by Alvin Reid
This week I stopped in a local coffee shop for a cup of joe (and a redeye) to get some email work done. Next to me sat some young adults who are part of the young professionals ministry I lead at our church. We had a great, albeit unplanned, visit. After that unexpected opportunity I met that evening at a planned event at another local coffee shop. We’ve had a lot of guests check out our young pros ministry recently. Being a good pastor (and trying to set a good example as an evangelism professor!), I of course wanted to follow up with all of these guests to see where they are spiritually. I emailed and texted an invitation to all, encouraging them to meet me at said coffee shop at 8 PM.
Welcome to the new world of “church visitation.”
Have you ever gone on church visitation and knocked on a door of someone, only to see the look of horror that church people came by unexpectedly? Yeah, me too. I don’t mind it, really, but I’ve found that there is a better way to get with young adults to talk about Christ than unplanned (or even planned) visits at their house. Nowadays, I regularly invite folks to meet me at a coffee shop. Here is what 90% of people say when I invite them to meet me there: they either (A) love the idea and come, or (B) send their regrets because they are working that night or have some other conflict. Of those in (B), half or more of them add something like “If you do this again, please let me know!”
There was a day when it was normal to show up at someone’s house, to be invited in, and to get to know them in that manner. In my earlier days in ministry, I led people to Christ with some regularity following this approach. In a day of far more nuclear families, a more monolithic culture, more 8-5 work schedules, and no wifi, stopping in homes was commonplace. With the rise of gated communities, garage doors and high back fences, increased mobility, security-sensitive apartment living — and wifi — many adults in general and young adults in particular prefer another venue for meetings.
Enter the world of the Third Place.
A Third Place is a place we go to beyond our home, work, or school to meet others. Epitomized by the coffee shop, third places have become a dominant part of our culture. Today, young people go out of their way, stand in long lines, and pay inflated prices for coffee products. That would have been just weird in my day.
I decided some time back that since young adults love third places like coffee shops, since I love them too, and since it’s easy to access them (they are everywhere), I would try to meet there. This week, I’ve met with no less than ten people in a third place, all but two in their twenties. This far surpasses relying on google maps to find an apartment only to discover no one was home and thus about 45 minutes was shot. Don’t get me wrong, I still visit people in their homes and have led folks to Christ that way in the recent past. But for this generation — the generation we are not reaching — we would do well to meet them where they are comfortable instead of expecting them to be available in ways we are used to using.
For us, this has become an especially effective method for reaching dechurched young adults, those who grew up in church and somewhere around their college years pretty much dropped out. I have this year met more than a few young professionals who have found a home at our church in part because we interacted with them in their world, affirming their desire for community, which is why third places thrive.
The third place has become a gospel outpost.
If you don’t do this already, this week try working on a sermon or other work at a third place. Get out of the church building into the community. Note how many young adults show up. Get to know the baristas and regulars. See how the third place functions as a mission station. Pray for ways to reach people there, and see how God can use this venue as a new approach to visitation.
Alvin L. Reid (@alvinreid) is professor of evangelism and student ministry and Bailey Smith chair of evangelism at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is author of As You Go: Creating a Missional Culture of Gospel-Centered Students. He loves encouraging the younger generation to live for Jesus. Learn more: www.alvinreid.com