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Is Your Youth Ministry a ‘Third Place’?

I’d heard of ‘thin places’, but the concept of a third place was new to me.

It’s the term sociologist Ray Oldenburg uses for those spots people used to meet each other, like post offices, pubs, coffee shops, or for kids the parks and playgrounds. Back in the day, these central meeting spots were where community happened.

Now, not so much. Many of these third places have disappeared, or people have stopped frequenting them. I mean, how much time do kids spend in parks and playgrounds these days?

Statistics show that people are becoming more isolated, less connected through others. Sure, we have social media, but being connected online is not the same as real life friendships. Loneliness is an real issue for people of all ages and from all socioeconomic backgrounds.

third place

Socializing benefits our emotional and physical health. Research has shown for instance that social isolation is connected to a premature death.

The current generation of students is the first generation to grow up fully digital. They know no world without internet, without being online, without the benefits and the downsides of a digital life. Friendships and connections happen less automatic for them than they did for my generation.

This is where youth ministry can come in. We can and should make youth group into a third place, a meeting point for students to connect with each other and build friendships.

That does not happen by itself however. It’s not enough to merely assemble students in the same room. Sitting next to each other in a service is not community. Playing a game together—no matter how much fun—does not mean community. Teens can be lonely in a room with 100 other teens if we don’t intentionally help them connect with others.

So how do we do that? How do we transform our youth ministry into a third place? What do we need to foster true community and real connections between students? Share your ideas in the comments!

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