The Third Place (Newsletter 3-10)

The Third Place

By George Akers

The third place (also known as third space) is a term used in the concept of community building to refer to social surroundings separate from the two usual environments of home and workplace. Third places are considered important for civil society, civic engagement and establishing feelings of a sense of place. One’s first place is the home and those that one lives with. The second place is the workplace where people may actually spend most of their time. Third places, then, are anchors of community life and facilitate and foster broader, more creative interaction. All societies already have informal meeting places; what is new in modern times is the intentionality of seeking them out as vital to current societal needs.

The concept of a third place has become popularized and has been picked up by various small businesses, including as a name for various locally owned coffee shops, and is commonly cited in urban planning literature on the issue of community-oriented business development and public space. The idea adopted by the business world is to offer a third place which includes functions with an emphasis on providing a free space for social interaction.

One of the leading businesses in America that has picked up on the third place concept is Starbucks. Starbucks hit some trouble a few years ago with falling revenues from the recession and increased competition from McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts when they entered the quality coffee market. It has been repositioning itself as you can see from the change in its mission statement. Its old mission statement was “to establish Starbucks as the premier purveyor of the finest coffees in the world while maintaining our uncompromising principles as we grow.” But now Starbucks has changed their mission statement to this broader and deeper statement of purpose: “to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.”

First and foremost, they are passionate about the quality of their products. They source the finest coffee beans roasting them with great care. They have recently innovated with the best coffee making equipment – the Clover brewing system. The Starbucks marketing strategy has focused on creating the third place for everyone to go to between home and work. Creating this unique and relaxing “experience” and “atmosphere” for people, Starbucks shops have become a center for socializing.

You can see this third place is central to the mission statement. Simply, Starbucks is a convenient and nice place to have a great cup of coffee. It has created a retail store experience that is attractive, comfortable and even entertaining, designed to attract customers and keep them coming back to the stores. In its stores, you will find comfortable chairs, wireless Internet connection and even a selection of music. The philosophy that Starbucks has established in their business is “Come in, make yourself at home. We have a nice, comfortable place for you to sit and lounge. Just hang out and enjoy yourself. And, oh by the way, we sell coffee.”

Mankind is designed to where he is looking for a third place to belong, a place where his “spirit man” is supplied an identity. We are made up of three components: spirit, soul and body.

Home – caters primarily to the needs of our body (although home does minister to spirit and soul in supplement).

Work – is the primary source to the needs of “who” we are in this world. Our identity in this world is defined by our career. Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.

Third Place – is the primary supply to the spiritual nature in us. Mankind’s spirit is defined by the third place they invest their lives outside of their home and their career. It can be one of a plethora of worldly sources that define the spirit of a man.

Our goal is to make the church the third place for the spirit of man to find its identity. The only true, born again experience of the spirit of man is in the Church. Let us use wisdom and create the atmosphere of the third place in our churches. All are welcome. We offer great friendships, our church is a place where you will feel love and acceptance and a place of belonging. Oh, and while you are here, you can be born again of water and Spirit. You can receive the truth that will make you free.”