Leading With Your Life

Leading With Your Life

It’s commonly understood that an extreme situation can call forth either cowardice or heroism from the very people you would least expect it. There’s nothing like a good crisis to reveal the character of the soul or an organization. When one is leading because one’s life, and the lives of others, depends on it, then perhaps the best qualities of leadership shine through. This is particularly true when it comes to the issue of leadership and leadership development—strategic areas of focus for the missional church.

The Valuable Commodity of Time

The Valuable Commodity of Time

I find more often than not when someone asks me, "How are you?", I respond with something to the tune of, "I am good, just really, really busy. We're just in a really busy season right now." I name it as a "season", bringing with that statement the idea that it will pass, that it will somehow transition into something else. But it never does. In fact, I can't think of any time in the past several years that I wouldn't label as "busy". As I look around and see the growing noise and speed of our modern lives, this thought hits me: Time is beginning to be one of the most valuable commodities we have. To invest your time in someone or something is a very precious thing.

The Upside Of Down

The Upside Of Down

All this talk about adventure, risk, and in extremis leadership sounds pretty exhausting. But these are the necessary elements of liminality—that neither-here-nor-there place to which the church is called.

Dear Forge Family...

Dear Forge Family...

Dear Forge Family, December 2016

As we near the end of 2016, we have much to be thankful for in our Tribe of Forge America! Our Hubs are going strong! We have grown this year and now stand at 15 Hubs! Our Family is expanding!! We gathered for a cruise in April to build relationships and dream together for our future. We participated at Exponential ’16 in Orlando offering both a pre-conference opportunity and breakouts throughout the event. We participated in numerous One-Day Events around the US and came together at Hub Intensives. We are a Family on the go!

God has blessed us in so many ways as we have endeavored to participate in His Kingdom as Missionaries where we have been sent! Our National Leaders have given much time, effort and prayer to building our Team to both grow our presence as well as facilitate and support our Hub families.

All of this takes more than time, effort and prayer. There is financial expense to continuing to provide the support that is necessary to both continue our current support and to grow us to new horizons. Our Hub contributions help offset some of our expenses, but falls short of what is needed for the daily workings of our Tribe. We have only two National Team Leaders that receive a very small stipend for the many hours they contribute to Forge America each week. All other monies are provided by personal support. There is a need for travel among the National Team from time to time that is not covered by Hub financial support received.

We are blessed that several folks within our Tribe and a small few from outside contribute monthly or regularly to Forge America. This is keeping us afloat - but the waves are visible!

Would you please consider becoming a regular contributor to Forge America? Please know, we are a very frugal bunch! But there are necessary expenses to keep us going and growing!

Please prayerfully consider a monthly gift to Forge America - or perhaps a Year-End gift.

Send your tax-deductible contribution to: Forge America PO Box 708 Frisco, TX 75034

Or visit: http://www.forgeamerica.com/get-involved (you may use PayPal / Credit / Debit) You can also set up your giving through your personal online banking account.

Thank you so much for your consideration and generosity. We love each and all of our tribe and so look forward to all God has in store for us in the months and years ahead! Blessings to you, your family and Hub family! 

On behalf of our Forge America National Team, 

John Taylor (Forge America Finance Team)

• Forge America • PO Box 708, Frisco, TX 75034 • www.forgeamerica.com

Missional Wind

Missional Wind

Living on mission with Jesus is as “real time” as it gets. Each day begins as a blank canvass, and our walking with Him into life and engaging the people and circumstances before us can be as the paintbrush that The Artist uses to define and color a unique daily portrait of what is in His heart.

And so the adventure begins...

Paradigm Shift... Libby's Story

Paradigm Shift... Libby's Story

In Forge, we refer to the “ah­ha” moments of life as paradigm shifts. A few years ago, I began a
rather large paradigm shift and it all started with a simple prayer, “God, please set me free.” I’m
not even sure what I wanted freedom from...

