Creating Community: The Third Place and Bike Racks

coffee, third place

Back in the 2000’s, I spent about five years working at Starbucks. One thing they talked about often was how Starbucks was the “Third Place” — a place between your home and your office. This idea comes from Ray Oldenburg in a book titled, Celebrating the Third Place: Inspiring Stories About the “Great Good Places” at the Heart of Our Communities.

In Pour Your Heart Into It, a book from 1997 by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks, says “…Some Americans are so hungry for a community that some of our customers began gathering in our stores, making appointments with friends, holding meetings, striking up conversations with regulars. Once we understood the powerful need for a Third Place, we were able to respond by building larger stores, with more seating.”

That quote is almost comical now, nearly 20 years later, as I’m not sure I know of anyone who has not made a date to meet a friend at Starbucks.

Schultz says that in a survey asking people why they liked Starbucks, the customers said that the café feels social, even though “fewer than 10 percent…actually ever talked to anybody.”

I’ve often wondered what churches are missing that they don’t often have this Third Place feeling. Many churches have opened their own coffee shop inside to help facilitate this but it never seems to work quite right.

Sometimes it almost does. My church in Texas had a coffee shop that was open sometimes, but the part I really enjoyed were the large open tables where I could just hang out, meet with people or study. They were open and available whenever the church was open, which was almost all the time.

It’s not about just having coffee (although very helpful), it’s about the whole use of the space and the creation of a Third Place.

I used to think that the church should be a Third Place for the non-churched.  But now I think the church should be a Third Place for the churched, or are we going to leave it up to Starbucks to create the community that we all thirst for?

Here’s Oldenburg’s list of what a Third Place is:

  • Free or inexpensive
  • Food and drink, while not essential, are important
  • Highly accessible: proximate for many (walking distance)
  • Involve regulars – those who habitually congregate there
  • Welcoming and comfortable
  • Both new friends and old should be found there.

I recently read about a church that put in bike racks and lockers because they realized many people in their area rode bikes. This is a simple change that could be really impactful in opening up the Third Place value of accessibility.

Does your church provide these elements to create a Third Place environment? Is it just during the Sunday worship service time or at other times throughout the week?  How can we enhance each item on this Third Place list to make it easier to create community?

  1. Mark Boone
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