November 2017 • compiled by Katie Hays
I spend a lot of time explaining our church to people. Not the aesthetics (urban industrial barn? Americana nerd? ironic trash-to-treasure? unironic super-gay?); they can see that for themselves. People have legit questions about stuff they’ve sensed about Galileo that’s different from other churches they’ve known. They can’t quite put their finger on it, but…
So here’s my attempt to say (write) out loud some of the stuff I find myself explaining a lot. I’m calling these “Galileo Distinctives” – the stuff that’s purposely different from (not necessarily “better than,” if churches are in competition, which we shouldn’t be) churches you might’ve known.
1. We’re on a slow-growth curve, on purpose. We cultivate relationships like locally grown tomatoes: with care, and time, and food, and prayer. We don’t program stuff to attract jillions of people. We would freak out if jillions of people showed up; how could we possibly clink glasses with all of them? We just keep trying to get to know people, and love what we know about each other, and thereby actually love each other. Our idea is, if we can get to a stable number that sustains our missional priorities, probably about 150, we’ll send some people out to make another Galileo somewhere else. Like, the other side of the DFW metroplex. Denton, anybody?
2. We plan a lot for the people who aren’t here yet. We are deliberately evangelistic. We think what we’ve learned about God is the best news in the world: that God’s love is real; God’s love is for you; and God’s love is worth it. (Contrast that with what a lot of us learned in church the first time around: that God’s judgment is real; God’s judgment is for you; and God’s judgment is mos def not worth it.) So when we plan stuff for our church to do together, it’s always with an eye toward whether people who are not here yet might be able to join in, and we adjust to make church stuff as permeable, as joinable, as possible.
3. We’re clear about what we’re saying “yes” to, and what we’re saying “no” to. We have missional priorities, which you can learn more about here. Here’s the truth: there are way more good things in the world than we can possibly join; there are way more awful things in the world than we can possibly protest. So we’ve narrowed it down. When people in our church want to do or join or fund or protest other stuff, we encourage them to do it – not with the church’s endorsement, but as grown-ass people endowed with the Holy Spirit who can make love and fight crime without the institutional say-so.
4. We’ve pretty much said “no” to owning property. Like any of these distinctives, this could change. But for now, most of Galileo’s people don’t own a home and don’t care to shift our ministry to property caretaking (or mortgage support). We suspect that owning a building changes a lot of things churches do, and we like having church in public much of the time. We like the amount of time we spend discussing property usage and upkeep, which is almost none. We even like the idea that our church sort of disappears, or at least dissipates, when we leave the barn we rent… and then reconvenes at the taco bar, or the coffee shop, or the next living room…
5. We’re kind of a DIY church. Not very slick; more on the homemade end of the scale. Our furniture is hand-me-down, or made from recycled junk, and we like it because it reminds us of ourselves in a way. Moreover, our programming (the stuff we plan to do together) is kind of ad hoc. It changes depending on what we need next. So we have Little-G for preschoolers during the sermon until there’s not critical mass of toddlers, then we stop; we put together teams to plan events and disband them when the event is over. When someone says, “Why don’t we have…?” we listen, and if it’s a good idea, we ask that very same someone to make it so, with plenty of support from the whole church if now is the right time. The church usually knows what it needs.
6. Our Lead Evangelist isn’t necessarily nice. Maybe she’s not someone you want to emulate, or even be friends with. She’s busy and bossy and brash, although she also deflects a lot of decision-making by saying, “I’m not the boss of that.” One of the dynamics we’re interested in at Galileo is, what does the official-pastor-person mean in a system like this? What if you didn’t like something she did or said? What if she really pissed you off, and y’all couldn’t get reconciled? Could you still be a valued part of the Galileo Church fam? What if you pointed out something about Galileo you think she should fix, and she didn’t fix it? Could you still trust her theological teaching? And what if your kids heard her drop the f-bomb in a sermon, knowing that’s seriously against the rules in your house? Could you say, “She’s a bang-up preacher and has some really good thoughts about God, but we don’t talk like that around here, mister”? Would that be okay? We’re thinking the answers to these questions might be yes. We really hope so.
7. We’re banking on inter-generational friendship rather than demographic-specific programming to keep our kids interested in Jesus for the rest of their lives. It’s not so much a question of whether our kids like coming to church – it’s not our job to entertain them to death. Rather, we want our kids to think of Galileo Church in all its iterations (Sunday nights, G-groups, parties, etc.) as safe and brave space for working out what it means to be disciples of Jesus. Do they have people, including kids younger and older than themselves, who are happy to see them? Do they have grown-ups besides their parents who known their names, and ask about their lives, and share their own? Are they able to enter into meaningful conversation about the biblical-theological stuff the church is exploring together?
Toward these ends, we don’t do a lot of kids-only stuff at Galileo. If the kids want to do an all-night video-gaming lock-in, everybody’s invited, and expected to come. Same with roller-skating, mini-golfing, karaoke-ing. Also, kids mostly stay with grown-ups for worship, even the littlest ones. Bring in da funk, bring in da noise; we’re in this thing together, with our kids, not because we can’t afford to hire a caretaker but because we don’t want to disappear them out of our life together.
8. We do a lot of life together on social media, mostly Facebook for now. We have an active Facebook page where we make announcements and curate resources, much as we do on Twitter and Instagram. But we also have a jillion Facebook groups where different configurations of G-people interact in mostly meaningful ways, with the occasional random cat GIF thrown in.
• We have a big FB group that’s like a dorm commons area, with people wandering through to see who else is there. That’s where people share real life, from “I got a new crappy job!” to “This day sucks balls and I can’t do it anymore.”
• We have small FB groups for G-groups to coordinate dinner plans, or share more personal prayer requests.
• We use temporary FB groups to plan events, like the most recent “Halloween for Grown-Ups Planning Group” where we invented a signature cocktail and argued over decorations.
And our Lead Evangelist wants to be in all of them, and be “friends” with everybody, so she can keep up with everything all the time. It’s cute.
9. We’d rather eat and drink together than anything else. We figure Jesus did that a lot with his friends, an idea we got from reading the gospels. So a lot of our church budget is dedicated to food and beverages. If the Lead Evangelist invites you out for coffee or beer, and offers to pay for it, she’s likely using Galileo $$ to do that. (Remember, she’s not that nice.) If you make dinner for your G-group, don’t not get reimbursed because you worry about using up the church’s money. Just give as generously as you can to our work together, and it’s like we’re all buying each other dinner all the time. Thanks be to God!
10. We’re really into transparency. In the same way that we’re hoping to “do real relationship, no bullshit, ever,” we’re trying to model truth-telling in our institutional life. Meaning, there shouldn’t be any decision-making or procedural details you don’t have access to. Missional Logistics Team meetings are open. Our budget and other admin docs are online. We ask for volunteers to help “boss” stuff all the time. We run a G-101 class every quarter or so, to make explicit what we might otherwise tend to assume “everybody” knows about Galileo. We consider lots of input for decision-making and strive for consensus; it’s quite possible we’ve never actually taken a vote on anything.
(We do keep private stuff private, though, meaning that you can count on your Lead Evangelist and Spiritual Care Team members to keep strict confidentiality, and you can count on your G-group friends to honor privacy. Be careful on social media, however; even in “private” spaces online, there’s no truly secret space.)
Look at that – I got to a nice, round Decalogue for this list of Galileo Distinctives. You could push us into prime numbers, though, if you suggest 1 (or 3 or 7) more. We’d love to hear about other ways you think Galileo is distinct, or weird, or needs explaining for people who haven’t lived it yet. Peace.