The Glorification of Busyness

The Glorification of Busyness

Brene Brown writes, “We wear busyness as a badge of honor. We’d be afraid of what people would say if we weren’t busy.”Rob Bell says, “Busy is a drug that a lot of people are addicted to.”

Jeebus Or Jesus?

Jeebus Or Jesus?

In a hilarious episode of The Simpsons called “Missionary Impossible,” Homer pledges ten thousand dollars to PBS and is generally credited for saving the television network. However, it quickly becomes apparent that Homer does not have the money, prompting a mob of characters and personalities from various PBS shows to chase him through the streets.

He hides out in the First Church of Springfield and bargains with Reverend Lovejoy who, despite Homer’s obvious lack of Christian faith or understanding, packs him off as a missionary to the South Pacific. Just as the plane is about to take off, Homer shows his utter ignorance when he anxiously exclaims, “Jeebus? Jeebus? But I don’t know Jeebus! Helllp me Jeebus!” Homer arrives on the island where he meets the natives. At first he is so fearful that he’s about to be eaten for dinner, he drops to the ground crying “Oh God!” repeatedly. The natives take him for a religious mystic and so they too fall to the ground crying out to God.

Emboldened by his new status as spiritual guru, Homer begins trying to teach them about religion, but realizing that he knows nothing about it, he tries something new. While the natives were noble savages ignorant of and unspoiled by civilization, Homer decides to build a casino on the island, which he names “The Lucky Savage.” This introduces alcohol, gambling, and violence to the island and totally ruins the natives’ previously virtuous way of life. We start with this story because it highlights the impact of how ignorance of Jesus by those who claim his name is toxic to both the believer as well as those around him or her. Following “Jeebus,” Homer wreaked utter havoc on the population, and we are left wondering if this does not describe large tracts of Christian history equally well.

Now we of all people do not want to say that God doesn’t use the odd Homers of this world (we think the church should be a freak collection and that God does use weirdos of all sorts), but it does highlight the fact that the missional disciple must know God in a real way or else bear false witness. And given our previously mentioned commitment to a distinctly missional form of Christianity, this will highlight some of the ways ignorance of Jesus (willful or otherwise) creates a toxic religion that is not only not worth spreading, but detrimental to the cause of Christ. God Is Like Jesus The first and absolutely most foundational thing we can say about missional discipleship is that it must be based squarely on the founder of the Christian faith—Jesus the Messiah.

And while this might seem obvious, one can easily be excused for not being able to recognize anything approximating Jesus in some of the people who claim his name. This discontinuity between Jesus and the religion that claims his name, what Jacques Ellul calls the “subversion of Christianity,” has led countless people to say with political humorist Bill Maher, “I don’t know anyone less Jesus-like than most Christians.” It also prompted researchers David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons to write a book called unChristian , which is based on what most non-Christian twenty-somethings said about so-called Christians. 1 Jesus is the key not only because Christian discipleship is about becoming more like Jesus but also because it is only in and through Jesus that we can get the proper, truly Christ an understanding of God. In other words, Jesus gets defining rights in relation to life, discipleship, theology, and everything in between.

Not only is he the mediator between God and humanity (1 Tim. 2:5), he is the prism through which we can and must understand God (Col. 1:9–21, Heb. 1:1–3). New Testament scholar Albert Nolan is quite right when he states, By his words and practice, Jesus himself changed the content of the word “God.” If we do not allow him to change our image of God, we will not be able to say that he is our Lord and our God. To choose him as our God is to make him the source of our information about divinity and to refuse to superimpose upon him our own ideas of divinity.

This is the meaning of the traditional assertion that Jesus is the Word of God. Jesus reveals God to us; God does not reveal Jesus to us. . . . We cannot deduce anything about Jesus from what we think we know about God; we must deduce everything about God from what we do know about Jesus. . . . To say that Jesus is divine does not change our understanding of Jesus; it changes our understanding of divinity. Reclaiming the centrality of Jesus will help us avoid the perennial mistake of superimposing upon the life and personality of Jesus our preconceived ideas of what God is supposed to be like.

