In recent posts we’ve shared a variety of church building trends that are pretty straightforward and easily understood. Multi-use, remodeling and technology integration are a few of the church design trends church leaders find easy to communicate to members. In this post, we’re looking at a trend that’s name is a little less clear, but still one that many churches are looking to embrace: third place design.

What is “Third Place” Design?

The “third place” concept first arose in conversations about community building. The idea is that people need a third place to gather, beyond the first (home) and second (work or school) places where we spend most of our time. In recent years, church leaders have recognized that the church building can serve as this kind of a community gathering space. They realize that providing a gathering place is a natural way to get people into a church building and a great catalyst for inserting church into the culture.

A word of caution before we talk about specifics: This trend can require a large investment in terms of staff, facilities, and upkeep. Even large churches which take on these projects sometimes do not break even. Instead, they trust that the benefits in bringing people into their church building are worth the investment in the community. This can be a big commitment and therefore should be considered carefully and thoroughly before you commit.

Many Types of Third Place Church Building Options

Churches are investing in all sorts of third place features beyond the common ones we’ll focus on in a moment. Some churches target families with young children through indoor and outdoor play lands, full-service restaurants and birthday parties. Others target youth and young adults with rock climbing, skateboard parks, and athletic fields. Some target active adults with recreational facilities and gyms with weight rooms, cardio, and other kinds of fitness centers. Others reach out to the community with medical and family wellness centers, including exam rooms with community nurses on staff. Some churches reach out to people of all ages with walking paths and bookstores.

Third Place Church Design Key 1: Community Spaces

In addition to these varied ways, there are two approaches that are so common that we think of them as key elements of this trend. The first is community spaces.

Once upon a time, the foyer of a church building was simply the place to shed your coat and pick up a worship flyer. Those foyers were quite small, about one-third of the square footage of the worship space it serviced.

Today, that gathering space or foyer is much larger, ranging from half the size of the worship space to the same size as the auditorium. The reason for this is twofold. The first is to give your church community a comfortable, open place to greet guests and have conversations. The second is to have a space large enough to hold third place events that are open to the entire community.

Third Place Church Design Key 2: Cafés

Going along with the gathering space, cafés are very common in a church building today. They are intentional relationship areas, even if your church design isn’t fully intended to be a third place. If you want people in your church building on Sundays, some kind of café can be a very good draw. Some are full-service coffee bars, including name-brand coffee chains. These can be expensive and difficult to staff, so again, the investment in a full-service café is a big decision.

Other times, churches both small and large decide instead to integrate serving counters for free brewed coffee into their church design. These are tables or areas where free coffee pods and machines are set out for anyone to help themselves.

The bottom line with third place church design is the same as with any other trend: you must decide which trends will work for your church’s vision. To learn more about what we’re seeing in church design today, be sure to sign up for our free i3 webinar series.