Sociologists believe the places where people spend time can be divided into three buckets. The first is our home, the second is either work or school, and the third is where we hang out and build community. The third-place idea for church design has been around since the 1980s and refers to a place that’s an anchor in the community. Many church leaders today continue to include the third-place idea in their church vision for ministry, so it’s certainly a current trend in church design.

The Café in Today’s Church Building

For many churches, a perfect third place is a café or coffee bar. Think about how many people in America do their work at Starbucks. It’s natural for humans to gather around food and drink, and over the decades, church leaders have taken notice. Many church designs today include some type of café, whether it’s just free, self-serve coffee and tea, or a full-blown restaurant type of café with food options, as well as fancier drinks.

Of course, there are serious financial considerations when having a café as a third place gathering spot in a church building. Church cafés can easily operate in the red because of the investment in food, staff, facilities, and maintenance. It’s okay if your goal is to attract guests and build community, but church leaders should be aware that creating a third place like this can be a “loss leader”: a necessary expense to get people into your church.

Bookstores Have Seen Their Day

It’s not surprising that that rise of Amazon and online shopping have impacted church bookstores. These spaces used to be very popular, but, of late, that is no longer the case. Some churches have small kiosks or other display areas instead, even distributing study materials at the guest services counter, but full-service church bookstores are becoming a thing of the past. Like cafes, they are also difficult to staff and make profitable, something else to consider when adding one to a church design.

Integrating Creative Third-Place Options in Church Design

There are other options. We’ve seen a lot of church leaders getting creative about what to include in their church design to attract the community to their church building. We are including spaces like recreational facilities, dedicated gyms, weight rooms, playlands, fitness centers, medical or family wellness centers, and rock-climbing walls in church building plans today. Outdoors, we have recently integrated skateboard parks, athletic fields, and walking paths into the landscaping of church building projects.

Again, there is a cost to both the construction and maintenance of such facilities, as well as additional insurance premiums, so it’s important to do the math and make certain that your plan to be a third place in your community is something you can sustain for the long haul.

Because trends in church design continue to evolve, we devote one of our free i3 webinars each year to the latest details. We will announce our 2023 webinars soon, so stay tuned for that, and for more 2022 trends in next week’s post.