We recently connected with Katie Hays and have shared our conversation below.
Katie, thanks for taking the time to share your stories with us today Can you talk to us about a risk you’ve taken – walk us through the story?
Starting a church from scratch scared me to death. I enjoyed almost two decades of “safe” ministry in established congregations, and I felt like I was pretty good at it. But I could see that the traditional church was squeezing out so many people — beautiful children of God who were kind and generous, smart and funny. But they found the community life of the church disappointing and maybe even painful. If they were gay, or trans, or just loved someone gay or trans, they were out of bounds. If they were younger than Boomers, and digitally connected, and working the gig economy, and voting left of their parents, they felt out of place. Something had to change — and it was dawning on me that *I* was probably going to have to change first. I was going to have to step out of my safety and into risk, finding out if my hunches about all the people the traditional church was missing were correct. Conventional wisdom for church-planting says you’ve got to find a broad audience, and preferably one with a core of financial wealth that can fund the ministry long-term. But here we were, my little team and me, saying that this gospel is supposed to be good news for people on the outside, people for whom the economy just isn’t working, people whose own families have often kicked them out. Here in the heart of Tarrant County, on the southeast edge of Fort Worth, we sought a niche audience, for sure. It shouldn’t work. It shouldn’t last. It shouldn’t be healthy and growing and stable and strong, even after a couple of brutal pandemic years. But Galileo Church, the project of my heart and the work I was born for, is all those things — healthy, growing, stable, strong. We’ve seen spiritual refugees wash up on our shores half-drowned, barely breathing. And we’ve seen them come back to full life, flourishing in the light of God’s love. That’s not to say that every single person in our church returns to 100% of the former Christian faith that let them down. Most of us are half-skeptic, half-cynic, half-wishful when it comes to faith. But we support each other in the seeking and the learning and the wondering. And so far, we feel like God has helped us be useful in this world God still loves.
Katie, love having you share your insights with us. Before we ask you more questions, maybe you can take a moment to introduce yourself to our readers who might have missed our earlier conversations?
Galileo Church seeks and shelters spiritual refugees — anybody for whom church has become boring, irrelevant, exclusive, and even painful. I planted the church in 2013 with a little team of hopeful souls, each about half my age. Today our quirky, queer church meets in a sheet metal barn tucked under I-20 just outside of Fort Worth, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. We follow Jesus real hard, believing that he became an outcast outsider just so he could hang out with people like us. We worship and play, pray and fight, protest and eat and drink and sing together. Even during the pandemic, we’ve found ways to share our lives with each other.
Can you open up about a time when you had a really close call with the business?
Our church operates on a shoestring — about $200,000 a year funds all our life together, pays our rent, and keeps our little staff paid. It’s amazing how much we can do with so little money every year. Right now, in our 9th year together, we’ve got money in the bank, and finances feel pretty stable. Lots of generous folx open their hands to share with us, and since we just mailed out our annual giving statements, I’m feeling full of gratitude. But I can remember the seasons when we had no money. Like, the year our biggest funding stream (a granting organization that had pledged 3-4 years of partial support) pulled the funding after Year 2. We had a matter of months to replace tens of thousands of dollars from that grant, and had to decide whether to pare back our operations or charge ahead. The treasurer and I worked out two budgets for the coming year. One of them was the frugal, careful, scaled-back version that would stretch our limited resources for another couple of years. The other one we called “the full throttle,” which meant maintaining all our innovative ministry, keeping all our staff, and barreling toward the horizon without being sure we could get there. The church leaders quickly decided that “full throttle” was the only way to go, and so we had six months to figure out how to keep ourselves afloat. And we did, mostly. A couple of seasons into the “full throttle” budget and the treasurer told us the bad news. “After we pay rent this month,” she said, “we’ll have $94 in the bank. We won’t have enough to make payroll. What do you want me to do?” I made a call to a large church with a sizable outreach budget and pleaded for their help. Within a week, our bank account was fat enough for payroll and more, and our life together continued uninterrupted.
How did you build your audience on social media?
Social media has been essential to the growth of Galileo Church. When we first started, I wasn’t on even one platform. A young friend made my first Facebook account and showed me how to use it. From there we added one after another: Twitter, Instagram… and finally, TikTok! Two things I recommend to other churches who are shifting to social media to share their presence in the world: 1. At first, listen more than you talk. Find out what each platform is for (Twitter v. Insta v. FB, e.g., as they’re all very different in tone and content). Follow people and organizations you like and some that you don’t. Find out what they’re doing well and not-so-well, and borrow from them to create your own best practices and rhythm of posting. 2. Use the socials to make goodness in the world. Don’t drag people or ideas or institutions you don’t like, or that you disagree with. Just say what you stand for, and share what you know for sure, and amplify the voices of people who are doing good in the world. Social media is an amazing communication tool, but it’s also dangerous to the health and wellbeing of the human family. We get to decide which way it goes by how we use it.
- Website: galileochurch.org
- Instagram: @galileo_church
- Facebook: @GalileoChurch
- Twitter: @Galileo_Church
- Other: Weekly podcast on iTunes and Spotify, “That’s What She Said.”