How different can you 'do church' from traditional models? So far the answer is a resounding 'somewhat'.
Here's the thing: we want to share power. We don't want to replicate any kind of hierarchy. We named ourselves Circle of Grace because all the points on the circle are on an even playing field. In theory that translates to equal or shared power. In practice, people are often uncomfortable with the thought of exercising power. Maybe they are afraid of being 'wrong' or maybe they are afraid they will have to 'bring it'.
In our model everyone has a voice. That's a good thing. What's difficult (I'll refrain from saying 'bad') is that not everybody is willing to exercise their power. As feminists, we redefined power. For us, power isn't 'power over' anything. Power is what we share. For some of us it is uncomfortable - but we agree it is important.
This breaks down pretty significantly when commitment and responsibility are iffy. It is a pretty big trade off. For some reason, in hierarchical power structures those with power are able to require a certain amount of responsibility. Not so much in a non-hierarchical situation. In my bad moments, I hate that. I hate that we don't have a structure I can wrangle to get something done quickly, without discussion or dissension. Sometimes I hate it that everyone has a voice but not everyone has the inclination to do the work that needs to be dome.
So how different are we from more traditional churches? Sometimes not at all. Sometimes power lands in the lap of a few because of lack of interest. Kind of like state and federal elections. We have the power to vote, but too many people don't give enough of a damn to exercise their power. As pastor, I am sometimes left with too much power by default. (default: no one else wants to do it) Fortunately, I don't want the power even when I have to exercise it.
Sometimes we are very,very different from traditional churches. There is no power of 'right thought' or 'right belief'. One of the most challenging aspects of being in our community is that we are not bound by shared belief. There may be someone who believes in substitutionary atonement and another who vehemently does not (in fact most of us don't). We have had times of members who opposed abortion and those who worked for choice organizations. We have learned to make room for one another.
That's the wonderful part. It is wonderful enough to balance out the trials of a lumpy sharing of power. How different can it be? Different enough that we keep on trying to figure out how we've been socialized and work against what is easy or comfortable. We know we are on a huge learning curve. I guess that's how different it is.