Matt Hill

Third Place: Fresh Expressions in the marketplace

“Don’t be nervous. The worst thing they can say is no.”

My mom used to tell me that every year when fundraising time would come around. It didn’t matter what team I was playing for, what I was selling, or who I was trying to sell something to–I hated sales. The anxious feeling of approaching someone new and pitching a sale gave me the cold sweats and still does, but as a Fresh Expressions leader, I’ve learned that my mom’s advice can have wonderful results.

As we think about our desire to reach people with the Good News of Christ, we often talk about third places. Third places are areas outside of home and the workplace where people socialize. For many people this is the local coffee shop, the gym, a book store, or neighborhood pub. So what does this have to do with sales and the fear of cold call approaches?

In my experience, the third places in our areas are open to the church and spiritual conversations, we just need to be willing to approach the proprietor and ask permission. But before we do that, we need to consider a few things and use them to our advantage. So how can we approach these local marketplaces to join in something spiritual?

Utilize your network

In your current ministry, you would be shocked how many contacts already exist. We’re talking six degrees of separation stuff. Now, we’re not talking about Kevin Bacon, but we are talking about people in your congregation that know, are friends with, and have good relationships with business owners and executives of third places. Use those contacts to your advantage.

Chances are that someone in your congregation already has a rapport with your third place contact, and that might just push you over the edge and allow you to start using that location for your Fresh Expression.

Develop a business plan

Do not approach the business owner or manager of your desired location without a well-thought-out presentation and a written business plan. In much of life, and in gaining approval in third places, preparation is key. If we approach an establishment and are not prepared, chances of that manager giving you permission significantly decrease.

But if we can hand them a well written business plan and effectively explain our goals for the ministry, we will often gain an opportunity to talk more seriously about our plans, or be given a green light to start meeting in our desired space.

Help the business grow

Throughout your interactions with the local business, remember to frequent the establishment. Invite friends to start using the local coffee shop, pub, or gym. Explain to the manager how your partnership can increase their monthly revenue and contact with the community.

A few examples

Over the last year, at our local congregation we have used these two keys to our advantage. In the first encounter, after developing a rapport with a local gym manager, I approached him to talk about the potential of using the yoga room for a Saturday night worship service. Because I had a prior relationship with the manager, and he was familiar with our church, he was willing to meet with me without hesitation.

After developing what we thought was a good business plan, I met with the manager who immediately threw the written plan on his desk and just wanted to talk. To make a long story short, after a two minute pitch we came to an agreement to use the yoga room every other Saturday for a charge of $50 per use, with the gym providing a TV for projection, tables, and chairs.

As another example, after much prayer and many discussions about a third place for motorcycle riders, the leader of our motorcycle fresh expression decided to approach the manager of a local bar. After many attempts to contact the manager, our leader had the opportunity to speak with the lead man.

Although he didn’t have a written business plan, our leader was well versed in the goals and purpose of the fresh expression and how we could also be a benefit to the weekly revenue of the establishment. With all this said, the manager quickly gave us approval to meet weekly at the bar at no cost, and again gave us permission to use their tables, chairs, projector, screen and sound system.

Although this may not happen every time you approach a third place, if you use your contacts well and develop a well written and thought-out business plan, I believe that you will have more success than failure. And through it all, remember the worst thing they can say is no!

Matt Hill

Matt Hill

Matt Hill currently serves as the associate pastor of missional ministry at Community Evangelical Church in Sinking Spring, Pennsylvania, where he oversees multiple fresh expressions of church. He is married to Emily and has three kids: Addison, Aaron, and Aubree.


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