Foothill Vineyard does church a little differently. Understanding the difference between the sociological terms, “bounded set” and “centered set,” can be very helpful in understanding more about our church culture.
Many churches could be described as “bounded set” communities. Belonging to a bounded set church is defined by where one is in relation to a clear boundary. Typically, the boundary is composed of highly defined beliefs and behaviors. Those who adopt the beliefs and behaviors are considered “inside” and those who do not are considered “outside.”
In the “centered set” approach, participation in church community is defined differently. In our church, the center is Jesus. Those who are “in” are not defined in relation to a boundary, but by facing and moving toward the center. In a centered set approach, a person might be quite a distance from the center, but as long they are facing the center and moving toward it, they belong to the community. By the same token, a person might be close to the center, but if they are not facing the center and moving toward it, they don’t belong.
Each approach has advantages and disadvantages. We think the advantages of the centered set approach outweigh the disadvantages, and this approach fits our vision to reach those who don’t often find a home in other church communities. The centered set approach is like gathering cats rather than herding cattle (the center is the pail of milk that draws the cats). It emphasizes the power of Jesus to attract us – as He said, “I will draw all people to myself,” (John 12:32). The centered set approach is in keeping with the biblical metaphor of pilgrimage. The followers of Jesus are travelers coming from many different points of origin to a common destination.