More on introverts in the church

We blogged about this topic before, but here are some more thoughts from Adam McHugh, the pastor who wrote the book Introverts in Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture:

The scowling old man nearly bumped into me as he fled the sanctuary.

As I turned to watch him stomp out to the parking lot, I asked a friend if she knew why he’d left before the service started. She replied, “You know how in your sermon last week you encouraged all of us to be more welcoming to newcomers? Well, after five people came up to him to introduce themselves, he blurted “Can a guy just be anonymous when he checks out a new place? I want to be left alone!” And thus concluded his seven minute survey of our church.

It’s not only cantankerous old men with a flair for storm-off exits who are turned off by hyper-friendly churches, however. As I reflected on that event, I realized that I too would be intimidated and overwhelmed by that many strangers approaching me, no matter how genuine and kind they were. As it turns out, our churches are actually teeming with this species of people called “introverts.” I am one of them, as is 50% of the American population, according to our best and latest research.

Unfortunately, owing to a few antisocial types as well as to a general extroverted bias in our culture, introverts get a bad rap. Mainstream American culture values gregarious, aggressive people who are skilled in networking and who can quickly turn strangers into friends. Often we identify leaders as those people who speak up the most and the fastest, whether or not their ideas are the best.

As a result, introverts are often defined by what we’re not rather than by what we are. We’re labeled as standoffish or misanthropic or timid or passive. But the truth is that we are people who are energized in solitude, rather than among people. We may be comfortable and articulate in social situations and we may enjoy people, but our time in the outer worlds drains us and we must retreat into solitude to be recharged. We also process silently before we speak, rather than speaking in order to think, as extroverts do. We generally listen a little more than we talk, observe for a while before we engage, and have a rich inner life that brings us great stimulation and satisfaction. Neurological studies have demonstrated that our brains naturally have more activity and blood flow, and thus we need less external stimulation in order to thrive.

I saw the need for a book on this topic when I realized that our cultural slant had infiltrated some wings of the church, especially mainstream evangelicalism. As I say in Introverts in the Church, entering your average evangelical worship service feels like walking into a non-alcoholic cocktail party. Evangelicalism has a chatty, mingling informality about it, and no matter how well-intentioned that atmosphere is, it can be a difficult environment for those of us who are overwhelmed by large quantities of social interaction and who may connect best with God in silence. Sometimes our communities talk so much that we are not able to express the gifts that we bring to others. If we are given the space, we bring gifts of listening, insight, creativity, compassion, and a calming presence, things that our churches desperately need.

Even more dangerous is the tendency of evangelical churches to unintentionally exalt extroverted qualities as the “ideals” of faithfulness. Too often “ideal” Christians are social and gregarious, with an overt passion and enthusiasm. They find it easy to share the gospel with strangers, eagerly invite people into their homes, participate in a wide variety of activities, and quickly assume leadership responsibilities. Those are wonderful qualities, and our churches suffer when we don’t have those sorts of people, but if these qualities epitomize the Christian life, many of us introverts are left feeling excluded and spiritually inadequate. Or we wear ourselves out from constantly masquerading as extroverts.

via Guest Voices: Introverts in evangelical America – On Faith at washingtonpost.com.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Ash

    “We’re labeled as standoffish or misanthropic or timid or passive.”

    W

  • Ash

    “We’re labeled as standoffish or misanthropic or timid or passive.”

    W

  • Ash

    sorry – didn’t finish the post:

    “We’re labeled as standoffish or misanthropic or timid or passive.”

    We are frankly labeled ‘bad Christians.’

  • Ash

    sorry – didn’t finish the post:

    “We’re labeled as standoffish or misanthropic or timid or passive.”

    We are frankly labeled ‘bad Christians.’

  • Philip Larson

    We are a Body. God speaks to us as a Body, the Church. Our individuality is important, but so is our place in the Body.

  • Philip Larson

    We are a Body. God speaks to us as a Body, the Church. Our individuality is important, but so is our place in the Body.

  • Winston Smith

    Mr. McHugh is exactly right. I guess that makes me one of the bad Christians.

    Introverts of the world, unite — or, go and sit quitely by yourselves.

  • Winston Smith

    Mr. McHugh is exactly right. I guess that makes me one of the bad Christians.

