A Centered Set Church
The Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor does church a little differently, and these graphics explain the difference.
Bounded Set Approach
Many churches could be described as “bounded sets.” Belonging to the church community 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.”
Centered Set Approach
In the centered set approach, participation in the church community is defined differently. In our church the center is understood to be 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 so long as they are facing the center and moving toward it, they belong. 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 are not oriented in the right direction.
Each approach has advantages and disadvantages. We think the advantages of the centered set approach outweigh the disadvantages, and fit 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.
The centered set fits what C.S. Lewis called “Mere Christianity” emphasizing the main and plain elements of faith (expressed, for example, in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds—ancient summaries of faith). We’re excited by the core of our faith and want to shout it from the rooftops. This allows us to provide breathing room for diverse perspectives beyond the core. For example, we practice baptism and communion according to the biblical teaching on these sacraments without emphasizing the doctrinal formulations that have separated Christians on these matters.
To be effective, the centered set approach requires a powerful and attractive center, kept in clear view. In the Gospels, the center was Jesus' vision of the kingdom of God, which remains a powerful and attracting force today.
We are committed to making a dynamic pursuit of Jesus doable for ordinary people by emphasizing seven recommended spiritual practices.
Recommended Spiritual Practices
These practices are practical ways for us to move toward the center —to connect with the transformative power of a crucified, risen and ascended Lord.
- Intentionally surrender to Jesus, expressed initially in water baptism.
- Participate in the worship life of the church community.
- Develop a daily God-connection through reflection on Scripture.
- Nurture a network of relationships to support spiritual growth (through small groups and other means).
- Commit to some form of ministry, defined as “giving away however much or little of God we have.”
- Generous financial support of the church and neighbors in need.
- Learn to make choices informed by our faith.