N. T. Wright affirms this when he says, "My proposal is not that we know what the word “god” means, and manage somehow to fit Jesus into that. Instead, I suggest that we think historically about a young Jew, possessed of a desperately risky, indeed apparently crazy, vocation, riding into Jerusalem in tears, denouncing the Temple, and dying on a Roman cross—and we somehow allow our meaning for the word “god” to be recentered around that point."

Jesus is, and must be, the central reference point for the Christian because God looks like Jesus and Jesus does what God wants to do! (See John 10:38, 12:49–50.) We love Greg Boyd’s wonderful description of this: Jesus spent his ministry freeing people from evil and misery. This is what God seeks to do . Jesus wars against spiritual forces that oppress people and resist God’s good purposes.

This is what God does . Jesus loved people others rejected—even people who rejected him. This is how God loves . Jesus had nothing but compassion for people who were afflicted by sin, disease, and tragedy. This is how God feels . And Jesus died on the cross of Calvary, suffering in the place of sinful humanity, defeating sin and the devil, because he passionately loves people and wants to reconcile them to God. This is how God saves . It is true that Jesus is like God, but the greater truth, one closer to the revelation of God that Jesus ushers in, is that God is like Jesus!

As Michael Ramsey, the former Anglican archbishop, noted, “God is Christlike and in him is no un-Christlikeness at all.” Or as Jesus says when asked to show his credentials, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” and “I and the Father are one” (John 14:9; 10:30). We Become What We Worship Focusing our discipleship on Jesus forces us to take seriously the implications of following him, of becoming like him . . . like God. The spiritual agenda for discipleship is thus set: Jesus is our primary model, teacher, guide, savior, and Lord. He is the standard by which we assess discipleship and spirituality. And we must become living versions of him—little Jesuses. So, if we want to know what God is like, we need to look no further than the person of Jesus Christ.

Now while this may seem like an incredibly obvious thing to say, it is staggering how few of us really integrate this most fundamental of truths into our lives. Recently one of us was reminded of this reality when attending a local Bible study. The group was studying a book on the character and attributes of God. The leader of the group was asking whether God was knowable, and if so, how we can really know him. The participants were caught up by the “otherness” and “awesomeness” of God experienced in worship, and seemed to sit more comfortably talking about this.

When the leader pushed for more specifics, one person mentioned creation and then another the Scriptures, but no one seemed to be able to go further. It wasn’t until the study leader stated that it was Jesus who shows us who God is, and that we know God in and through him, that the people seemed to make the connection. What is interesting is that these highly intelligent, mature men and women had been going to church most of their lives, and yet they missed this primary fact—the Jesus factor. That there is a radical disconnect between God and Jesus for many believers, as illustrated in the story above, shouldn’t surprise us. For most people it is far easier to sit with the “otherness” of God—we prefer our divinity at a safe distance.

But while God’s transcendence does, and should, instill feelings of awe and a desire to worship within us, it does not immediately show us a way to follow . We see God or read about him and stand in awe. But what then are we supposed to do besides worship and adore him? When confronted with the reality of God in Jesus, God in human flesh, God is no longer beyond and unfathomable, but immediate and present. He has come close to us, and his claim on our lives becomes somewhat more unavoidable.

And that.... was the whole point of the incarnation.

- Excerpt from Untamed by Alan and Debra Hirsch

The Box or The Basilica?

The Box or The Basilica?

I rounded the corner and caught my breath. I knew that it was going to be big, but I didn't know that it was going to be this gargantuan. My eyes hardly knew where to look first, the extensive grandeur and ornate intricacies pulled my attention one way and then another, up and then down. 

Sentralized: WHY ANOTHER CONFERENCE?

So why attend another conference?  First, we believe there is a need to continue to bring clarity to the missional conversation....

