Third Places

Third Places are sometimes more churchy than church

It slips my mind, sometimes, that someone reading my posts may not know where they are written. With very few exceptions, most of my writing is done in Starbucks. If I didn’t write the actual post there, I at least scribbled notes to remind me later of the direction I’m going to take.

I don’t know all the reasons why Starbucks is my choice, but one of them is because it simply isn’t HOME. I can come here and focus, be myself, daydream and create. At home, well there’s laundry to be done, a new magazine in the mail, roaming dogs who terrorize me at every opportunity. The stuff of life. I connect with myself better — sometimes — when I’m not so surrounded by myself.

The other day I listened to two guys do the same at Starbucks. One was a regular, Dan, and I never caught the other’s name. Let’s call him Fred. These two guys began jabbering, and when I got up to go, literally two hours later, they were still jabbering. In the course of the hours they covered politics (conservative, but Dan has a liberal bent that inclines him to social justice), chiropractic (Fred is a chiropractor, and was convincing Dan — accurately in my humble opinion! — that chiropractic care could help him recover from his recent shoulder surgery), the military (both served, one flew planes, the other loved them). They covered their families, their work habits, their Starbucks drinks. They circled back around to why character and integrity matter in politics more than party affiliation, though each were registered Republicans. In short, they connected.

It was a life group in action. What do you call it at your church? At ours, during various moments, they have been life groups, journey groups, small groups, affinity groups. Whatever your definition, these two men joined a small group.

But let me ask you this question: when was the last time you saw two men begin with a passing nod acquaintance and end up with an intimacy and a feeling of belonging to the same tribe over the course of two hours?

That’s the genius of living life out in the community, in third places, shoulder to shoulder with your neighbors and strangers. Alan Hirsch, in his new book RIght Here Right now, says that “We have to be able to speak meaningfully into a culture, but in order to do that, we have to seriously examine a given culture for clues to what God is doing among a people….what is good new for THIS people?” My friend Dan was doing that. He was listening to Fred and conversing with him where he was at, the conversation meandering. And because it took place in this third place, others were welcome to join in or not. Some did, interacting as long as time and circumstances allowed. Others didn’t, living their own lives.

Either way, small group was had here in Starbucks, and a whole bunch of us got to join in.

I’m making the choice to go for community wherever possible. After all, I’m, pretty sure that’s where Jesus hung out. I just wonder if he’d have picked MY Starbucks!

Coffee Shop Review: Java Jax, Live Oak, FL


Last month David and I stopped into a little coffee shop in the tiny town of Live Oak, Florida. We were passing through on our way to Mom’s new retirement village, Dowling Park. The Java Jax logo was gleaming in the parking lot of the local Publix (where we had stopped to get our cream for our Starbucks Via instant coffee packets). Who could resist?

Java Jax is a hip envionment, decorated well with lots of good spots to sit and read or work. One corner has a set-up for live musical events, and the room is big enough to make it an interesting venue. The day we visited, there were several customers eating — and the food looked amazing — and doing the hang-in-the-coffee-shop thing. To be quite honest, the entire atmosphere felt like an oasis of modern civilization in the middle of rural America. It was a welcome respite.

I ordered a Cafe Americano, which I find to be a great drink to use in comparing coffee blends. It retains a fairly pure flavor profile for me. The shots were pulled well and the coffee was definitely worth the stop! More impressive than that, however, was the owner himself. He’s friendly, organized, and has a vision of his coffee shop as a third place for his community. He wants to touch the community for the Kingdom, which puts it at the top of my list!

Java Jax is about twenty minutes from my Mom’s new house. I have a funny feeling I’m going to be an occasional regular!

You can visit their website here, and when I get home and have access to the rest of my pictures, I’ll post a few interior shots of the store.


What makes community?

Going back to the roots of Coffee Shop Journal for a few minutes, I’ve been thinking today about what it really takes to feel like you are in a community. We’ve all known people on the fringes of a real community who just never seem to fully enter into the common life. There are also times in my own life when I feel as if I am “in” a community, but not really feeling as if I belong. And yet community is the most necessary component to a fulfilled — and even healthy — life. We were designed to live and move IN community, not just wandering through the edges of someone elses community.

