Contemporary American churches, for all of their church-growth methodology, are leaving out–indeed, alienating–a whole class of people. Namely, introverts. Joe Carter cites and discusses some recent writing on this topic. Such as this from Christian experimental psychologist Richard Beck:
Do introverts fit in at church?
The answer, obviously, is that it depends upon what kind of church we are talking about. In liturgical churches I expect introverts and extroverts fare about the same. But in non-liturgical churches they may fare differently.
Specifically, non-liturgical churches tend to be more sociable churches. So, let’s call them that. That is, there are liturgical churches and there are sociable churches. Sociable churches tend to emphasize relationality among its members. For example, a large part of the sociable church experience involves lengthy greetings (being greeted and greeting others), adult bible classes that are conversational and oriented around fellowship (e.g., in my church we sit at tables drinking coffee, eating donuts, and chatting), and the in-depth sharing of personal prayer requests.
This is not to say that liturgical churches aren’t sociable or don’t have sociable facets to them. It’s just the simple recognition that going to a Catholic mass (the prototypical liturgical experience) differs greatly from my day at church at the Highland Church of Christ in Abilene, TX. My experience is heavy on the “visiting,” as they say here in Texas.
In these highly sociable churches there is an implicit theological theme that marries sociability with spirituality. That is, being sociable—visiting intensively, and being willing to “get into each other's lives”—is highly prized. To a point, this is understandable. A sociable church is going to rely on extraverts to make the whole vibe work.
But introverts fare poorly in these sociable churches. The demand to visit, mix, and share with strangers taxes them. Worse, given that these social activities are declared to be “spiritual,” the introvert feels morally judged and spiritually marginalized. As if their very personality was spiritually diseased.
Consequently, the “issue of the introvert” is one of the big overlooked problems in these sociable churches. For example, church leaders often want to make church more “meaningful.” What they mean by this is that they want to create an atmosphere were deep human contact can be made. This is a fine goal, a worthy goal. However, to pull this off in an ordinary church setting demands a degree of sociability that introverts just don't have. Take a typical church service, communion service, small group service, or bible class. Let's say, to make it more “meaningful,” you ask the participants to find someone sitting close to them to have a spiritually-oriented exchange/conversation with. A time of sharing. Well, the introverts are just going to HATE this activity. They may hate it so much that they just might stop coming to your services. In fact, I know introverts at my church who purposely come in late to avoid the perfunctory meet-and-greet that occurs right at the start of our services (“Find someone close to you and say hello!”).
I bet most of you readers of this blog, whatever your political or theological persuasion, are introverts. Don’t you just HATE it when you visit a church and in the name of being friendly to visitors they make you stand up and introduce yourself? And wear a special name tag? And can you stand it when a group of strangers in a Bible study asks you to “share”? And liturgical churches–while perhaps following a way of worship that is a haven to our sensibilities– can be just as bad, as when they make you “pass the peace.”
Seriously, introverts are a major demographic. I would argue that they–we–are especially serious about religion, tending to focus on the inner life, though they are also the group most alienated from the church and thus in particular need of the gospel. Churches drive them away. And yet, churches are always urged to be “more friendly.” Which drives introverts away even more.
Is this right? (Don’t worry. At this blog you don’t have to “share.”)