In order to fully grasp the definition of a distributed church, there is one more layer we need to add. If a distributed church is a group of people, where do those people come from and what holds them together? Is it boundary lines or a gravitational center?
There are two primary approaches to understanding when a group of people constitute a "church." The first is to clearly define the boundary lines of what a "church" is. If we can outline the criteria precisely enough, we can analyze a group of people and decide if they meet the definition. In this way of thinking, someone is either in or they are out. If someone is "out", the goal is to get them to go through a series of adjustments to get “in”.
The other way to understand when a group of people constitute a “church” is to concentrate less on the boundary lines and look more at the center. This way focuses on the people being pulled in by a common identity or common purpose. In this way of looking at things, someone is either heading toward the center or they are heading away from the center, regardless of how near or far away they are. If someone is heading away from the center, the goal is to get them to turn back toward the common identity and/or common purpose.
Organizations are focused on defining boundary lines. Movements are focused on defining the gravitational center. (In fact, once hard boundaries are used to define a movement it inevitably becomes an organization.)
While the clear boundary line understanding can be helpful in classification, it is rarely helpful in relationship and mission. As such, a distributed church is defined more by its gravitational center. A distributed church is made up of people linked together in the overlapping relationships where God has providentially placed them, pulled by the gravitational center of following and serving Jesus. Yes, this leaves the boundary lines a bit blurry, but it also facilitates total life congruency instead of compartmentalization.
Who are the people you overlap with most that are headed toward Christ? This is the likely starting place for forming your distributed church.
Who are the people you overlap with most that could be headed toward Christ? This is the likely starting place for your distributed church’s mission.
Them same boundary lines vs gravitational center distinction appears when we talk about the things people must believe to be a part of a distributed church, or participate in a network of distributed churches. While clearly articulated doctrine is a very worthwhile pursuit, particularly w hen developed in the context of community, it does not make for a valuable prerequisite to relationship. That is why Distributed Churches are defined more by the center of beliefs - the ancient confessions as articulated in the Apostle’s Creed and/or the Nicene Creed - than a stance on less essential doctrines.
In relationships and in belief, we are looking for the ways we overlap, not the categories into which we fit.