So who is a "member" of the Central Ohio Emergent Cohort?
We might all have different ideas, and I'd love to hear what others think, but I'll venture my own (extended) answer here...as always feel free to engage, push back, etc.
Bounded and Centered Sets
I first learned about the difference between bounded and centered sets while reading a swath of books about emerging churches last summer. The concept is not new to emerging churches (this site claims that Paul Hiebert first developed the idea), but it helps me to understand how membership is drastically different in an emergent community.
A "bounded set" is one in which there is a standard. It may be behavioral, doctrinal or both. But a person is "in" or "out," a member or a non-member. While the qualifications and definitions of who is "in" or "out" may change with different churches and denominations, I would argue that that "bounded sets" are the foremost understanding of membership in American churches. Certain persons for certain reasons are "within the bounds" of what is understood to be the "accepted," "approved" or even "ordained" sets for this community.
Another way to understand a community is that of a "centered set," meaning each individual is dynamically related to the center of the community and the community at large. "Membership," as such, is not based upon performance or belief, but rather each person has some relationship to the center, albeit some are closer or further away than others. In evangelism classes, the "center" is often understood to be Jesus Christ (or the church). While that may be the case in most Christian communities, I think it is helpful to think of the larger emergent community as "the center" thereby explaining "membership" in an emergent cohort.
[note: this image of a "centered set" still maintains boundary lines that I would argue do not have to be drawn]
In a centered set model, every individual who is a part of the conversation, who is involved in the movement in a large or small way, is a member. However, this model also recognizes that not every individual is the same, and some are more or less involved than others, for any number of reasons. Our cohort certainly has a close-knit "center" of individuals who meet together throughout the week, stay in touch on a personal level, and are involved in each others' lives. However, these individuals are no more "members" than someone who casually visits discussion sessions once a month or even less. Each person is a member, but each has a different relationship to the center (i.e., the community).
Furthermore (and I want to stress), each person has complete freedom to move closer or further away from the center, at will. There are no levels, requirements or qualifications, but simply a dynamic community of individuals living in relationship to one another. In a "centered set," membership is not only "open," it is fluid. I believe that I have personally experienced this in the natural friendships that have formed in the cohort. There is never a question of "what do you believe?" or "how educated are you?" or "do you meet these standards?" But rather the question is simply, "Do you want to...." - meet for coffee? - read this book? - talk about politics? - be a more involved person in the community (whatever that may look like)?
Therefore, my answer to the question, "Who is a member of the Central Ohio Emergent Cohort?" would be - you are! If you are reading this blogpost, if you have ever visited our blogsite, if you have ever jumped in on a conversation, talked to someone in a coffee shop, picked up an emergent book in a store just to curiously flip through the pages, or even sent an email expressing disagreement - if you are engaged in the conversation at all, you are a member.
And I want to express my heartfelt joy that you and I are co-members, living in this wide community together - I am glad that you are a "member" of our cohort.