When it comes to designing and living in Third Places, the question of true community becomes even trickier. Generally speaking, there are a few elements that must be in place before a person feels like they are in a community setting. According to a psychological study by MacMillian and Chavis (1986) that I read recently, these are the essential ingredients to community:

  • Boundaries – how we dress, what we do and say – the outward signs of “belonging.”
  • Emotional Safety – I am in a comfortable zone when I am in this community.
  • A sense of belonging and personal identification
  • Personal investment – I have paid my dues to this community.
  • A common symbol system – We understand the symbols and their meanings.

If all of these elements are in place, says the study, then a healthy community will flourish. But think about some of those elements and how difficult they are to just “create.” The best Third Places are organic in nature. They have a culture that has matured over time, and it is a unique culutre. It may be welcoming to outsiders and it may not, but either way it has its own unique characteristics. Creating from scratch a Third Place with character is difficult.

I write this as I am sitting in our new Life Center coffee shop at Christ Fellowship. At the moment it is a large room with chairs, couches, tables and a coffee bar. Its personality is missing. This is the first time I’ve sat down and spent time here observing, and I do see beginning signs of a culture growing. Here’s what I am looking for in order to see a community grow up in this new space.

  • People: We need a few regulars hanging around this place. They need to stake out their favorite spots and set up shop. There are definitely people coming and going and interacting already. If this can grow and expand, then there will be a warmth generated by their conversations and bodies filling the room.
  • Aroma: Good coffee shops develop their own scent over time
  • History: There need to be events in this space to create a sense of history. An accoustic guitar evening, a games night, book clubs, life.
  • Personality: File this one under people if you want, but there needs to be an individual whose personality begins to imprint itself on this open space. “Welcome…how are you? I brewed that coffee you recommended…Are you having your usual?”

I get excited by new construction. The sense of possibility permeates everything here in the Life Center, and I’m anxious to see how that possibility is fulfilled. I’m curious to see what history develops, what people wander by, what function this space will fulfill in the life of my church. I am anxious to watch the serendipitous meetings between departments that may have been holed up in their own hallways before. The organic “bumpage” of one person interacting with another is part of the magic of a Third Place.

In the meantime, I’m trying out all the tables, finding the spot with the best view of the comings and goings, yet still secluded enough to get some work done once in awhile. I’m sampling the coffees slowly. I’ve already participted in one of those “accidental” meetings, and felt the small bonds of connection begin to unfold. Give me another week: I’ll have my spot staked out.

Are you a regular?

It’s all about people.

I think that might be my mission statement in life. I am passionate about connecting with people, whether in the community, the church, or online! One person I have connected with — and adore — is Jenni Catron. As brand new bloggers last year, we managed to find each other as we both began talking about an upcoming conference we were both going to attend. Then, at Q (some of the most transformational days I’ve ever experienced), we met face to face. Jenni and I have slowly been building a cyber friendship that once in awhile spills over into the real world, like at Catalyst 08 or when David and I stopped in to visit her church in Nashville. Yesterday Jenni wrote this post on being a “regular,” and I immediately asked to reprint it here. It captures a lot of my heart…and hers.

“I Love Being a Regular”

by Jenni Catron

Every Tuesday morning Pete and I have our weekly meeting at the same restaurant.  This has been our routine for well over 2 years, so it’s safe to say we’ve become “regulars”.

Here’s why I like being “a regular”:

  • Everybody knows my name…  I know you’re singing the song from Cheers right about now, but it’s really true.
  • I’m comfortable.  I can relax because I know what to expect.
  • I order “the usual” and the wait staff know what “the usual” is for me.  (In case you are curious, it’s a bowl of oatmeal with fresh strawberries and brown sugar and of course a cup of English Breakfast tea.)
  • I know the other regulars and they know me.  There is a fun cast of characters that share our usual Tuesday morning routine… we’ve developed our own little community.