Safety – Good for the Swedes, NOT for the Saints

Safety – Good for the Swedes, NOT for the Saints

Swedish car manufacturer Volvo has built its reputation on safety. Want a safe car, drive a Volvo. Car enthusiasts typecast Volvo’s conservative and uninspiring cars by saying, “Volvo sells school teachers cars shaped like bricks”. Ouch!

Jipped

Jipped

DO YOU REMEMBER THE WORD jipped? It’s not in my dictionary, but I think it’s one of the best words I’ve ever heard, kind of like ubiquitous, caveat, or robust—words that not only feel good rolling off your tongue but that carry a lot of meaning.

Jesus - The Original Barista

Jesus - The Original Barista

It was displayed in plain sight. I’m sure I must have seen it before. However on this particular evening while waiting on my next appointment, it caught both my attention and curiosity. Three short phrases carefully crafted together. One empowering mantra displayed in over 21,000 community gathering places worldwide— one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.

What corporate citizen aspires to the lofty dreams of, “… inspiring and nurturing the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.” Starbucks of course! (check out their really cool mission video https://vimeo.com/62275792)

In the #1 New York Times bestselling book Onward: How Starbucks Fought For It’s Life Without Losing Its Soul, Howard Schultz the CEO of Starbucks recounts the story and leadership lessons behind the global coffee company’s comeback.

In 2008, Schultz decided to return as the CEO of Starbucks to help restore its financial health and bring the company back to its core values. In Onward, he shares this remarkable story, revealing how, during one of the most tumultuous economic periods in American history, Starbucks again achieved profitability and sustainability without sacrificing humanity.

Living out the below core values, the Starbucks green and white logo is known worldwide.

  • Creating a culture of warmth and belonging, where everyone is welcome.
  • Acting with courage, challenging the status quo and finding new ways to grow our company and each other.
  • Being present, connecting with transparency, dignity and respect.
  • Delivering our very best in all we do, holding ourselves accountable for results.
  • We are performance driven, through the lens of humanity.

My reflections are two — Wow and Whoa!

Wow! — Regardless of person or product, I love dreamers and doers and those determined to develop something of value and worth. Way to go Starbucks! I will gladly continue to leverage your free space and great coffee and welcoming environment as I strategize kingdom plans, disciple followers of Jesus, and engage in gospel conversations. Really, thanks!

Whoa! — As in “let’s stop or slow down” for a minute to get our bearings. IS THIS NOT what the church is supposed to be about? Swap out a few words, church for company, and people for performance, and I could easily adopt Starbucks values for my own.

I love, and believe Jesus loves words like, warmth and welcoming, and connecting with transparency, dignity and respect.

Could it be that Jesus was the original barista? Get that picture in your mind next time you walk up to a Starbucks counter!

But seriously, was it not Jesus who modeled offering a “cup” of cold water in His name? (Mark 9:41) Was is not Jesus who showed “dignity and respect” for the woman at the well? (John 4) Was it not Jesus who moved into (and loved) His “neighborhood”. (John 1:14)

In an unprecedented era of downturn in church engagement, in an effort to move “Onward: fighting for its life, without loosing its soul” — perhaps the church could reflect, repent, and return to the model of Jesus. Thanks Starbucks for the reminder. I think “I’ll see you and raise you” (and keep using your free wifi)! 

Be blessed,

Jim

A Community Pastor

What is Missional?

What is Missional?

By: Brad Brisco

For nine years I taught a course on evangelism at a small Christian college. There was an exercise I would do every year to illustrate to the students just how inwardly focused most churches are. I would divide the white board into two large columns. I asked the class to list all of the programs and ministries that their church had for those inside the church. In other words, activities just for church members. They would quickly create a very long list of things like Sunday morning worship, Sunday school, small groups, prayer groups, men’s ministry, women’s ministry, children’s ministry, sports leagues, special fellowships—you get the picture. Occasionally a student might argue that some of the activities were open to those outside the church, but inevitably they agreed that each of the activities was tailored with church people in mind.

