THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY POSTED ON THE VERGE FAMILY CHANNEL. THANKS TO AUTHOR JOHN MURCHISON FOR ALLOWING US TO SHARE IT HERE.
We’re continuing our series on how to involve children in Missional Communities. At The Austin Stone, we encourage our Missional Communities to pursue three main practices:
- To gather as a community in a Family Meal
- To gather as disciples in Life Transformation Groups, or LTGs
- To gather as missionaries in a Third Place
While I know not every Missional Community follows this model, my hope is that you will be able to take some of the principles in each of these types of gatherings and apply them to your Missional Community rhythms.
We’ve already written on the first two of these practices. This week, we are focusing on the practice of gathering as missionaries in a Third Place.
What Is a Third Place?
Most small groups in churches meet in either a church building or in a home, which are great places to deepen and build relationships in Christian community. In our experiences with personal evangelism, however, we have found these two places (church and home) to be an intimidating place to invite your non-believing friends when you want to introduce them to your Christian community. That showed us the need for a Third Place – a place where your Christian community and your friends that do not believe in Jesus can connect with each other. Our prayer is that through the Third Place gatherings, relationships can be built that will open the door for personal evangelism to happen naturally.
As your Christian community demonstrates the love of Christ for each other, we pray that our unbelieving friends will be drawn to want to know more about this God that causes such sacrificial love for others. To learn more about the Third Place, check out this post by Todd Engstrom, Executive Pastor of Campuses and Communities at The Austin Stone.
The Dependable Third Place
Many Missional Communities choose to set a dependable time and place for their Third Place. Their group chooses a certain event or location that they will all try to go to at an agreed upon time, whether that is weekly, every other week, or once a month. The advantage of having a regular time and place for your Third Place gatherings is that you always have something to invite a coworker or friend to if the opportunity presents itself. In addition, your group will have the opportunity to meet and get to know other “regulars” at that location.
For groups including families, here are a few Third Place gathering locations that have worked for a dependable, regular meeting time:
- Playgrounds on Saturdays
- Restaurants with playgrounds during dinner on weeknights (finding a “Kids Eat Free” night is a bonus!)
- High school football games – this is especially effective if some of the group members have children on the team
- Grilling burgers in a group member’s front yard
- The neighborhood donut shop on Saturday mornings
- Swimming at the neighborhood pool on Saturdays in the summer
In short, find something you and the other families in your Missional Community would have fun doing on a regular basis, then do it, and be intentional about inviting neighbors, coworkers, and others to join!
The Spontaneous Third Place
For some groups, having the whole group meet at the same time and same place on a regular basis works great. For others, it can be hard to get everyone’s schedules aligned. For those groups, I recommend pursuing what I call “the spontaneous Third Place.”
To have a spontaneous third place, ask the following two questions about the things on your calendar:
- Can I include members of my Christian community in this event or task?
- Can I include some of my unbelieving friends in this event or task?
If the answer to both is “yes,” you have a Third Place!
Let’s look at a few different ways this could play out.
Your Kids’ Events. For families with kids in school, much of your calendar may revolve around school events, from fundraisers to festivals to performances to sports practices. Be intentional about meeting and building friendships with some of the parents there. There’s a good chance that you’ll run into them again at events in the future. In addition, invite along a member or two of your Missional Community. It will be really great for the other parents at your school to see your Missional Community coming out to support your kids, even if (or especially if) they don’t have kids of their own at the school!
Excercise. My wife loves walking the Town Lake Trail, a community trail in Austin, TX, pushing our two little girls in a double-stroller. Whenever she goes, she texts a few of the women from our church along with a few of our neighbors that she knows are not out at work. No matter where or how you exercise, you could always bring along others with you!
Home Projects. Working on your car? Painting a room? Building a deck? Whatever home project is on your “to-do” list, I guarantee it will be more enjoyable with friends. Invite people from your MC along with a few other friends who don’t attend church, and you’ve got a very productive Third Place meeting.
Fun. Everybody’s gotta have fun from time to time, right? Whether you’re having a date night, a family DVD night, or a day at the park, think intentionally about who you could bring along with you!
With a little thought and planning, almost any part of your week can be a great way to involve your friends that don’t yet know the Lord in the life of your Christian community. I encourage you to begin to think through your schedule in this way, and pray that the Lord uses these times to bring men and women to Himself!
What third place does your family visit? Where will you invite your friends to next? Email Cailey or post a comment on this blog.
If you’d like some help getting kids involved in missional life—or getting your church on board with the idea—Sherry Bennett would love to chat with you. Sherry’s the coordinator of the CBWC’s Children and Families Missional Network (CFam).
John Murchison is the Director of Children’s Ministry at The Austin Stone. He is husband to Sarah and father to Waverly and Lucy. He is passionate about making disciples of children rather than “mini-Pharisees,” and about teaching children the gospel over morality. He desires to help parents see themselves as missionaries on mission to and through their children. He’s also a fan of Pixar movies, all things Disney, comic books, and video games, and uses his job as an excuse to do “research” in these areas.