The Leadership Dynamics of Growing a Missional Church in the City: The District Church, Washington, DC

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In this research I present an argument about why the incarnational and attractional approaches to urban church development are insufficient for growing a missional church in the city. The changing nature of urban America requires ministers to be both pastors and missionaries in order to reach their city. A pastor has the ability to shepherd the felt needs of the congregation and focus on leadership development and multiplication, while a missionary has the ability to focus on contextualizing the gospel within the felt needs of the neighborhood. Both approaches to leadership are necessary in order to plant healthy gospel-centered ministries that multiply and bring new life to urban America.

The urban center of Washington, DC, was researched with a special eye toward the culture of the city and how different neighborhood leaders in a diverse set of fields are ministering to the needs of the poor while developing leadership. The District Church serves as a case study of a church ministering in this context that seeks to incarnate the good news while emphasizing the multiplication of leaders and churches. The findings about the social inequity and disparity of Washington, DC, as well as the survey findings from The District Church lead to a new approach to urban church development that does not fit neatly into an attractional or incarnational stream, but is rather rooted in the missio Dei.

The historical missiological practices of proclamation, hospitality, and reconciliation help frame The District Church's mission in the next ten years in efforts to help people find their way back to God, welcome strangers, and bridge the two Washington, DC's. The District Church's approach to growing and multiplying the church does not fit easily fit into the traditional incarnational or attractional methods of growth and mission. Rather it is a an approach to missional church development that requires leaders to have a firm grasp of the adaptive challenges at hand while also maintaining a high sense of urgency around the church's unique role in seeking the renewal and restoration of the city.

Mentor: Elizabeth L. Glanville, PhD

Degree Name

Doctor of Missiology

First Advisor

Glanville, Elizabeth

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District Church (Washington, D.C.); Missional church movement; City churches; Home missions; Christian leadership; Church growth


Missions and World Christianity


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