Home is a good thing. Home is where the heart is. Make yourself at home. Home for the holidays. Homecoming. Being at home. But home is not always the best thing. Sometimes home can be very lonely, when no one else is there. Sometimes home can be hard, when the conditions or situations are not great.
And sometimes home can just be chaotic when you have family around and family closeness gets just a little too close, or loud, or exhausting. Such instances make it that at times we are ready to go someplace else, a second place.
That second place, with home being the first, is usually work. At work we form friendships, socialize and spend a considerable chunk of the week. It’s a place where we practice our vocation and participate in a community of colleagues. But just like how we sometimes need to get away from home, we sometimes need to get away from work. And when we do, we need a third place.
No one understands the need for a third place better than Howard Schultz, founder and CEO of Starbucks. Schultz founded Starbucks on the premise that Americans are missing a third place in their lives.
While on a business trip to Italy, Schultz discovered that Italians were living remarkably balanced lives. He was impressed by the passion they brought to their work, their rest and their enjoyment, and he noticed that a great deal of enjoyment was being found in the spaces and community of Italy’s 200,000 coffee shops.
Because there was nothing similar in the United States, Schultz began to dream of establishing Italian-influenced third places where people could congregate. He hoped that after the first place of home and the second place of work, Americans would come to consider his coffeehouses to be their third place, a place to experience camaraderie and genuine community. Schultz understood that in America, as well as in Italy, it’s not about coffee, it’s about connection. Starbucks is more than a place to get coffee. Starbucks is a place to be connected… be comfortable… even a place to be-long. That’s the Starbucks Principle.
The question that all of this can lead us, the Church, to ask ourselves is: How can we introduce the church, not the coffeehouse, as a third place where community and connection take place. How can the church serve as a third place for our neighbors today? How can the Starbucks Principle teach our congregation to offer connection and community?
Billy Coburn, writing in the Strategic Adult Ministries Journal, offers some insights into how churches can learn from coffee-centered cafés. He says, “First, take seriously the deep human hunger for a third place. Howard Schultz has given people an inviting, stimulating, soulful environment; he has offered them a place to enjoy community and camaraderie within the attractively decorated walls of Starbucks. Is the Church doing the same? Are we being inviting, open and inclusive of all people, or are we behaving in ways that are exclusive and isolationist?”
Paul calls us to clothe ourselves in: compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience—These qualities are irresistible, and they should fill the air of a congregation, like the intoxicating aroma of freshly ground coffee beans because any other smell is going to drive people away. People are needing and wanting an inviting third place more than ever before.
In his book “The Great Good Place” Ray Oldenburg speaks to this need when he writes, We do not have that third realm of satisfaction and social cohesion beyond the portals of home and work that for others is an essential element of the good life. Our neighbors crave a place of satisfaction and social cohesion — it’s something they need at the very deepest levels of their hearts and souls.” The question is: Will they find it here—at the Church? Or only at Starbucks?
Coburn, offers a second strategy gleaned from coffee-centered cafés when he implores churches to remember that “everything matters.” He writes, “Starbucks pays attention to detail, and it desperately wants to meet people’s needs for enjoyment. It’s hard to have a bad experience at Starbucks, given the delicious coffee, tasty snacks, lovely decor and comfortable chairs.”
“Bear with one another,” advises Paul, but also “forgive each other.” Both are important, not just one or the other. “Clothe yourselves with love,” he recommends, and also “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” Everything matters in a quality Christian community, not just one issue or concern. Forbearance, forgiveness, love, peace — all are going to be noticed by people looking for a third place, and all are worthy of our attention because they all factor into the experience a person will have. Paul wants the Church to be a complete experience.
Coburn, offers a third strategy gleaned from coffee-centered cafés when he implores churches to extend the church into the marketplace. He writes, “Notice that Starbucks cafés aren’t located in isolated areas, but instead are always placed in the middle of the marketplace in high-volume areas. Drive through a congested area, and you are going to see a Starbucks, guaranteed— sometimes two or three.” And he’s right. This truth occurred to me one morning, after dropping my kinds off at daycare, as I made my way to the Stow-Kent Target. I weaved past the congestion of cars trying to get into and out of the Starbucks next to Target, only to park my car and walk into Target where I had to weave my way past the congestion of people trying to get into and out of the Starbucks inside Target!