The next step was to list the ministries that their church had exclusively for those outside the church family. Beyond that, I would ask them to consider any training that the church provided for members to equip them to engage those outside the church. The contrast was striking. In more than one case a student couldn’t name a single activity that his or her church had for those outside the church walls. All of the church’s planning, finances and energy were spent exclusively on church members.

The vast majority of churches in America are not missional. Despite this reality, some people believe using the phrase “missional church” is redundant. “Of course the church is missional,” they quip. The truth is that it should be redundant, but it isn’t. The church in North America, generally speaking, is clearly not missional. Both individually and collectively, it simply does not consistently live out of its missional identity. Please don’t say that missional church language is redundant. It is not.

So how are we to best understand the language of missional church? Unfortunately the word missional today seems to be connected to just about everything in the church world. Missional leadership. Missional evangelism. Missional youth ministry. Missional parenting. Missional denominations. Even missional clothing! Moreover, people are using the word missional to describe “new” ways to think about church growth, outreach, social justice and discipleship.

But if we reject this overuse, what then does the word missional mean? Moving forward, how are we to best understand it? I usually respond by saying that I have a short answer and a long answer to this question.

The short answer is that missional is simply the adjective form of the noun missionary. Therefore when we use the language of “missional church,” the word missional is used to describe the church as a missionary entity. The church doesn’t just send missionaries; the church is the missionary.

Now for the long answer. When considering a more theologically rooted definition of the word missional we need to examine three chief distinctions. These are the theological foundations of a missional approach, which I believe must serve as the starting point for the journey. Each point deliberately confronts long-held assumptions most Christians have about God, the church and mission. Without serious attention to each of these three points, the missional journey will inevitably end prematurely.

So what are those three foundations, or paradigm shifts that need to be considered? They include:

  1. Recapturing the missionary nature of God and the church
  2. Engaging in the posture of incarnational presence
  3. Understanding the why and how of participating in the Missio Dei.

If you and your church would like to process, not only these three keys paradigm shifts, but also learn practical steps to move a church into engaging God’s mission more fully, then consider joining the Forge tribe for a missional pre-conference at this year’s Exponential East event.

What is Missional - Part 2

What is Missional - Part 2

In part one I explained that when I am asked to define the word “missional” I usually say that I have a short answer, and a long answer. The short answer is that the word missional is simply the adjective form of the noun missionary. The long answer involves considering three theological distinctions that I believe are at the core of understanding the idea of missional church. 

The first shift in thinking that must take place relates to our understanding of the missionary nature of God and the church. When we think of the attributes of God, we most often think of characteristics such as holiness, sovereignty, wisdom, justice, love and so on. Rarely do we think of God’s missionary nature. But Scripture teaches that God is a missionary God—a sending God.

What’s more, the Bible is a missionary book. Scripture is generated by and is all about God’s mission activity. The word mission is derived from the Latin missio, meaning “sending.” And it is the central theme describing God’s activity throughout all of history to restore creation. While often overlooked, one remarkable illustration in Scripture of God’s missionary nature is found in the “sending language” that is prominent throughout the Bible.

From God’s sending of Abram in Genesis 12 to the sending of his angel in Revelation 22, there are literally hundreds of examples that portray God as a missionary, sending God. In the Old Testament God is presented as the sovereign Lord who sends in order to express and complete his redemptive mission. The Hebrew verb “to send,” shelach, is found nearly eight hundred times. While it is most often used in a variety of non-theological sayings and phrases, it is employed more than two hundred times with God as the subject of the verb. In other words, it is God who commissions and it is God who sends.

Perhaps the most dramatic illustration of sending in the Old Testament is found in Isaiah 6. In this passage we catch a glimpse of God’s sending nature: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’” To this Isaiah responds, “Here am I! Send me!” (Is 6:8). Further, in the prophetic books it is interesting to note that the Old Testament ends with God promising through the words of the prophet Malachi to send a special messenger as the forerunner of the Messiah: “I will send my messenger” (Mal 3:1). Then the New Testament begins with the arrival of that messenger in the person of John the Baptist, described in the Gospels as a man sent by God (John 1:6).

