D-Church: What God is Doing Next?

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“I am D-Church,
You are D-Church,
We are D-Church together….”

God seems to be doing something new in the body of Christ.

[Update: Join the discussion at the D-Church Google Group]

I have been studying the philosophy and structure of Christian organizations since my college days thirty years ago in InterVarsity, when I took Perspectives on the World Christian Movement.  At the time — and probably since the 1950’s — there were only two major business models for Christian ministry in America:

  • Local Church (pastor- or elder-led), supported by members
  • Para-Church (missionaries, broadcasters), supported by friends and interested parties

To be fair, there were (and are) other funding sources available to Christian leaders:

  • Tuition, for Christian colleges and seminaries
  • Commercial sales, especially for Christian books and music
  • Honorariums and speaker fees, for authors and preachers
  • Tentmaking, particularly in restricted-access countries
  • Charitable grants, such as the Templeton Prize, or (arguably) Thrivent Financial

However, most of what we consider “ministry” (rather than “business”) has been paid for by the first two models.  And frankly — despite impressive experiments over the last few decades with small groups, house churches and missional communities — those models appear to still be as dominant as ever, perhaps due their economies of scale.

The most dramatic innovation in the last decade has probably been “multi-site” churches, which typically use technology to increase access to great teaching while preserving local communities.  However, I would argue this has been sustaining rather than disruptive to the modern church.

In particular, the financial structure is still what Mike Breen calls “feudal”:  the members pay “taxes” to their spiritual leaders, who offer spiritual covering and gifts to consumers.  This structure has worked quite well for sponsoring and rewarding great speaking and music.  However, it does not appear to have done as well at creating disciples or impacting culture.

To get there, I believe we need a radically different business model, more cooperative than feudal.  And I am incredibly excited at several trends that appear to be converging to make that happen.  Together, I call them D-Church.

I believe the term was originally coined by Ryan Derfler of Hands On Christian, where I worked in the spring of 2015.  The “D” stands for the four key distinctives of D-church:

  1. Discipleship as the goal, rather than mere membership or conversion.
  2. Design thinking (as in the Stanford d.school), implying continuous, iterative improvement in our systems for making disciples.
  3. Decentralized systems (like git or the blockchain), rather than centralized hierarchies as in most modern churches and mission organizations.
  4. Digital spaces as full partners with physical space, rather than substitutes or supplements.

The term also represents our efforts to “de-church” American cultural Christianity — which might be better called “Churchianity” as its public face is pastors and buildings rather than lives transformed by the gospel.

To be clear, I do love the church: both the abstract concept, as well our local, regional, and denominational instances of that concept. And I believe Jesus does too. I am deeply grateful for my current and former churches, and those who serve in them as faithfully as they know how.

But I strive to love the church the way Jesus does, presenting it holy and blameless unto Him.  And to do that, I believe we need to become less full of ourselves and more full of Him.

At the moment, D-church is more a series of questions than any particular answers.  But I am deeply encouraged by a wide range of organizations that are courageously pushing the envelope in that direction.

God only knows what the future holds, but I can’t wait to find out!

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One thought on “D-Church: What God is Doing Next?

  1. Thank you for your post. This is the kind of thinking our churches need. The digital spaces as full partners to physical space is a great way to talk about the emerging need for change in our churches. The discipleship focus is one I hold to in our ministry. I hope to use this as a conversation starter in a few groups I work with. Thanks JD

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