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Searching for a Third Space

By Pastor Wade Apel
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Spartanburg

Do you have somewhere you feel like you belong that’s not your house or office?  We spend most of our lives at work or home, but what would you consider the next significant place in your life?  Do you do when you need a third place — somewhere you feel happy and comfortable, with friends, fun, and no judgment?

The “third place” is a term coined by US sociologist Ray Oldenburg in his 1989 book The Great Good Place.1  Your first place is your home, a private and domestic space. Your second place is your work, a structured social experience and where you likely spend most of your time. Your third place is somewhere you can connect with others, share your thoughts and dreams, and have fun. With a wave of loneliness sweeping the world, so many people are missing out on a vital space of belonging and expression.  The loneliness epidemic is especially prominent in younger generations who are working multiple jobs and have very little disposable income to establish a third space. 

Could a church be the anchor point or third place for many in our community who are longing for connection in a variety of ways?  When we worship together people find hope and connection, but it is very formal.  Are there ways that the church could utilized the unused space during the week to create space that would fill this void, while providing an informal setting for people to find this third place? 

At. St. John’s Lutheran, located in Spartanburg, SC, we considered the facilities which were being under utilized and how it might meet this need.  At first we considered a coffee house or a game room, but those ideas did not seem to fit or had a larger upfront investment. Then a member suggested providing a space to play pickleball.  The initial financial investment was significantly less than other ideas that we considered and could be done for less than a Thrivent Action Team.  In addition, we had space available in the gym which was not being used.  We decided to host a couple of workshops for people to learn the rules of the game and gauge their interest.  To our surprise we had many people from teenagers to people in their 80’s who wanted to play together.  There are people who are not connected to the church who expressed interest in attending games on a weekly basis and attended our first workshops. 

The pickleball group is still too new to know if this might help people find their 3rd place, but it does seem to be filling a need for people to find connection, laughter, and exercise.  What could your congregation to that would become the 3rd place in the lives of the people in your community? 

1 What is a Third place?  Jordan Harbinger show.

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