In the New Testament, sending language is found not only in the Gospels but also throughout the book of Acts and each of the Epistles. The most comprehensive collection of sending language, however, is found in the Gospel of John, where the word send or sent is used nearly sixty times. The majority of uses refer to the title of God as “one who sends” and of Jesus as the “one who is sent.” All the way through John’s Gospel we see God the Father sending the Son. God the Father and the Son sending the Spirit. And God the Father, Son and Spirit sending the church. In the final climactic sending passage in John’s Gospel, Jesus makes clear that he is not only sent by the Father, but now he is the sender, as he sends the disciples: “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (Jn 20:21).

With this sentence Jesus is doing much more than drawing a vague parallel between his mission and ours. Deliberately and precisely he is making his mission the model for ours. Our understanding of the church’s mission must flow from our understanding of Jesus’ mission as reflected in the Gospels. Geoffrey Harris states it this way:

The Gospels reflect the fact that mission is the essence of the Church’s life and not just an aspect of it. The life of Jesus is invariably represented as being enacted in the world at large (and not in religious settings), among ordinary people of all sorts (and not just among believers) and, in particular, as reaching out to those beyond the normal scope and influence of the religious establishment Jesus’ early nickname, “friend of sinners,” is transformed in the Gospels from a term of abuse into a badge of honour and respect.

The sending language in Scripture not only emphasizes the missionary nature of God, but it also stresses the importance of understanding the church as a sent, missionary body. God is a missionary God who sends a missionary church. As Jesus was sent into the world, we too are sent into the world.

At the core of the missional conversation is the idea that a genuine missional posture is a sending rather than an attractional one. My friend Linda Burgquist likes to point out that Jesus did not assign the seventy to become a core group that would function as a new “come-to” structure; he instead sent them out by twos to engage the surrounding towns and villages. Likewise, we should be sending the people in the church out among the people of the world, rather than attempting to attract the people of the world in among the people of the church. This is a crucial distinction because most people in the church today do not think of their congregation in a sending, missionary manner.

The church is to see itself as a people called and sent by God to participate in his redemptive mission for the world. The nature of the church—rooted in the very nature of God—is missionary. Rather than seeing ourselves primarily as a sending body, we must see ourselves as a body that is sent. The church still gathers, but the difference is that we gather not for our own sake, but for the sake of others. Or better yet, for the sake of God’s mission. We come together regularly as a collective body to be equipped through teaching, prayer, worship, and study and then to be sent back out into the world as an agent of the King. 

What is Missional - Part 1

What is Missional - Part 1

For nine years I taught a course on evangelism at a small Christian college. There was an exercise I would do every year to illustrate to the students just how inwardly focused most churches are. I would divide the white board into two large columns. I asked the class to list all of the programs and ministries that their church had for those inside the church. In other words, activities just for church members. They would quickly create a very long list of things like Sunday morning worship, Sunday school, small groups, prayer groups, men’s ministry, women’s ministry, children’s ministry, sports leagues, special fellowships—you get the picture. Occasionally a student might argue that some of the activities were open to those outside the church, but inevitably they agreed that each of the activities was tailored with church people in mind.

The next step was to list the ministries that their church had exclusively for those outside the church family. Beyond that, I would ask them to consider any training that the church provided for members to equip them to engage those outside the church. The contrast was striking. In more than one case a student couldn’t name a single activity that his or her church had for those outside the church walls. All of the church’s planning, finances and energy were spent exclusively on church members.

The vast majority of churches in America are not missional. But despite this reality, some people believe using the phrase “missional church” is redundant. “Of course the church is missional,” they quip. The truth is that it should be redundant, but it isn’t. The church in North America, generally speaking, is clearly not missional. Both individually and collectively, it simply does not consistently live out of its missional identity. Please don’t say that missional church language is redundant. It is not.

