Habits of the heart: How long before it becomes a habit?

Sept. 29, 2022

By Rev. Rick King

One of the things we noticed since most pandemic restrictions ended was how wonderful it was to gather in person again the summer of 2020. And I vividly remember that October day we gathered in the parking lot with snow falling to vote on having our first all-virtual Annual Congregational Meeting in January (it passed unanimously). Establishing a quorum, calling the question and taking the vote took about five minutes, but then we stayed out in the parking lot for about thirty minutes, laughing, visiting, and talking in the falling snow. It was SO good to be together!

The energy and joy were palpable at summer worship in the parking lot, as people arrived, set up lawn chairs, and prepared for worship. People stayed afterwards, chatting and laughing and hugging, many with masks on. Whenever the masks were off, the smiles on our faces were the greatest visual sign of gratitude I could imagine.

But the novelty of pivoting to online and outdoor worship wore off in Year Two. We realized we were in for a long slog, maybe that our lives were changed forever. I got tired of using and hearing the term, “new normal,” but we all knew things weren’t just going to go back to the way they’d been before COVID.

Establishing a new normal means adopting new rhythms and forming new habits. We took up running or walking outdoors, set up outdoor fire pits and seating areas to visit with friends and family, learned to remote-work or attend school from home, and mastered videoconferencing for work and family connections. And of course, we got pretty good at producing and attending prerecorded worship. New rhythms, new habits.

Establishing the new normal requires the same in our common life as a church. I don’t know if we will ever attend worship in person in the numbers we did before March 2020. But while numbers never tell the entire story of a church’s vitality, it’s easier to feel the Holy Spirit moving through a well-attended gathering. And such a gathering feels “safer” for new people. Have you ever turned up at an event where there were a lot of no-shows?

This is an appeal for you to try an experiment, which you’ll be getting a letter about the second week of October. The brainchild of FHC’er Sara Wright, it’s an invitation to commit to attending four Sundays in a row, so we establish that critical mass that makes it safer for people to come for the first time.

The letter has the details, but the point is this: It takes time and repetition to establish—or reestablish—a habit, whether it’s a habit of health or hygiene, a practice, or a habit of the heart, like worship and gathering in community. It won’t happen without you and me.
For more on how long it takes to form a habit, see this article. https://jamesclear.com/new-habit (Hint: Longer than we think.)