other. But we will not compromise on the Divine Service. We boldly proclaim the Word in its purity and perfection.

  • Jon

    Interestingly enough, the Wall Street Journal just published a study about ‘bitterness’ and it showed that gun owners are above average in income, above average in eduation and, who would have thunk, HAPPIER than the average duck. This cut across both Republican and Democat lines. Too bad we don’t have men smart enough to espouse the truth when these drippy ideas surface.

  • Jon

    Interestingly enough, the Wall Street Journal just published a study about ‘bitterness’ and it showed that gun owners are above average in income, above average in eduation and, who would have thunk, HAPPIER than the average duck. This cut across both Republican and Democat lines. Too bad we don’t have men smart enough to espouse the truth when these drippy ideas surface.

  • http://www.cockahoop.com/ tODD

    Ah, the good ol’, liberally biased WSJ. What crazy liberal ideas will they come up with next?

    Anyhow, Jon, you should reread the article you cite. It doesn’t say that they’re “above average in education”, but rather that gun owners “have the same level of formal education as nongun owners, on average.”

    That said, the “study” in the WSJ is nothing more than somebody correlating survey responses from the General Social Survey, which — perhaps contrary to the impression given in the article — is not just about gun ownership, but more like a census of the American mindset.

    What the author of that piece did not do, unfortunately, is any normalizing. I’m not surprised that gun owners “earn 32% more per year than nonowners” — I’m willing to bet that owners of any particular item earn statistically more than non-owners, be it cars, houses, cell phones, etc. That’s because owning something implies that you have the money to afford it. It’s not a very interesting factoid. Now, if someone wants to compare the salaries of gun owners and non-owners in otherwise similar conditions, then we might arrive at an interesting statistic of value.

  • http://www.cockahoop.com/ tODD

    Ah, the good ol’, liberally biased WSJ. What crazy liberal ideas will they come up with next?

    Anyhow, Jon, you should reread the article you cite. It doesn’t say that they’re “above average in education”, but rather that gun owners “have the same level of formal education as nongun owners, on average.”

    That said, the “study” in the WSJ is nothing more than somebody correlating survey responses from the General Social Survey, which — perhaps contrary to the impression given in the article — is not just about gun ownership, but more like a census of the American mindset.

    What the author of that piece did not do, unfortunately, is any normalizing. I’m not surprised that gun owners “earn 32% more per year than nonowners” — I’m willing to bet that owners of any particular item earn statistically more than non-owners, be it cars, houses, cell phones, etc. That’s because owning something implies that you have the money to afford it. It’s not a very interesting factoid. Now, if someone wants to compare the salaries of gun owners and non-owners in otherwise similar conditions, then we might arrive at an interesting statistic of value.

  • S. Bauer

    Sorry for the atrocious sentence in my first post. I think it is important for churches to concentrate on the Divine Service and building knowledgable (and faithful) Christians (like Joe’s church) and then getting the members out into as many other “third places” as possible to build relationships with non-Christians (as Anon suggested). That’s what I was trying to saying.

  • S. Bauer

    Sorry for the atrocious sentence in my first post. I think it is important for churches to concentrate on the Divine Service and building knowledgable (and faithful) Christians (like Joe’s church) and then getting the members out into as many other “third places” as possible to build relationships with non-Christians (as Anon suggested). That’s what I was trying to saying.

  • wiakid

    Well said Bauer! Anon too. Having a solid confessional church home where the gospel is preached, the sacraments are administered and support and concern are readily available are important but other third places are important avenues for service, witness and just change of pace relaxation. One of my favorite third places is the local rifle and pistol club.

  • wiakid

    Well said Bauer! Anon too. Having a solid confessional church home where the gospel is preached, the sacraments are administered and support and concern are readily available are important but other third places are important avenues for service, witness and just change of pace relaxation. One of my favorite third places is the local rifle and pistol club.

  • http://gpiper.org/katiesbeer TK

    Wow! Interesting conversation. Sorry I missed it yesterday. My first thought when I read the headline was: internet/blogs, but as I read through the comments I think I agree more with Susan that my third home is a conglomeration of things. It is church, my car, church, whatever team my child is on at any given moment and the confessional Lutheran blogosphere and other websites. My answer makes me cringe a bit, but it is what it is. Maybe the true answer is that my third home is me. It’s whatever I do to be me.

  • http://gpiper.org/katiesbeer TK

    Wow! Interesting conversation. Sorry I missed it yesterday. My first thought when I read the headline was: internet/blogs, but as I read through the comments I think I agree more with Susan that my third home is a conglomeration of things. It is church, my car, church, whatever team my child is on at any given moment and the confessional Lutheran blogosphere and other websites. My answer makes me cringe a bit, but it is what it is. Maybe the true answer is that my third home is me. It’s whatever I do to be me.

  • Joe

    Okay – maybe I am a literalist but you can only have one third place. Of course you still want to be involved in other places in the community in addition to church but those would be 4th, 5th, etc. places.

  • Joe

    Okay – maybe I am a literalist but you can only have one third place. Of course you still want to be involved in other places in the community in addition to church but those would be 4th, 5th, etc. places.

  • http://www.coffeeshopjournal.com Marla Saunders

    I love being in the third places of our community. My blog is actually written about being available in the third place. I have found that the reality of where third place is differs by community and the culture in that community. Rural communities differ widely from more urban environments.

    Our church has a lot of options available for activities and connection points, but we also stress making relationships within the community at large a high priority. Life has never been so exciting as it has been since I’ve walked into the community confidently expecting God’s fingerprints to show up.

  • http://www.coffeeshopjournal.com Marla Saunders

    I love being in the third places of our community. My blog is actually written about being available in the third place. I have found that the reality of where third place is differs by community and the culture in that community. Rural communities differ widely from more urban environments.

    Our church has a lot of options available for activities and connection points, but we also stress making relationships within the community at large a high priority. Life has never been so exciting as it has been since I’ve walked into the community confidently expecting God’s fingerprints to show up.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X