‘Let’s go out for a coffee!’ is a collective declaration of the coffee-drinking-leisure-hungry generation that we’re in.

I’m a self-confessed coffee shop lover. It’s part of the culture of this generation. No longer do people invite a friend home for a cuppa, instead we outsource our hospitality to a coffee shop.

I went to the gym and was trying to swipe in with what I thought was my gym membership card and I looked down at my Costa loyalty card. You can tell which one I use more.

I use coffee shops for all sorts: to meet friends, to work, for meetings, to pray and journal. The quality of the coffee and the strength of the free wifi is the clincher as to which place you’ll find me.

I enjoy not just being tucked away inside my church office prepping sermons and sending emails, I want to be out where people are. And there are opportunities there to make the most of.

The coffee shop can be a metaphor for any social spaces that we find ourselves in and these social spaces give us unique opportunities for building relationships and sharing our faith.

Places of leisure outside of work and home have been called ‘Third Places’ by social commentators.

The phrase ‘third place’ was coined by a sociologist called Roy Oldenburg in his book ‘The Great, Good Place’. The idea is that our first place is home, our second place is work, and third places are the social spaces. The places we go outside of work and home to relax, meet friends, unwind, indulge our interests. For me it’s a coffee shop but it could just as easily be a pub, a gym class, a shopping centre, a book club.

Social spaces are an important part of our personal lives but also part of society, promoting social cohesion and a sense of community. I don’t stand in line in Caffé Nero just for a cup of coffee. It’s what that coffee represents. I’m not just paying £3 for an extra hot, skinny, one shot latte with vanilla please (yes I am one of those people), I’m paying for the social experience that surrounds that cup of coffee. The time with friends it gives, the atmosphere, the experience.

These third places give opportunities for us as Christians to share our faith in a way that is unique to first and second places.

Homes are often private unless we know someone really well. Work is often a place where personal interaction is harder, a more formal environment. We talk about what’s needed to get the job done. It’s in the third place that we let our guard down. That we allow people to know us more fully.

There seem to be different rules in third places. And what an opportunity that gives.

You don’t have to look very far in the gospels to see Jesus in third places. In a society where third place experiences were pretty much always around food that’s where Jesus often was. He was less often at the synagogue and more often eating with people. Or at wells – the meeting place where people gathered. Or sitting on a hillside with people around him telling stories.

Jesus teaches what we as believers are supposed to bring in the places we find ourselves –   salt and light. In the sermon on the mount he says:

13 “Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavours of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.

14-16 “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colours in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven. (Matt 5: 13-16 The Message)

This is part of Jesus’ teaching about how to live as his disciples. As Christians we are to enhance the God colours and God flavours of the world. There is no divide between spiritual places like church and worldly places like cafes. They’re all spiritual! God is there with me just as much as he is in my church building. We can enhance the God colours and God flavours when we’re in third places.

When I’m in a coffee shop with a friend and am looking for meaningful opportunities, then Jesus’ presence can transform a social situation. We can prompt people to open up with God – to get to know this generous Father in heaven.

I’ve prayed with people in coffee shops, cried with people in coffee shops, shared my testimony in coffee shops, shared prophetic words with strangers in coffee shops. And I’ve drunk way too much coffee.

We have total permission to be in third spaces. If I’m modelling myself on Jesus then I’d suggest I ought to be there, looking for what He’s doing and joining in.

Ellen Wild

Ellen is a minister at Chichester Baptist Church. She loves baking, running, theatre, coffee shops and inspiring people to share the good news of God's love.