    Introverts of the world, unite — or, go and sit quitely by yourselves.

  • WebMonk

    I would be interested to know what research he found that suggests the population is a 50/50 split between extroverts and introverts. There have been several studies in the last 30 years and they generally show a 60/40 to 70/30 ratio between extros and intros.

    Depending on which population segment you look at, you can get different populations. Librarians, for example, run 9 to 1 in favor of introverts. Sales and marketing have a heavier concentration of extros.

    I’d be interested in a study that looks at whether Christianity is a random sampling of intros and extros or if we tend toward one side or another. One could also look at individual denominations – Lutherans might be more intro and AG might be more extro if stereotypes have some validity.

  • WebMonk

    I would be interested to know what research he found that suggests the population is a 50/50 split between extroverts and introverts. There have been several studies in the last 30 years and they generally show a 60/40 to 70/30 ratio between extros and intros.

    Depending on which population segment you look at, you can get different populations. Librarians, for example, run 9 to 1 in favor of introverts. Sales and marketing have a heavier concentration of extros.

    I’d be interested in a study that looks at whether Christianity is a random sampling of intros and extros or if we tend toward one side or another. One could also look at individual denominations – Lutherans might be more intro and AG might be more extro if stereotypes have some validity.

  • LAJ

    I guess it shows we need to be more aware of the nonverbal cues the vistor gives. Maybe then both extroverts and introverts will feel welcome or at least not overwhelmed.

  • LAJ

    I guess it shows we need to be more aware of the nonverbal cues the vistor gives. Maybe then both extroverts and introverts will feel welcome or at least not overwhelmed.

  • Amy

    I think it also depends on the approach that church members take when introducing themselves to newcomers. I’m very much an introvert, and I often feel overwhelmed with new people. When we moved to a new state this summer, the church members at our new church were welcoming, but not overly aggressive. They were warm and truly genuine in their welcome, asking questions to get to know us as individuals and as a family. In comparison, at our last church we felt totally ignored by half the congregation and smothered by most of the rest when we first arrived. The “smotherers” asked few questions, and instead jumped into telling us all about the various programs and organizations within the church, almost seeming to demand a volunteer commitment right away in order to help us “get involved.” But at the time, getting involved was not all that appealing, as we had just moved with a newborn — nobody seemed to understand that I might not be super inclined to get involved when I had a nursing baby who wasn’t sleeping at night. Few questions were asked, and not one person showed an interest in us *for* us, but rather as just another tally mark on their list of good works.

    It’s good to invite people to get involved, it really is. But when you have people who are new to the congregation, they’re probably looking more to connect with people and try to get the feel of things rather than being told what is demanded of them. Volunteer and service opportunities will come up — you don’t have to bombard them with it right when they walk in the door. And if they seem skittish, ease up. All it takes is a friendly “Hello” and a brief introduction to make people feel welcome — you don’t have to smother them.

  • Amy

    I think it also depends on the approach that church members take when introducing themselves to newcomers. I’m very much an introvert, and I often feel overwhelmed with new people. When we moved to a new state this summer, the church members at our new church were welcoming, but not overly aggressive. They were warm and truly genuine in their welcome, asking questions to get to know us as individuals and as a family. In comparison, at our last church we felt totally ignored by half the congregation and smothered by most of the rest when we first arrived. The “smotherers” asked few questions, and instead jumped into telling us all about the various programs and organizations within the church, almost seeming to demand a volunteer commitment right away in order to help us “get involved.” But at the time, getting involved was not all that appealing, as we had just moved with a newborn — nobody seemed to understand that I might not be super inclined to get involved when I had a nursing baby who wasn’t sleeping at night. Few questions were asked, and not one person showed an interest in us *for* us, but rather as just another tally mark on their list of good works.

    It’s good to invite people to get involved, it really is. But when you have people who are new to the congregation, they’re probably looking more to connect with people and try to get the feel of things rather than being told what is demanded of them. Volunteer and service opportunities will come up — you don’t have to bombard them with it right when they walk in the door. And if they seem skittish, ease up. All it takes is a friendly “Hello” and a brief introduction to make people feel welcome — you don’t have to smother them.