Why does this matter so much to me?

Belonging.  I feel like I belong.  I have a place. There are people who know me and miss me when I’m not there.

It’s amazing how such a core need can manifest itself in something as simple as where I eat breakfast.

It makes me wonder what I can do to help the people around me become “regulars”?  What can I do to help my staff feel that they belong?  That they contribute?  That they are needed?  That they are valued?

Being “a regular” gives me a glimpse of the power of community.  It’s the unique connection that we share as humans to love, appreciate and encourage one another.

So, who in your life do you need to make feel like “a regular”?

Waffle House is a cultural third place — really!

Can you tell we are traveling through the deep south? You know you’re in the south when you can write a post like this one, in which you honestly argue that Waffle House is a valid third place for a community, a place where diverse people come to connect with each other in a familiar and comfortable environment.

Nevertheless, that’s what I’m going to say today!

Our first exposure to Waffle House came from our friends, Buddy and Jody Hoffman. Buddy is the pastor of Grace Fellowship Church, whose children’s ministry is pictured in yesterday’s post. I was wrong on how many kids hang out at Grace on a Wednesday, by the way: there is an average of 1,500 from kindergarten to middle school each Wednesday. Church attendance in general runs 4-5 thousand. Now that is placing a priority on the next generation!

Buddy takes his job as a community-based, local pastor quite seriously. The time he spends in the local Waffle Houses is as important to him as the time he spends in the pulpit, and it shows. Walk into any Grayson or Snellville Waffle House with Buddy and you are greeted like royalty. Buddy has prayed with these people, teased them, loved them and confronted them. He has sat in the Waffle House in the middle of the night while wrestling with unruly sermons. And most telling of all, he has invented his own Waffle House sandwich! Ask for the Buddy sandwich for an unusual tasty treat.

Not too long ago, Buddy demonstrated to me the back and forth nature of community, the knowledge that no matter what happens in your life there are people around to back you up. Buddy had a disgruntled soul looking for a confrontation one time, and we were concerned that this person might actually come to find Buddy while he was wandering around town here or there. “Let him,” Buddy said. “These are my people. I know everyone in that Waffle House, and most of them are tough characters. He won’t get near me.” Buddy knew that his friends — friends, not helpless souls he’s “ministering” to, but friends — would have his back.

David, Kylie, Jillian and I are on a weekend trip to Nashville. Half way here we decided to stop into a Waffle House for a nice late-night breakfast. It was a different Waffle House, but there was still something similar there. People talked to each other. They made fun of the Waffle House jingle music on the juke box (even when they fed quarters in to keep it playing!). Some had teeth and some didn’t (not kidding…sorry, Tennessee!), but everyone was there just to let down and have fun.

So what do you think? Waffle House as a third place community? Buddy would say “Absolutely!”

Stumptown Coffee, Portland Oregon

Stumptown is a Portland, Oregon companyStumptown’s staffVery cool retro feel to thisKind of industrial, but lots of open space to visitMy family enjoying coffee. Colby…you made the blog!Stumptown sign…cool downtown vibeColby…two pics in one post!

Continuing with my series of cafe wanderings, I dragged my family into Stumptown Coffee, a Portland Oregon based roaster and brewer. They have five locations in this area, and I was excited to find one and try it! So here are my impressions. I was in their Belmont location, a newer venue in the downtown area. They have four other locations, each with its own personality.

  • The decor was industrial in nature. There were tables and a long banquette-type seating with people on their computers, but there was a surprising amount of open space. They had some funky barstool chairs that swiveled in a way that made me suspect they were really motorized and wanted my rear end on the floor. I found this entertaining rather than annoying, but with an espresso in my hand everything is entertaining.
  • The aroma in the store was perfect: a great blend of coffees scenting the air and unadulterated with anything else such as food preparation. They had some pastries, but nothing that would interfere with the primary purpose of a great coffee venue.
  • The staff was well-trained, friendly and quick. Since there was a line in there nearly the whole time we hung out in the shop, they weren’t super chatty. I got the impression that this is an in and out kind of place, not necessarily a Third Place. I would like to know how their other locations are designed.
  • The coffee was good. It wasn’t my favorite blend, and I probably should have had a straight coffee rather than an espresso. On the other hand — and this is one of my pet peeves, so to speak — their straight coffee was available only in thermal carafes. It was not fresh-brewed. Call me a coffee snob, but there you are. I like fresh-brewed.

