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Dear friends

Today’s blog illustrates the classic Vineyard 101 way of belonging. Read it through and ask the Spirit how this sits with you? This is who we are. We are not necessarily God’s best little tribe, but we have found the best way of belonging for those of us who choose to belong here.

For those who have chosen Vineyard as home for the long haul, it is important to understand how we relate. What follows is an excerpt from some academic ramblings of mine, so I have tried to make the language a little more accessible and have lost the footnotes. For anyone who wants to read more on this (those rare and strange creatures amongst us) let me know and I will email you some additional reading.

As I expand this, I will add a good overview booklet called ‘why Vineyard’ to the next offering that will help you to see the full picture.

Social Set Theory

The Vineyard Church model for belonging is core to who we are and how we choose to relate to one another under the guidance of the Spirit. The Vineyard way of belonging is based on a centred set, rather than a bounded or fuzzy set. The centred set model was adopted by Vineyard for church belonging purposes from the work of the missiological anthropologist Paul Hiebert.

Hiebert’s definition of a centred set has described Vineyard’s understanding of what it means to belong to a Vineyard Church from the inception of the movement. Bounded sets have very tight and defining boundaries regarding who belongs and who does not belong. (Who is in…and who is…out). There is a common centre and very clearly defined beliefs and rules relating to how to gather around the common centre. In charismatic circles this has sometimes led to a form of charismatic legalism.

Fuzzy sets, the opposite of bounded sets, describe groups that have no organizational centre at all. Different parents who gather around their ten-year olds’ soccer team might well describe themselves as a group. There is a common interest, but no core values that define or guide their existence as a group. This illustration describes a fuzzy set as a way of belonging.

In a centred set, the boundaries defining who belongs and who does not belong and to what level they belong are more fluid than in a bounded set. However, they are far more firmly defined than in a fuzzy set. There is a centre around which the group gathers, but the defining rules of who belongs and at what level they belong has far more to do with levels of involvement. In Vineyard Churches, the centred set allows a worshipper to attend and to participate at whatever level he or she chooses.

The assumption is that their direction is toward the centre. Vineyard Churches tend to trust that people are there because they want to be there, and that they are moving toward the direction of the centre, where we place Jesus. Vineyard does not ask diagnostic questions to determine attendees “spiritual temperature” for Jesus. This particularly so when we pray for people.

People are welcome to be amongst us and to belong at the level that they choose. Boundaries relating to ethics, morals and scruples tend to be drawn at the point where people are being considered for a leadership role. In a very real way, this model around a centred set has allowed Vineyard Churches to treat outsiders, including the marginalized, as insiders.

Churches that have a bounded-set model of belonging might well be easier to pastor. Although more pragmatic, it is far less reflective of Jesus being at the centre of Vineyard and the Holy Spirit being our administrator.

The doors of Vineyard Churches are open to all, but not all get to lead. This centred way of belonging would be a major departure from many other churches born of the Neo-Charismatic revivals.

Some Neo-Charismatics have tended towards legalism and tight defining boundaries of belonging. Many more have placed restrictions and tight parameters around how to belong.

Vineyard has historically taken risks with people who some others would scarcely allow through their doors, let alone give any leadership role. Vineyard Churches do not have a register of church members, nor a baptismal role that determines membership as it is understood in many denominations either. This means that the worshippers voice is directly proportionate to his or her level of involvement and leadership responsibility.

Here endeth today’s lesson. I attach a schematic of the centred set way of belonging for easy understanding.


As per usual, please ask any questions if you have them.

Grace and peace to you all.