The Club

Religion has a funny way of creating groups and strong borders for those groups. We see this with the thousands of denominations within Protestant Christianity. No one can agree on much of anything, so they just go and create a new group that will eventually be split a part over a “key Biblical issue” or something like that.

This kind of religion is why you have many people who won’t step foot in a church.

Dave Schmelzer, in his book Not the Religious Type talks about the key difference between building groups around centered sets or bounded sets.

  • Bounded sets are built with borders that distinctly show who is in and who is out. Certainly Christians care about those outside their set but it often boils down to a statement like “you would be better off inside our group.” The bounded set creates its own culture of what is the norm and it rarely changes because people don’t like change. Bounded sets do a great job of talking to those who are inside their set and a poor job of understanding those who are outside it. However the good thing is that bounded sets are very comfortable; everyone knows what to expect inside of them. I think you have already figured this out, but your church is a bounded set.
  • Centered sets should be thought of as dots. It doesn’t matter as much whether you are in or out, but whether you are moving towards and focused on the center dot. In this case that center dot is Jesus or God. The desire isn’t to create a group, it is to make all other dots draw closer to that center dot.

A centered set changes everything. Schmelzer says:

“Those in my line of work (he is a pastor) often lament the fact that, with all good intentions, we’ve managed to set up a place where people can enjoying being ‘in’ something-our church, our faith tradition, heaven…this, we bemoan, is a far cry from the hero’s journey in the New Testament.”

Even though his comment is quite a sinister one, he makes a strong point. If we are establishing centered sets it changes everything. Instead of making a church the town club, church becomes the place or even just one avenue of the church at large for drawing near to The Center Set.

I dare say that almost all churches become bounded sets or “clubs” in the mindset of many of the attendees whether the church leadership intended it to be so or not. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard or I have said: “oh, I go to (insert the name of my awesome church)” with a sense of strong pride. As if me going to that church made me a better Christian, or even a better person.

This is something that has been on my mind A LOT lately. As someone who works at a church and is going to school to be in church ministry, I am greatly troubled with this distinction between bounded and centered sets.

What will it take for churches to become centered sets?

(I ask this because I think most churches are not)