Church as a Third Culture Place
The concept of the third place was initially coined by author Ray Oldenburg in the book “The Great Good Place.” Famously, Starbucks built their business model on the idea that people need a third place other than home and work for community inspired the likes of Starbucks. They envisioned their stores to be, “A place for conversation and a sense of community. A third place between work and home.”
Naturally, as a church leader, it makes sense to me that people need a third place of community outside of work and home, and for centuries church has been that place.
In developing our mission at Evangel we have intentionally worked at promoting the value of community among us. For example, once a month our Sunday worship becomes something of a coffee house where we do face to face church around tables in our hall.
Recently, however, I was introduced to another concept through a book by Dave Gibbons called, “The Monkey and the Fish: Liquid leadership for a Third Culture Church.” The idea of third culture comes from a study called: Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing up Among Worlds by David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken
The study concerns third culture kids like missionary kids, military brats, children of diplomats, or people who have attended international schools. These children, growing up in a culture other than the culture of their parents, have learned to live in two cultures without identifying completely with either. They are according to the study, “citizens of the world.”
There are a few third culture kids in our community and the number is bound to increase as the children of first generation Canadians adapt.
Putting these two concepts together, it seems to me, the church of today and tomorrow has the potential to be both a third place and a third culture.
I’m still unpacking in my mind what this might look like. As a kingdom citizen I have a sense of being in the world but not of it, of being not fully at home in the world. In the words of Augustine,
you have made us for yourself
and our hearts are restless
’till they find their rest in you.’ St Augustine
This Christian worldview is a unique strength in a society of the displaced who are hungry for community and a home. We of all people know what it means to be the community of the dispersed, a third culture place.