So how are we to best understand the language of missional church? Unfortunately the wordmissional today seems to be connected to just about everything in the church world. Missional leadership. Missional evangelism. Missional youth ministry. Missional parenting. Missional denominations. Even missional clothing! Moreover, people are using the word missional to describe “new” ways to think about church growth, outreach, social justice and discipleship. My friend Lance Ford likes to refer to this crazy use of terminology as “applying missional paint.” Buy a can of missional paint and brush it on to whatever the church is already doing. Just like that, it’s missional!

But if we reject this overuse, what then does the word missional mean? Moving forward, how are we to best understand it? I usually respond by saying that I have a short answer and a long answer to this question.

The short answer is that missional is simply the adjective form of the noun missionary. Therefore when we use the language of “missional church,” the word missional is used to describe the church as a missionary entity. The church doesn’t just send missionaries; the church is the missionary.

Now for the long answer. When considering a more theologically rooted definition of the wordmissional we need to examine at least three chief distinctions. These are the theological foundations of a missional approach, which I believe must serve as the starting line to our journey. Each point deliberately confronts long-held assumptions most Christians have about God, the church and mission. Without serious attention to each of these three points, the missional journey will inevitably end prematurely.

Over the next few days I want to share what I believe we need to consider when fully understanding the idea of missional church. I hope you join the discussion.

What is a Third Place?

What is a Third Place?

Sociologist Ray Oldenburg coined the phrase “Third Place” in his 1989 bookThe Great Good Place. The extended sub-title of the book helps to clarify the concept; Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community.” 

But what exactly is a Third Place? According to Oldenburg the first place is our home and the people with whom we live. The second place is where we work and the place we spend the majority of our waking hours. A Third Place is a public setting that hosts regular, voluntary, and informal gatherings of people. It is a place to relax and have the opportunity to know and be known by others. It is a place people like to “hang out.” Oldenburg identifies eight characteristics that Third Places share:

  • Neutral Ground. People are free to come and go as they please. There are no time requirements or invitations needed. Much of our lives in first places and second places are structured, but not so in Third Places.
  • Act as a Leveler. People from all walks of life gather in Third Places. There are no social or economic status barriers.
  • Conversation is the Main Activity. The talk is lively, stimulating, colorful, and engaging.
  • Assessable and Accommodating. They tend to be conveniently located, often within walking distance of one’s home.
  • There are Regulars. It is easy to recognize that many patrons are regulars at the establishment. But unlike other places, newcomers are welcomed into the group.
  • Low Profile. As a physical structure, they are typically plain and unimpressive in appearance.
  • Mood is Playful. With food, drink, games, and conversation present, the mood is light and playful. The mood encourages people to stay longer and to come back repeatedly.
  • A Home Away From Home. At their core they are places where people feel at home. They feel like they belong there, and typically have a sense of ownership.

Why is it so important for Christ followers to understand the concept of Third Places? Because the vast majority of people in the United States are living isolated, relationally impoverished lives. And Third Places offer an opportunity for missionally minded people to do life in proximity to others. We must take the time to identify where the Third Places are in our setting. Where do people gather to spend time with others? Where are the coffee houses, cafes, pubs and other hangouts?

But in addition to the typical Third Places as described by Oldenburg, what are some “atypical” places where people congregate? Think of places such as libraries, parks, farmer’s markets, workout centers, etc. We may need to “think outside the box” when identifying where people gather. But once identified we must seek ways to engage those places. This will involve embedding our lives incarnationally into Third Places, listening and learning where God is at work, and asking how we can participate in what God is doing. 

Where do you recognize a sense of isolation or loneliness in your neighborhood? Do you yourself experience feelings of isolation from your neighbors? How does the Gospel, the good news of the Kingdom, address the issue of isolation? Do you believe the sense of community is increasing or decreasing in your neighborhood? Why? What are the easily identified Third Places in your neighborhood?

Adapted from Missional Essentials