Tuesday, November 1, 2011

What is a Third Space?

My thoughts on Churchmorph by Eddie Gibbs.

In an age where traditional church has become very individualistic and consumer-oriented, we need to try to understand how a church can make a distinctive contribution to the community. Individualism has turned church into a supplement for our own private devotions, and consumerism has put members in a frame of mind that if our church is not doing exactly what we like, it needs to be changed to suit our wants.

How can we shift from an individualistic, consumerist model to a model that serves God and the surrounding community first? This different model of church is one in which each member is active, supportive, and makes a distinct contribution to the community. We are not passive consumers but creative participants. We have a mission to engage the surrounding culture with the Gospel.

This is where the concept of Third Space comes in. What is a Third Space? If we think of our homes as being our first space, and our work as being our second, the third space is that of our community, a place where we can go to feel connected, appreciated, and valuable. This is where we can engage and grow together. A Third Space is essentially a welcoming space beyond work and home.

In such a space a church can hold artistic performances, workshops, collaborations and classes. In such a space a church can feed the hungry and provide community for people of all walks of life. The spaces serve the neighborhoods they are directly in contact with, and they adapt to the needs of those same communities. Third Spaces partnership with other churches in the area, so they are not seen as a threat. Third Spaces drop the "come to us" attitude and adopt mission as its drive. All churches with buildings are potential Third Spaces, but how many of them are using their spaces as such?

A Third Space allows a church to work toward transformation of the whole community. A Third Space knows the social and spiritual needs of the community. On the Outer Banks of North Carolina, we have an intense hospitality community that serves tourists for the summer and then overall becomes stagnant for the rest of the year. Countless times have I heard the mantra, "there's nothing to do." A Third Space gives people something to do, and it is part of the community for the long haul. It is not temporary. The Third Space is instrumental in transforming neighbors who are acquaintances into friends and then into brothers and sisters.

Spiritually, a Third Space community devotes themselves together. They follow same rule of faith. A Third Space community is not hierarchical. It builds up leaders of all generations and allows them to contribute their own ideas on how to use the space. New uses of the space bring a continuing renewal to what the space represents in the community. A Third Space is not like joining a club--it adapts to the needs of the community and grows to accommodate the community.

Finally, a Third Space worships together creatively. God is the focus. It is not stage theatrics and lecturing. It is a family gathering around the table, praying together, learning together, and thanking God for the blessings of this life. The two great commandments are to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind; and to love our neighbors as ourselves. A Third Space is a powerful instrument in fulfilling both of those commandments.