I am reading The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. it is a great read and provoking all sorts of thought for me. One is do we believe that change is possible and things can get better for the church? We have been hearing a story of malaise of the mainline church for so long, do we believe that story more than we do about the possiblity of God doing a new thing? Are we so convinced that the U.S. is increasingly a post-modern, post-Christian culture in which the church will continue to decline and be less and less relevant that we do not see any way for the church to have a new and different future?
What got me thinking about this was the idea that for a habit to permanently change, people had to believe that things could be better. The book gives a couple of examples. Alcoholics Anonymous is built on a process of teaching people new habits. For many people it works. But some, when they hit a crisis or stressor, return to old habits and fall of the wagon and others don’t. What was the difference? What researchers found was the power of belief. Those who believed in a higher power, had developed a capacity to believe. And that translated to other parts of their life. They began to believe that they could cope with the stress without alcohol. They believed they could change. “AA trains people to believe in something until they believe in the program and themselves. It lets people practice believing that things will eventually get better, until things actually do.”
So what I am wondering: what do we believe? I am off to General Conference next week…the global gathering of the United Methodist Church. I have been known to be cynical about the ability of a 1000 people to legislate themselves toward a new future. We know the church will not continue in this same form if we are going to be relevant to the world we find ourselves in. But do we believe we can change? We can post statistics weekly to a dashboard. We can change our structure, which personally I think is long overdue and needed. But none of those things will change us unless fundamentally we believe God is still alive and at work in the people and churches called United Methodist, and even though it will be different, our future can be even better than our past.
Ironically, we are in the belief business. Of all people and organizations, we should be training people in how to believe…in God, in themselves, in the reality that transformation is possible and does in fact happen. But in my conversations with clergy, with congregnants, with ordinary citizens…I don’t hear many people express much sense of believing the church can be on a different path than growing older, growing smaller and growing more and more sidelined in our world. So what is up with that? And how do we start believing in a different story?