Kids and Third Place

August 19, 2013 — Leave a comment

Perhaps the single most frequently asked question I receive with respect to missional communities is “what do we do with our children?”.  For this next series, I’m going to focus on answering that question from multiple different angles:

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Kids and Third Place

In the first post of the series, I talked about why you should involve your children, primarily from applied theology.  The rest of the posts will focus on the philosophy and practice of involving children.  Before diving into this next post, I’d highly recommend you read the Third Place post for context.

When it comes to gathering for community, most groups try hard to accommodate children in some way.  In my experience, however, when it comes to mission, most groups give up at the outset of the conversation.  The thought of getting multiple families with multiple children in the same place to accomplish anything together is far too overwhelming of a task.  Part of that mentality is from real challenges – it’s hard to involve kids!  Part of that mentality, though, is still rooted in event-based thinking and needs to be challenged.

The objective of a regular Third Place is to involve your your non-believing friends with the life of your community.  It’s less about “where” and more about “what”.  One way that we have talked about practicing this with children is through the phrase “mission is to your kids and through your kids”.  Mission is to your kids, in that you have a responsibility to disciple them well, and mission is through your kids in that often times your rhythms as a family are oriented around kids’ activities.

Perhaps the most effective way to think through a Third Place with kids of any age is to ask the questions “what are my children already doing?” and “how can I involve my believing friends in those activities?”

Rather than adding something new to your calendar, instead try thinking through how you can intentionally do something that is already on the calendar with someone who loves Jesus and someone who doesn’t yet know Christ!

How Does it Work?

Here are a few examples of Third Places that I have done with kids involved, and also without:

  • Intentionally coaching a soccer team where two other families from my community participated in a YMCA league.  We were able to serve a single mom who desperately needed some short term care for her daughter, and contributed in her re-engaging with another local church.
  • Gathering weekly at our neighborhood coffee shop with our kids and one other mom with kids.  There were already ladies that met there with children, and we were able to have great conversations that led to three of them coming to faith in Christ.
  • My house and our neighbor’s house.  Our neighbors don’t know Jesus, but always open their home up, so we almost always intentionally invite a member of our community to join us when they invite us over.  Our house is always open for business as well, with kids in and out all the time!
  • Wednesday nights, we used to alternate with the women taking and week and the men taking a week going to a local pub to hang out and talk about life.  It didn’t yield much fruit, but it sure was fun!
Regardless on when or where it happens, the critical point is to involve your kids, other believing families, and those who don’t know Jesus in something together.

When Do You Do It?

At this point in my missional community our Third Place is shifting to be built around our school.  Currently, we’re repeating the soccer team idea in a different league, and then involving our missional community in the school PTA, even though they don’t have children.  When PTA happens, we bring folks along!  We’ve also involved another church that is right in the community to help, so we’re building bridges within the Kingdom.

Effective Third Places take into account not only your rhythms of life, but the rhythms of the people with whom you are trying to engage.  Most suburban life with children happens around a school calendar, so we use that as a guide.  If folks are busy, we get busy with them.  if it’s a slow season like the summer, we slow down with them.  Practically, weekend evenings tend to be the time when most families have availability, so do your best to incorporate Saturday and Sunday evenings into your rhythms of mission.

A Final Word

Everyone has a longing for community – for a sense of being known and a sense of belonging.  We’re hard-wired for it.  Pursuing mission as a Christian is not our natural default, however.  Mission is hard, requires sacrifice, and doesn’t often come with a lot of earthly reward.  I want to plead with you to not give up on mission as a believer – God’s glory and people’s eternity is at stake!  If we don’t intentionally create time and space to faithfully orient our lives around those who don’t know Jesus, chances are good we never will.

Lastly, your kids need a model for mission.  If they grow up with their entire lives never oriented around God’s mission to share the good news with others, it’s no wonder the church continues to struggle and flounder in emerging generations. God’s glory isn’t just at stake, the discipleship of your children is as well!

What have you found to be helpful to involve kids in everyday mission?

Todd Engstrom

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Although I was raised in the church and had a knowledge of God, I didn’t embrace Jesus until I heard gospel preached and lived out by some Young Life leaders. God has proven faithful and good to me since that day, even in great suffering and loss. I have learned to treasure Romans 8:28 as a wellspring of hope and truth. God has blessed me with an amazing wife (Olivia), three sons (Micah, Hudson and Owen) and a daughter (Emmaline). Growing up in the northwest, the thought never crossed my mind that I would have four children who are native Texans. Despite landing in the south, I still watch Notre Dame games with my children every Saturday in hopes they will land at my alma mater.

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