There is a coffee shop a couple of minutes from my house. I go there sometimes to work on stuff for Church of the Cross and to have meetings. For the most part, I like this coffee shop, precisely because they have succeeded in some aspect of becoming a “third place” (without going so far as actually naming it “Third Place”). Whereas Starbucks has shifted (at least here in Phoenix) towards more of a drive-through culture, this coffee shop has plenty of space, tables and wi-fi use with a receipt.
There are lots of students there, which is a cool atmosphere, but it seems to be that, precisely they have succeeded in the “third place” mentality that there’s an (probably) unintended consequence: the place is full of Christians. How do I know, you ask; because they’re having bible studies at nearly every other table. You have to wade through a sea of study bibles and popular “Christian” authors to find a table.
I realize that this might be perceived as a bit awkward, since I am a pastor and all. After all, part of my “job” is to make and mature Christians. But that’s just it; I seem to find myself around Christians a whole lot of the time. I go to a place like this coffee shop partly to work outside of an isolated office and partly to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Timothy 4:5). But, what if the place where I find myself is full of Christians (even if the owners didn’t intend for this to be the case)?
As I’ve wondered why Christians would fill a place like this, I’ve come to wonder if it’s because the owners have somehow created a “safe place” for Christians. There’s generally generic “classic rock” on the radio and they only sort of serve alcohol. It’s typically full of students who keep to themselves and aren’t all that interested in conversation. The perfect place for Christians to feel like they’re “out in the culture” while still being able to feel safe.
I think this is an all-too common trend among Christians. Again, I’m not saying that this is what the owners of this coffee shop have tried to do, but we also have our share of “Christian” coffee houses in our area. While claiming to want to reach out to those who don’t believe, Christians create a coffee shop or something similar in hopes that it will be populated by “those unbelievers.” But the problem, too-often, seems to be that the places we create are “safe” for Christians and unappealing to those who don’t believe.
But this doesn’t seem to be the approach that Jesus took. Jesus hung out with the “sinners” (Luke 15:1, etc.) and this actually made the “religious people quite uncomfortable. In fact, the “holy” people were quite uncomfortable because they thought Jesus was a “glutton and drunkard” (Luke 7:34). In fact, it oftentimes seems as though Jesus goes out of His way to make a “safe place” for sinners rather than religious people.
What might this mean for the way we love and serve those who don’t yet follow Jesus? Should we expect them to come into our “safe place” or should we be willing to go into theirs? Better yet, what if we created spaces where they were comfortable and felt safe enough to let relationships grow?
I wonder if our well-intentioned pursuit of holiness has actually led us to to be so disconnected from the world around us that we’re only interested in creating spaces where we feel safe and we just don’t get why these spaces are full of Christians? Or do we even notice?