Recently I was asked:
As I am trying to lead our small groups toward missional communities, my people are starting to get the concept of third place. One thing that would be really helpful is if you could give examples of what several different missional communities do in terms of 3rd place, frequency of different types of meetings, etc. I know each group needs to establish their own rhythms, but I think I and my people would be helped to see several practical examples to prime the pump of their imaginations.
Here’s some ideas to consider as you’re thinking through Third Place!
Suburban Missional Community, Multiple Ages of Kids
In my own neighborhood, we’ve had a few different iterations of Third Places. Our first was called “Kenny’s Coffee”, a local coffee shop that served breakfast and coffee. We would gather every Friday morning with a few friends, and ended up connecting with a number of different families through this. Early on, it was mostly moms and young children who would gather there, but slowly over time a few other dads would join in as well.
Next, we intentionally joined a soccer team at the YMCA with two other families, and then filled out the rest of the team with random folks from our area. This afforded us regular gathering times with families with kids of the same age, and ended up producing some really incredible fruit with a single mother needing some help with her daughter.
For young moms, my wife would regularly schedule a park play date with multiple moms and kids, which created some very healthy relationships and intentional time to talk since the kids were more occupied with something to do.
When we started to have kids in school, we’ve been working on routinely gathering at school PTA functions with our community and extended friends to be a “good news” people at our elementary. While it’s not quite as regular as some others, it has also opened up all kinds of new relationships with people.
Finally, our front yard is an excellent Third Place. We’ve tried to intentionally and regularly invite our Christian friends and non-Christian neighbors to our home on Friday evenings in the summer and Sunday afternoons in the fall and spring. These times have worked well for regular overlap of our friend groups.
Urban Missional Community, Young Singles and Marrieds
For some of our younger MCs that are in the urban core of Austin, several different kinds of Third Places have proven effective over time. First is very simply a regular happy hour on a Thursday or Friday evening. Most of our young folks have a social network that is built around their workplace, and so they are intentionally spending time inviting coworkers out after the day is done.
Another fun one that some friends have tried is Trivia Night. Several local pubs have regular trivia nights that draw a great crowd, and it’s usually a pretty easy ask for anyone to come join in the fun.
Activity-based groups are also excellent Third Place environments. We’ve had a missional community intentionally join a running group downtown that would train together. Although I’m a horrible conversationalist while running because I’m breathing so hard, for those in a little better shape it proved to be fruitful!
Regular game watches for a particular team have also been fruitful – most fans in Texas are going to cheer for UT or Texas A&M, so during the fall football season, MCs have strategically hosted game watches and tailgates.
Seasoned Missional Communities
For some of our more “seasoned” folks at The Stone (high-school aged kids or empty nesters), I’ve seen one of two things work. For families with high schoolers, doing a Third Place geared around their kids has been a very effective strategy. This has taken a couple different forms – regular involvement in a high school based ministry like Young Life, or consistent connection with an activity the student is involved in. Most parents in that life stage have solid friendships, but still are eager to connect and know their kids friends, so the best MCs have taken advantage of that.
For those without children, the flexible lifestyle that is afforded is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the flexibility means you have some freedom and time to pursue Third Place in a variety of ways. On the other hand, people with children post-high school often lose the primary place people in their life stage gather. I encourage these kinds of missional communities to focus on being a “regular” in a particular place – a coffee shop, a restaurant, or some other establishment. We haven’t had too many of these communities, so I’m lacking in examples…chime in the comments and share what you’re doing!
Third Place is a muscle that needs to be worked out slowly over time, and creatively approached. One of the most important things I coach people on is to not quit – these kinds of environments take consistent invitation over time in order to help you pursue mission well.