by Bob Whitesel, 5/15/14.
A student of mine found a helpful article titled Walls Do Talk by Paul Louis Metzger (http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2009/fall/wallsdotalk.html) and she noted that “he explores the importance of space in the Bible and how we can apply it to our own modern Churches. Metzger urges church planners to ask the question, ‘what space will help us have the greatest gospel impact– not just quantitatively (how many people can we accommodate?) but also qualitatively (how is this space forming people spiritually?).’ He questions many churches decisions to neutralize sacred space in order to comfort unchurched people, asking what are we giving up in return. An example he explores is coffee bars inside the foyers, are these fostering meaningful relationships that help these people further impact the kingdom? Or are they an outlet for comfort, consumerism and further division in the church? ‘Churches with coffee bars may have to work harder to ensure they are fostering community around the values of Christ rather than casual consumerism’.”
I responded that while I agree with much of Metzger (e.g. we need a space that creates an atmosphere for the supernatural to be experienced), I also disagree somewhat with his observations that “… coffee bars inside the foyers, are these fostering meaningful relationships that help these people further impact the kingdom? Or are they an outlet for comfort, consumerism and further division in the church? ‘Churches with coffee bars may have to work harder to ensure they are fostering community around the values of Christ rather than casual consumerism’.”
What I have found is that these coffee bars can create an important fellowship space (if done right). My church has a coffee bar, but only with a few tables that are either too big for conversing (round and 8 feet in diameter) or too uncomfortable (low tables with hard back chairs). But, Dan Kimball in an article titled, I Was Wrong About Church Buildings tells about how the church he pastored turned a fellowship hall in a former Presbyterian church into a coffee bar that is filled with people almost every day. (See this link for a picture: http://www.vintagechurch.org/news/theabbey).
I think the idea should be to help a church become what Ray Oldenburg (1991, 1999) calls a “third place,” where people form social networks in a space that is not at home (their first place) and not at their work (the second place). Oldenburg sees secular businesses capitalizing on these “third places” via bars, private fraternal organizations (Elks, VFW, etc.), sports bars (remember the TV show “Cheers”?), coffee bars (remember the “Friends” TV show), etc.
In my mind, I think the church could fulfill this third place part of the time. You see, I don’t want to see us abandon the “third places” out there were we interact with non-churchgoers. But, I want to see the church be one of these third places where people can connect with other Christians for discipleship in an environment that is not at home or at work.
For an example of how one mega-church pastor and student of mine applied the Third Place concept, see this posting titled: FELLOWSHIP & A Cast Study of How On Mega-church Pastor/Student Created Oldenburg’s “Third Place”
Ray Oldenburg, The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons, and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community (Washington, DC: Marlowe & Company, 1999).