Expectancy Bias: The Curse of the Church?

Let’s start off by defining Expectancy Bias: “Once we spot what we think is a trend…we involuntarily expect that trend to continue, an expectation aided and abeted by agent metaphors.” (James Geary, I Is An Other: The Secret Life of Metaphor)

The United Methodist Church, and I’d say most other denominations, are dealing with an expectancy bias and the agent metaphors* we’re hearing are similar to the ones that led investors into a panic during many a Wall Street crisis. We’re hearing these same words used throughout the church and they tell us we are “dropping, plunging, or plummeting.” (Geary, I Is An Other) The biggest phrase we hear so very often is death tsunami. It’s a term used to describe the greying membership of our churches which will, in the next 20 years, be gone. It’s believed this tsunami will destroy the United Methodist Church and many other mainline denominations.

The problem with these metaphors is these very words are what is fueling the expectancy bias. No, it’s not statistics or research but the very words we use to describe what is happening that lends itself to the problem. It is the continual use of fear that is destroying my denomination as well as many other Christian groups! We hear these words of despair and we integrate them into our perceived downward spiral. So, what’s our job as Christians in dealing with these words? What’s our jobs as preachers and prophets? Are we the ones who call for judgment and despair or are we prophets of resurrection and hope?

I think it’s time to start looking for new metaphors. Metaphors which will change my (and, hopefully, others) view of the Christian community. The metaphors I propose are ones that say, “Our faith is a rising one. We are Christians thrusting forward into the future and blasting off into the wild unknown. There is still ‘undiscovered country’ waiting for us in our neighborhoods as well as right around the corner. Colonies are being planted in alien hearts right now and the rich fertile earth is producing fruit we’ve never expected.” Let us use words of life and hope, resurrection and power, faith and assurance. In doing this, we will suddenly find any downward spiral then becomes an explosive geyser of beauty launching us into the future.

Yes, I believe I’m going to….

Accentuate the Positive

*Agent metaphors are “anything to which we attribute human feelings, motives and motivations…” (I Is An Other: The Secret Life of Metaphor by James Geary)

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