For years, Christians have been visiting schools offering support in a variety of contexts, namely within the bounds of RE lessons, collective worship and Christian unions. These are still worthy of our time and attention and should continue to be contexts within which we serve. However, over the years, these spaces have become more challenging, and they present a range of limitations for us in our role as children’s and youth workers who want to build relationships with students and reach out to those who don’t see themselves as spiritual or having any interest in the Christian faith. We want to be in schools to have an impact on children and young people who would never walk through the doors of our churches and to do that, we need to continue exploring new and innovative approaches.

At Youthscape, we have developed a concept which is about recognising new spaces within the world of education where we can be present to offer creative ways of communicating the Christian faith. As Christian schools’ workers, we are at a stage in our input to schools where we risk becoming deliverers of pastoral care (which is a worthy and valuable offering to make to a school, and should be explored if you are not involved in this), at the expense of meaningfully engaging students with the Christian faith in any part of our work. The traditional spaces to do this, as mentioned above, have been RE lessons and assemblies and, of course, various models of Christian unions and lunchtime groups, which have evolved over time. These spaces haven’t ceased to exist, but it is right to ask questions about whether these fully serve the agenda of being able to reach and impact the wider school in any real way (considering our input in assemblies is largely one-sided, and although RE lessons can be a helpful platform to open up a topic for discussion, they have their own educational barriers).

We have a vision for Christian schools’ work that is about a much broader, deeper and more inclusive picture, which sits in a space that can connect every student and staff member with something of the Christian faith.


The term ‘third space’ assumes a first and second space, so I will briefly explain how we have divided these up before going into more detail on third space. The first space is what defines our work in the curriculum, so mostly our input to religious education, and we have also included collective worship in this first space too, it being an educational requirement. The second space is that which we define as extracurricular; our lunchtime groups and Christian union meetings would fit in this space.

First-space input covers our formal work with children and young people in schools - that which is required by law. The second-space covers what could be called our non-formal work with young people - that which they can opt into. Third-space opportunities offer an informal approach to our work with children and young people - that which is based in the community life of the school and is about the interactions with students on their own time that naturally leads to dialogue and educational opportunities which are not prescriptive or guided in a formal environment.

We are not the first to use the term ‘third place’ or ‘third space’. It has been used widely in different areas of society, most notably by a large coffee chain who claim to be a third place for people to spend time in, after the home and workplace. They seek to be a community space where people gather to talk about things that matter to them. In a similar way, this is what we are seeking for our work around school corridors. We want it to be normal and natural for students to be talking about faith and spirituality within the day-to-day culture of the school and we think that a third-space approach can help that happen. Of course, there are some examples of third-space activities already taking place in schools - we applaud initiatives such as Prayer Spaces in Schools and different models of chaplaincy, but we need more of them.

We define third space as: “Creative detached work in shared spaces around schools that helps students to engage with their spiritual selves and explore something of the Christian faith.” Whether it is listening to a reflection on an iPod about forgiveness at a break time, or writing down a response to a question on a postcard that is displayed in a school corridor while lining up for an assembly, these activities in schools are designed to open up the places we do not normally think to utilise.

To help you think about using the third space approach in your work, here are some questions you can work through on your own or with others you work with. Youthscape will be releasing a book devoted to third-space schools’ ministry later this year, which we recommend getting hold of to go deeper with this concept and for five third-space resources, but we offer you these questions to get you going for now:

  • In which of the three ‘spaces’ outlined above do you spend the majority of your time in school?
  • In one sentence, how would you sum up the aim of your ministry in schools?
  • What type of input to school life would best help you to achieve that aim?

If you have decided that the third-space approach is something you would like to build into your ministry in schools, consider these following questions to help you with your next idea:

  • What big theme or question would you like to introduce to students through a display or resource in the school corridor / atrium / playground? It could be related to a religious festival, a time of year (eg exams) or simply be a theme that everyone can relate to (eg forgiveness).
  • How could students interact with your theme or question in the course of their school day? For example, could it involve art, writing something down on a big display, taking something away or adding to a large installation? How might this visual element add something to the message of the big theme or question?
  • Does this idea communicates something of the Christian faith? Does it give students the opportunity to reflect on their own ideas and beliefs at the same time?

Think through all the practical aspects, such as where you would base the activity, when students can interact with it (would it need you or someone else to be present?), how much it would cost, how soon you could get all the elements together and, most importantly, whether it fits with the educational needs of the school. Before offering any activity to a school, we should be listening to their priorities and responding to the needs they present. Quite often a resource that speaks into the spiritual, moral, social and cultural (SMSC) agenda and adds value to a point in a student’s day that is otherwise void of input, will be well received, but communicate well with the school and listen to any concerns or suggestions they may have. Be clear about why this resource can be helpful for the school community from the school’s point of view.


This idea can be run in a primary or secondary school and you can adapt it to suit your chosen age group.

The postbox project

This resource revolves around the following question: “If God appeared to you, what would you ask?” and invites students to write a response on a postcard before posting their reply in a postbox you have placed somewhere convenient. Here’s how it works best.


Talk to the school about the idea and use the following learning objectives to explain what this resource will achieve for their students:

  • To identify and articulate the biggest questions they have about the world and how they fit into it.
  • To learn about their own beliefs as they write and explore their own questions.
  • To consider the questions they as a school community have.

Once the school are happy with the proposal, have a think about which space will best suit this resource. Atriums, receptions or wide corridors work best.

Make a postbox for the students to post their cards into. You could construct something out of wood or cardboard and paint it red to look like a real postbox or the school (especially a primary school) may already have something, that they may be willing for you to adapt.

Print some postcards with the question: “If God appeared to you, what would you ask?” on one side for them ready to fill in the other, or print a big sign that contains the question to go on the wall and provide some blank postcards.

Running the resource

Set up the activity with an assembly introducing the idea of asking big questions. You could begin by playing a game with the head of year / teacher in charge of the assembly and say that you have done some research around the school to find out the answers to five very important, deep and meaningful questions. Actually, the questions are light-hearted and a bit of fun, for example: which mobile app is the most popular out of this list? Which TV series is the most viewed? What is the favourite food in the school canteen? See if the teacher can guess the most popular answer for each one - you can make up your own questions.

Explain that you are going to be running a resource in school for the next two weeks called ‘The postbox project’ involving a much bigger question about life and faith. Let students know where they can find it, and say that it encourages us to think about the big questions in life, and that you want everyone to have a go at answering this question over the next couple of weeks: “If God appeared to you, what would you ask?”

If you are unable to take an assembly, you could make an announcement in an assembly / tutor time, and write a list of instructions next to the postbox. Set up the postbox with postcards, pens and the explanation card printed out next to it - there are bound to be times that students interact with this activity when you are not around and you will want to remind them why it is there and what they should write on their postcard.

Try and be around as much as possible at breaks and lunchtimes for students to talk to you about their question for God, or to help them think about it if they are having trouble.

At the end of each day, empty the postbox and display some of the answers on the wall / display board behind the postbox. This both helps provide inspiration for other students and also helps them become more aware of others’ ideas and beliefs.

When your two-week period has come to an end, or whenever you decide with the school to take down the activity, restore the area as you found it, and collect in all of the postcards.

It would be best to finish with a concluding assembly if the time is available to you, reflecting with the students on some of the questions they asked. Finish by leading them in a reflection of what they think God might say back to them.

You will be able to find the book on third-space schools’ ministry in the Youthscape store later this year with five different resources included. If you have questions in the meantime, please email hello@youthscape.co.uk.