My 3rd Place
The Washington Post, leather Churchill chair, crackling fireplace and a warm coffee; I can’t tell you if this reflects one experience indelibly etched in my mind’s eye or the amalgamation of several from the time I lived in Virginia. But as I write, I see it: My 3rd Place.
Remember that phrase? That was how Howard Schultz, chairman and CEO of Starbucks, envisioned the customer experience: Your third place, right between work and home. That vision no longer exists at Starbucks: I’ve held “Gold Status” since 2009, but my local Starbucks has no idea what my name is. This is what happens as organizations grow too large and lose sight of their founder’s vision.
As a Diocesan Director, I am in the thick of discussions about evangelization and discipleship. As one who works with youth, I am all too aware of the national statistics that show young people floating away from the Church in concerning waves. Now, put a bookmark there, and think of one central thing: The Catholic Church was established by Jesus Christ Himself to announce the Good News of salvation to all people, and He built a foundation on which the Church will stand until His return. This is the greatest event in human history. So how is it that so many parishes are half-full on Sunday morning and community life is floundering?
What if parishes strived to be the 3rd Place in the lives of Catholics? What if, motivated by the glorious news of Salvation, our parishes weren’t just places where people showed up for Mass, committee meetings, parish festivals or the occasional speaker, but instead sought to be that 3rd Place between work and home where a welcoming community always offered something of substance?
A few men at Holy Rosary Parish in Evansville meet early on Saturday mornings for coffee. Do they pray together, talk Theology or engage in Scripture study? Not usually; they drink coffee and talk about music, cars, sports and, sometimes, philosophy. Mostly, they’re just men who are seeking to be close to Jesus and who drink coffee together on Saturday mornings – but they do it at their parish, not Starbucks. They also tend to volunteer, serve on parish retreats, and serve as lectors, ushers, and Eucharistic ministers. Simple? Yep; it really is.
Being a “3rd Place” is about building a culture of community: A place people want to be, not a place they come to serve out an obligation. What does that look like? I’d guess there are as many answers to that as there are parishes, but who better understands the needs of the local community than the people who comprise the parish? What would your parish “3rd Place” look like? Send me an email (my address is below), and I’ll share some of your insights in a future column.
A good coffee would be nice right now. Wouldn’t it be great if my parish popped into my mind as a place I could go? Why shouldn’t it?
Contact Steve Dabrowski at firstname.lastname@example.org.