Who’s In and Who’s Out? (Bounded vs Centered Sets)

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A key concept in The Shaping of Things to Come by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch has to do with who actually belongs to the community.  They illustrate the concept through the use of the diagram to the left and refer to it as the difference between a bounded set and a centered set.

Bounded Sets are when there is “a set of people clearly marked off from those who do not belong to it.  Churches thus mark themselves in a variety of ways.  Having a church membership roll is an obvious one.  This mechanism determines who’s in and who’s out (p. 47).”

A Centered Set is “defined by its core values, and people are not seen as in or out, but closer or further away from the center.  In that sense, everyone is in and no one is out.  Though some people are close to the center and others are far from it, everyone is potentially part of the community in its broadest sense (p. 47).”

Fences and Wells

I love the authors use of an illustration to point out a key difference between a bounded set and a centered set.  They refer to the way a farmer might use a fence in some regions to keep his livestock in and the livestock of neighboring farms out.  On the other hand, in regions where the ranches are vast, there are no fences.  Instead, ranchers dig a well and know that their livestock will never stray too far from life-giving water.


What’s the point?  Why are we talking about this?  It’s all about the purpose of your small group ministry, what a win will look like, and who can participate.

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