Paul implores, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.” Paul encourages us to teach and to sing, and those are two things that the marketplace is anxious for us to do because in a world of moral confusion, our neighbors are looking for conversation and guidance about difficult and trying issues—everything from raising teenagers to responding to terrorism to financial instability. People are looking for a medium that will speak to their soul and fill their heart, so the time is right for the church to think creatively about addressing these concerns and being a place where people can be connected, be comforted, be supported, and yes, even be-long.
And lastly, Coburn, offers a strategy gleaned from coffee-centered cafés of community when he implores churches to care about community. He says, “Don’t simply care about church attendance figures and the maintenance of this institution. Care about community, and about the filling of needs that people may not even be aware they have.” This is what Howard Schultz did, when he opened the first Starbucks to fill an emptiness that people couldn’t even articulate. Schultz gave them a third place before they even knew they needed a third place.
“Whatever you do,” writes Paul to the Colossians, “in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” If we do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, we will surely meet the needs of our neighbors, because our neighbors are desperately in need of Jesus Christ. Whether they can articulate it or not, they have a hunger for Jesus in their lives— they long for Immanuel, God with us, the One Eternal God in human form. They need a Savior to bring them forgiveness and new life, and a Lord to lead them through the twists and turns of daily existence. What they require, whether they realize it or not, is a community of Christ-followers that can function as their third place, because only a community centered on Christ can help them to make sense of, and fully live in their first two places—their homes and their workplaces.
As we move forward in response to the call to find ways to have God leave our building and go more broadly into our community, it is critical to know exactly what we should aim to provide. People want and need a place to be connected, a place to be comforted, a place to be supported, and even a place to be-long. If we present such, then it will not matter what ministry opportunities we offer as long as we provide them with: compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience and love.
We are going to start such an endeavor and ministry this Friday as we begin our May Donut Days. Every Friday beginning at 7 a.m. we will offer any passerby the chance to pull up to our front door and receive a free donut and cup of coffee. We are doing this in response to God’s call to have a broader community presence, to take God outside our building, but we are really doing this because it is hard to resist “compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” It’s difficult for people to turn away from “love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” And if we truly do “everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” we’ll have a long line of cars pulling into our lot like Starbucks, but not just for free donuts and coffee, but for all that God is doing and offering through our work and ministries.
There is an almost unlimited supply of people who are in the market for an experience of quality community—longing for a place to be—be connected… be comforted…be supported… be-long.
So may we honor this human hunger for a third place, remembering that everything matters, extending the church into the marketplace, and always caring about community. May we be the Church by making this church a place to be. Amen.
Holy God, you have called us and set us apart— a body, a community, a church with a dress code to share your compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness, and love. For certain we want to wear these clothes; we want to be just that kind of church. This is what we desire because we know, having experienced first-hand, from you and your son and the transformation they create.
Yet we admit that so often we wear other clothes.
Forgive us when our style tends toward selfishness and greed and when malice comes out of our closets.
Forgive us when we put on pride and adorn ourselves with vanity.
Forgive us when we wrap ourselves in our own timetables.
Forgive us when our grudges fit us all too well.
Holy God, draw near to us so that when we draw near to others in our efforts to be the church you would have us be, that your children see you, feel you, experience you.
For we know there are many who feel like you are distant; so we pray you draw near to them through this church.
We know there are many who desire so badly to feel your presence; so we pray you let them know your touch through this church.
We know there are many who have lost hope; so we pray you remind them of your truth through this church.
We know we cannot see you, yet we believe that you are real, but there are many longing to experience you; so we pray you let them see you in all that we do as your church.
Holy God, You call us to wear compassion and kindness. You call us to wear humility and meekness. You call us to wear patience and forgiveness. Above all, you call us to clothe ourselves in love. It is our prayer that you help us, daily, to wear nothing less. It is our prayer, daily, for you to fashion us once again to be your people, made in your image, wearing signs of your abundant love for all, woven together in the body of Christ.
We ask that you would hear now the prayers that come from our hearts, to you, in this time of Holy Silence.
All this we pray in the name of our risen Savior, Jesus the Christ, who taught us to pray saying, “Our…”