The Death of the “Third Place”

Many of you will remember the television show “Cheers”.  It ran from 1982 to 1993 and was wildly popular.  Why was it so popular?  It was a show about the random activities of certain patrons of this bar, Cheers.  But their activity is not what most people remember.  Rather, it is most widely known for it’s motto:  “Where everybody knows your name.”  Even as I write this, I can hear the tune playing in my mind.  The chorus goes like this:

Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
and they’re always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,
our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows
Your name.”

I was reading some statistics the other day, and I ran across some disturbing news.  Out of 100 teenagers, 80 will have been active with some church during their high school years.  Upon graduation, however, out of that 100, only 20 will remain in church.  19 never went to church and won’t ever go, and the remaining 61 will quit.

What this says to me is that when you look around at the teenagers next Sunday morning, 3 out of 4 of them will not be active in their faith after they graduate high school.  This is NOT good news!

There is much speculation about why this trend is happening all over our country.  One of the ideas seems to make the most sense to me.

This generation knows no such place like Cheers.

For previous generations people have relied on third places.  These places are not home (1st place) or work (2nd place), they are third places:  churches, coffee shops, bars, civic organizations, etc.  We rely on those places to satisfy our need for community.  We were created to NOT be alone.  Therefore it is natural that we should seek our a place we can feel at home with others there so that we can share in the experience of each others’ lives.  There are places where people catch up on what’s going on with the others in that group as well as planning upcoming activities outside that location for the group to participate in.

Church is very much a third place in today’s culture.  It is a place where we check up on one another and where many people discuss what is going on in their upcoming week.  It is a place where we feel safe, and “everybody knows our name”.

Throughout the years, then, we have come to rely on “Third Places” as a vital part of our daily or weekly lives.  “The times”, as Bob Dylan sang, “They are a changin’.”

Look at the teenagers you see during the week.  Really take the time to notice what they are focused on.  Most teenagers I know have a growth in their hand…it’s called a cell phone. They use it constantly, but I only rarely ever see one talking on it.  Most times they are texting…many of them have over 5000 texts per month.  They also spend large amounts of time on social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook.  These wonders of our technological world are changing the way young people live, and in doing so, they have nearly eradicated the need for a “third place.”

If I want to talk with my friends, I can do so right now on Facebook or through Twitter or texting.  I can even see their picture.  It’s all done in real time, and it’s almost as good as being face to face.  In fact, I have seen that teens will say some things online or through texting that they would never say out loud.

So what’s the need for church if you can just get together online or through your phone to plan your next face-to-face get-together?

I think it’s time for churches to re-evaluate their methods of discipleship.  Our generations coming up do not see the connection between being a Christ-follower and being part of the body of Christ.  They do not take ownership in a local congregation.  Leadership within many churches is getting older and older because there just aren’t any younger men and women who will step up and take ownership of their faith in such a way as to help in the leading of others to that faith.

So many of the people in the pews today see their Christianity as something that they do rather than who they are.

We need to train our kids to internalize the message of Jesus.  We need to help them de-compartmentalize their lives.  And we need to start at birth telling them the truth of the grace and mercy of God through Jesus in such a way that they will not put socialization as higher priority than being a faithful, active member of the body of Christ.

I encourage you to start with yourself and re-evaluate your priorities as a Christ-follower.  Then, get involved in your local congregation.  If you’re not involved, the body of Christ cannot function correctly until you are there.  Each Christian is a member of the body.  A human body cannot function correctly without a thumb or an ear.  The church, likewise, cannot function correctly without your active, passionate presence.

If you’re looking for a church home, then I invite you to Nichols St. church of Christ in Bay City.  Regardless of where you go, however, don’t just be a church-ian, be a Christ-ian – a Christ follower.  And lets bring our young ones back so the kingdom of God may be spread and peace and joy can be the norm across the globe through Christ.

Blessing to you, and if you have any questions or comments about this article or anything in general, please feel free to contact me at jddobbs@verizon.net or on Facebook at mrjdobbs

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About Johnathan Dobbs

I'm a Christian first. I'm a husband and father second. Then I am an avid outdoorsman (hiking, camping, climbing, canoeing, fishing, etc...). Right now, I have a passion for climbing and card tricks. I am the minister for the Aztec church of Christ in Aztec, NM. I look forward to meeting new people and hearing from all. View all posts by Johnathan Dobbs

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