I posted an article on “third places” recently. Here’s another short perspective on it from the pastor of a church in San Diego:
“Robert Putnam wrote an interesting book a few years ago entitled ‘Bowling Alone.’ The book explored the levels of people’s involvement in community and civic groups. Not surprisingly, we have become increasingly isolated over the past 30 years. That’s why the title itself is purposefully ironic. No one used to go bowling alone; you always bowled in groups.
I like the idea of coffee-shop Christianity, especially if it means developing intentional communities of faith that invite and welcome. A place to linger. A place to absorb quietly or engage in a lively conversation. A place designed with relationships in mind.
In some ways, the church I grew up in resembled Dunkin’ Donuts more than a good coffee shop. It emphasized efficiency and structure more than ambience or experience. It was a dispenser of truth and not a developer of community.
One of the greatest opportunities in starting a new church is to build into it a healthy DNA. Over time, this DNA replicates itself. If the DNA is healthy, that’s good thing; if it’s toxic …”
Some people are afraid of a church that looks and feels different than the church they grew up with. We all get comfortable in certain settings. It’s the same reason that, for most people, the music you’ll love most your whole life is the style of music that was popular when you graduated from high school.
Dealing outside of our cultural comfort zone is difficult at times. But for many people today, close conversations mean much more than a big service that’s flashy and polished.
I love the idea that we can have churches meeting in coffee shops and in giant buildings on the same street. In the small town I grew up in, one of the most popular churches is a cowboy church where they wear boots and sing country western songs to Jesus. That’s awesome! (I personally prefer the coffee shop to the cowboy boots, for the record.)
It takes all types of styles to reach all types of people. Our mantra should be: culturally relevant, theologically sound. We need to bring the truth of Jesus’ life to people in a way that they understand. The only stumbling block should be the cross. Not pews. Not odd words in songs they don’t understand. Not stuffy tradition.