I enjoyed the ambiance of the hustle and bustle, but Stumptown in this location would not be my hang out of choice if I were sitting with my computer or a book. Next stop??????

Gold Cafe, Lancaster, PA

Irresistable combination:coffee and banking?

I read about this unique coffee shop in the book “Authenticity” by James H. Gilmore and B. Joseph Pine II. In trying to create a new blend (pun intended) of services, Union National Community Bank decided to open a full service coffee shop, which can also provide banking services. It is called Gold Cafe.

The book claims that the customer perceives this blend as an authentic offering because it is unique. I would love to see this in action. Would it feel like both a bank, and a coffee shop? Or would it feel like neither? Could the community profit from literally sitting down to a cup of coffee with the people who approve (or not) a mortgage?

In either case, I had to pass this one along. Anyone been here? Join in and let us know what it feels like!!!!

Reconnecting with life at the mall

 This is my mall…the Gardens Mall in Palm Beach Gardens, FL

For something a little bit different, I picked up a book called The Culture Code by Clotaire Rapaille. The author is a social researcher who is on retainer by half of the Fortune 100 companies. His specialty is performing “discovery sessions” to determine what Americans (or other cultures as opposed to Americans) truly feel about any given subject. He uses three hour sessions during which he brushes away the debris of what we say we believe and uncovers what we feel and believe in our deepest gut. The third hour of his sessions always involves relaxing his focus group and taking them back to their earliest memories of whatever subject he is researching. the results of these third hour discussions reveal what he calls the “Code.” Many of these codes are simply fascinating. For instance, the Cultural Code in America for toilet paper is INDEPENDENCE. Yes…who would have known. When we master toilet paper apparently we get to shut the door on our parents for the first time and revel in our privacy and freedom. Knowing this code naturally helps companies market their products more effectively.

This morning I was reading the chapter on shopping and luxury, and found myself smiling from ear to ear. You see, he reconfirmed in his research what I have known instinctively for years: the act of going to shopping malls represents a way to reconnect with life in the American culture. Yes, we go to buy things, but that is only the excuse, or alibi, we use to wander through the stores. Read what he says:

This is the real message behind the alibi [of needing to buy something]. Yes, we shop because we need things, but shopping is more than a means of meeting material needs. It is a social experience. It is a way for us to get out of our homes and back into the world. It is something we can do with friends and loved ones. It is a way for us to encounter a wide variety of people and learn what’s new in the world — new products, new styles, and new trends — beyond what we see on television. We go shopping, and it seems as though the entire world is there.

The author goes on to explain — once and for all — a phenomena that has bothered many, many husbands. Shoppers (because there are a few male shoppers, too!) can often browse for hours, narrowing down their selections to just a few choices. We can seem to waffle on something over and over, frustrating our patient husbands while they wait for us to make a final choice. Often, in the end, we leave the mall saying “I need to think about it some more.” even though four or five acceptable choices were available. Why? Because once you no longer “need” a product, you lose your alibi for returning to the mall and reconnecting with life. Mystery solved.

Here is the connect that got me excited today. He went on to describe how malls have been adding casual hang out spaces so that the shopping time need not end so soon. We’ve seen this, of course, with coffee shops and new seating choices, food courts and even children’s play places. In other words, an effective Third Place. But here’s the kicker: apparently people come to this Third Place already looking to reconnect with life in a social sphere! They are already searching for a connection when they walk through the doors.

So my mall community is a valid connection point after all. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the coffee shop as a Third Place…not so much about the mall. I think maybe it’s time for some research!