New church reaches out to next generation

Posted Monday, Sep. 09, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

Have more to add? News tip? Tell us

When the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) first asked the Rev. Katie Hays if she would be interested in starting the denomination’s first Mansfield church, she issued a polite refusal.

“They felt I was a good fit since we were connected to the community,” recalled Hays, a Mansfield mother of two who then served as the minister of a Christian Church in north Arlington. “But they wanted to create a ‘big steeple’ church. So I said ‘No, I already have a church I love, and it’s a traditional congregation like this church would probably be.

“My intellectual passion is what’s going to happen in the next iteration of Protestant church in our society,” she went on. “When I realized I could do this new church with a focus on ‘un-churched’ or ‘de-churched’ young adults, I changed my mind and said yes.”

That’s how Galileo Church, Mansfield’s newest place of worship, came into being earlier this summer—except that it might be more accurately called an experience rather than a destination.

The organization bills itself as a “de-centered“ church that welcomes all, but that was created especially with the needs of the under-35 population in mind—as well as the needs of the “thirsty, philosophical, sciency, ungainfully employed, blue, tattooed, doubtful and queer,” according to a promotional card created by the church.

Its elders are made up entirely of members in their 20s.

“One of them had just turned 21 in time to be old enough to sign our articles of incorporation,” said Hays, who believes Millennial generation members have a strong sense of spirituality, but little inclination for traditional religious institutions.

A Pew Research Center study published earlier this year seems to support Hays’ perspectives: While Christian church attendance has declined steadily since the late 90s, and only about 20 percent of Millennials attend church on a monthly basis, a substantial portion of the religiously unaffiliated believe in God and pray regularly.

“They’ll fix something in your building, they’ll tutor kids, they’ll participate in liturgy, but they don’t want to come to a committee meeting,” she said. “This generation isn’t going to come back to the traditional church the way that boomers did when they had children.”

There’s no chapel or sanctuary for Galileo Church, and there likely never will be.

“Once a church gets a building, it becomes focused on maintaining that building and turns inward,” Hays said.

Instead, members and visitors meet weeknights in private homes for dinner, prayer and lively discussion.

“I cook, and sometimes people bring side dishes, but it’s not required,” Hays explained. “We usually crack open a bottle of wine and there’s beer in the fridge. People come straight from work or class, and make themselves at home.

“After talking and eating for about an hour, we turn the conversation to serious matters,” she went on. “We pray for grandmas who’ve had a stroke, people who’ve lost dogs, people who are going through the transitions you go through in your 20s.”

After prayer concerns, the members might discuss a Bible passage or examine a “cultural artifact,” like a YouTube video, movie clip or social media posting.

“We’ll look for God’s work or absence in the context of that artifact,” she said.

This month, Hays began hosting a weekly Bible and Beer event at 8 p.m. Tuesdays at Fuzzy’s Tacos—and the suds go on the church’s tab. Galileo Church is also the first in Mansfield designated as LGBT friendly, according to the website

Altogether, Mansfield’s un-church is shaping up to be as interesting as Hays herself— she’s married to Lance Pape, a Brite Divinity School professor, and the couple used to work and worship in a fundamentalist church environment from which they ultimately moved away. The minister’s usually tranquil demeanor becomes animated when she talks about reaching the un-churched.

Looking for comments?

We welcome your comments on this story, but please be civil. Do not use profanity, hate speech, threats, personal abuse, images, internet links or any device to draw undue attention. Our policy requires those wishing to post here to use their real identity.

Our commenting policy | Facebook commenting FAQ | Why Facebook?