by Tim Moyer & Diane Bleam, Bally congregation, with Andrés Castillo
Over the last year, Bally (PA) Mennonite Church has been moving toward a “centered-set” rather than “bounded-set” approach to church. After about 6 months of processing on the theory of being centered-set and how it might work, we discovered the book Blue Ocean Faith by Dave Schmelzer. This book offered insights into practical applications of how churches can function as centered-set.
A bounded set can be depicted as a circle with congregational members (us) inside the circle and all other people outside (them). Congregations spend huge amounts of energy defining and defending the boundaries. When the boundary needs to be redrawn, people get hurt, angry, and disillusioned. It creates a split between people. A bounded set environment is more prone to tension. Since much energy goes into the boundary, accomplishing things can be unnecessarily hard, because some people see defending the boundary as defending their faith.
In a centered-set approach, all energy points towards Christ, who is the center. People are treated as equals and are either moving towards or away from Christ. Everyone is being constantly challenged and supported to draw closer to the center. People feel more comfortable in a supportive environment and tension diminishes.
Centered and bounded sets are not reflective of theological positions, instead, they are mindsets adopted by congregations that guide them in the way that they express their faith.
Bally congregation has intentionally shifted to a centered-set approach to expressing our faith after significant congregational processing. For four and a half months we designated our Sunday school hour for congregational input and discussion. We presented the centered-set concepts, facilitated discussion in small groups, collected ideas from the congregation, and envisioned new ministries.
Since adopting a centered-set model of expressing our faith, we’ve found that spontaneous ministries and changes have surfaced among us. For example, at one of our Council meetings while discussing our facility’s rental fees, we confronted ourselves with the question, “Why do we have lower rates for members than we do for all other people if we are a centered-set church?” We realized that our fees were a boundary and now charge the same for members and all other people who desire to use our facilities.
Another example would be our practice of inviting attendees to share testimonies and short sermons regarding how Christ is working in their lives. We also launched a monthly Sunday morning breakfast where we started inviting VBS families, our church’s preschool families, and families we encounter from other ministries. The breakfast runs during Sunday School, and people are welcome to attend church; however the main purpose of the breakfasts is to establish relationships.
“Community Outreach” now seems an outdated term at Bally. “Community Connections” is now the title for that committee which better describes how we interact with the broader community. Not only have we changed our view of the community surrounding our church, but we have also noted changes within our congregation–there seems to be much more energy and enthusiasm for ministries and relationship building.
In centered-set congregation, the additional energy is used to encourage all to move toward Christ. Instead of programs and rules, the focus should be on building relationships so that people can walk alongside and support each other in faith. Perhaps the most important part of a centered set, however, is to remember that Jesus is the center.