Being a centered-set group is an important concept for VCW. The explanation below was created from information from the Association of Vineyard Churches of East Africa.

The Laissez-fair or “Fuzzy set” mode
This model is the key to an understanding of church that leads to a “phantom church.” Here, structure and definition are minimized and spontaneity overvalued.

Bounded set model
The second model is the bounded set where there is a very definite understanding of what it means to be inside and outside. There are a set of sometimes unwritten rules that determine who is part of the church. To belong, one has to follow these unwritten “rules”.

Centered set model
The third model, which we like to pursue, is the centered-set model. This is an understanding of the church where at the center as our focus is Jesus, the Bible and our particular values which express God’s particular calling to us. Membership is understood not in terms of being inside or outside but something much more dynamic. We understand that people might be at different distances from the values at the center but for us the important thing is not so much where they are presently but in which direction they are moving. We are all on a journey of being more definitely committed to our values and expressing them more fully.In this sense, John Wimber often taught that our values are rather like the sign on the front of the bus that indicates its destination. We welcome anybody getting on the bus provided they are clear as to where we are going and also want to head in the same direction as us! Again, to quote John Wimber, “You don’t join the Vineyard, but discover that you are Vineyard!” Hearing these values will bring forth different responses depending upon what the Spirit of God is doing in a particular person. We are aware that many will be called to different expressions of Christianity by God and we respect that. At the same time, we know that as some people hear us teach on these values, where we are going and what God has called us to, something deep inside of them will identify fully with this. In that regard, these values are caught not taught!

As Bob Fulton once said, “Go out and sing your song. When somebody comes saying that you are singing their song, then get together. Don’t try to teach somebody your song when they are singing another song.”  

Can you tell we’re in the midst of a three-part core orientation for VCW? *grin* I love thinking about this stuff. Especially when I see how free people get. This is all about mercy and grace and God’s power to change lives. Who wouldn’t love that?

Marc A. Pitman

Marc A. Pitman helps leaders lead their teams with more effectiveness and less stress. The author of "Ask Without Fear!®," he is the founder of The Concord Leadership Group and He's also the executive director of and an Advisory Panel member of Rogare, a prestigious international fundraising think tank. He is the husband to his best friend and the father of three amazing kids. And if you drive by him on the road, he’ll be singing 80’s tunes loud enough to embarrass his family! You can connect with him on Google+, on Twitter @marcapitman, and like "Ask Without Fear!" on Facebook. To get his free ebook on 21 ways to get board members engaged with fundraising, go to

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Kathleen

    I found your site through Jim and Megan Bleakley’s blog. I went to college with Meg and was in housegroups with Meg and Jim for a while.

    I just wanted to tell you that I am enjoying reading your posts. We used to be part of the Evanston Vineyard near Chicago and now live in south Florida. We’re a bit beat up from the last church we were part of and are taking time to recuperate from that experience. Your posts are putting words to our feelings and musings. Thanks for your insight!

  2. Kathleen

    (I just re-read my comment– we weren’t beat up at Evanston! We were beat up at the first church we were part of here in Florida. Sorry I didn’t make that clear!)

  3. Marc

    Hi Kathleen! Thanks for the clarification. *grin*

    I was with friends last night sharing this. The challenging thing is thinking it through enough in the context of life to be able to share it without sounding over intellectual. (Especially the 4 Stages stuff.)

    The “centered set” idea is easier, but it’s living it out that’s the real test. I find it easier to think centered set with the unchurched than with the churched. I really, really like people that don’t have it all figured out!!

  4. Jim Mathwig

    Depending on what values you put in your center, how strictly you see the need for those values to be defined, and what lengths you are willing to go to defend “essentials” determines whether inclusion and non-judgement, the hallmarks of centered set thinking, are reality to seekers, or they experience a De Facto bounded set.

  5. Marc

    Thanks for commenting, Jim.

    But I’m not understanding what you mean. Could you clarify?

  6. Damien Tougas

    After reading, and re-reading the post and Jim’s comment, I think what he is saying is this: That the centered set model could look and behave just like the bounded set model to a seeker, depending on what values are put at the core and how they are expressed in the group. In the bus example, a seeker may not choose to get on the bus because they currently don’t share one or more of the core values, and thus the core values become the “unwritten rules” which determines who is part of the church.

    At least that is my interpretation of the comment… interesting stuff 😉

  7. Marc

    Thanks Damien.

    Since I’ve planted the church, I’ve realized that my expression of the centered-set described above can be bounded.

    I tend to expressing “just journeying toward Jesus” in a way that would thrive in a post-modern-aware culture like Cambridge, MA.

    But in the what’s-post-modernity? Central Maine, I need to be open to people that are facing Jesus but expressing it in a legalistic, fundamentalist way. IF they’re interested in growing and learning to see the value in what we’re doing.

    I feel I’ve had to become far more centered-set here in Waterville than I would of in a more urban area.

    But by definition, every group does have boundaries. Every group. Even the “no boundaries” group excludes people that espouse boundaries.

    Those more interested in a manipulative, truth-is-legalism expression of Christianity tend to leave our church.

    Fortunately, the people that stay at the Vineyard Church of Waterville are those that are surprised to experience the grace and mercy of God from other believers.

    Very interesting!

  8. Jim Mathwig

    Sometimes I lose a website. My wife found this in her search and was surprised to see I had made a comment. Damien did good job of interpreting my words. Sorry for the confusion. I am wondering today if some of the new emergent or missional thinking current could become dogmatic and lose life. It seems we must remain in dialogue and keep returning to the well(Jesus). Tying back to the topic, I think we can risk inclusion as a better representation of the good news toward us.

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