  • Grace

    I’m an extrovert at heart, but when people, who I have never met before, come up to me, asking many questions …. how old are your children, what was your previous church affiliation, would you join our women’s Bible study, would you ? ? the questions continue ……. I back off.

    Many of the churches today, no matter who they are, have a habit at some point in the morning Worship service, of announcing…… everyone take this time and greet your neighbor. ……… the noise factor raises to an all time level, the Worshipful thoughts within my heart stand still, WHILE I try and understand why all the confusion as I came to Worship the LORD. As the service ends and we walk down the aisle, not one person tries to find out who we are, it’s as if the “greet your neighbor” was sufficient.

    I have illustrated two different scenarios, both of which stand out in my mind as being superficial, serving no purpose within the body, but to relieve the congregants of any responsibility, of actually coming to know who has just visited their church. Nothing takes the place of thoughtful conversation, taking the time to find out who you are talking with, not talking at – there is a big difference.

    You may never know why the persons sitting in your church for the first time, have come. There could be any number of reasons. Give them time to know you, … be interested in them as people first

  • Grace

    I’m an extrovert at heart, but when people, who I have never met before, come up to me, asking many questions …. how old are your children, what was your previous church affiliation, would you join our women’s Bible study, would you ? ? the questions continue ……. I back off.

    Many of the churches today, no matter who they are, have a habit at some point in the morning Worship service, of announcing…… everyone take this time and greet your neighbor. ……… the noise factor raises to an all time level, the Worshipful thoughts within my heart stand still, WHILE I try and understand why all the confusion as I came to Worship the LORD. As the service ends and we walk down the aisle, not one person tries to find out who we are, it’s as if the “greet your neighbor” was sufficient.

    I have illustrated two different scenarios, both of which stand out in my mind as being superficial, serving no purpose within the body, but to relieve the congregants of any responsibility, of actually coming to know who has just visited their church. Nothing takes the place of thoughtful conversation, taking the time to find out who you are talking with, not talking at – there is a big difference.

    You may never know why the persons sitting in your church for the first time, have come. There could be any number of reasons. Give them time to know you, … be interested in them as people first

  • Tom Hering

    In the Divine Service, we are freely forgiven. Let’s remember, then, to freely forgive those who annoy or ignore us. If someone presses you to get involved, say, “Thank you, but no – I don’t want to get involved.” If everyone ignores you, look for a way to do someone a kindness. These things work, and are no offense to anyone.

    “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2.)

  • Tom Hering

    In the Divine Service, we are freely forgiven. Let’s remember, then, to freely forgive those who annoy or ignore us. If someone presses you to get involved, say, “Thank you, but no – I don’t want to get involved.” If everyone ignores you, look for a way to do someone a kindness. These things work, and are no offense to anyone.

    “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2.)

  • http://www.newreformationpress.com Patrick Kyle

    I am by no stretch an introvert, but have always hated the ‘let’s recognize the visitor’ thing in church. When congregations do that they visitors in the spotlight, with often is unwanted attention. It also interrupts the flow of the service and has nothing really to do with worship.

    When I returned to church after a ‘Church fast’ many years ago, I wanted to worship and hear God’s Word. I was almost the last one in before service and was always the first one out, greeting the Pastor on the way out. No Sunday School, or after Church coffee and chit-chat, we just left. We did this for a whole year before we decided to check out Sunday School and join the congregation. I was thankful to find a small congregation that allowed me to engage at my own pace.

  • http://www.newreformationpress.com Patrick Kyle

    I am by no stretch an introvert, but have always hated the ‘let’s recognize the visitor’ thing in church. When congregations do that they visitors in the spotlight, with often is unwanted attention. It also interrupts the flow of the service and has nothing really to do with worship.

    When I returned to church after a ‘Church fast’ many years ago, I wanted to worship and hear God’s Word. I was almost the last one in before service and was always the first one out, greeting the Pastor on the way out. No Sunday School, or after Church coffee and chit-chat, we just left. We did this for a whole year before we decided to check out Sunday School and join the congregation. I was thankful to find a small congregation that allowed me to engage at my own pace.

  • Abby

    Then add “guilt” to introvert. I have often been “accused” of being too quiet. I would say, “I just like to listen.”

    Before she “knew” me, a lifelong best friend once told me that when she first met me her initial reaction was, “I could never see myself being her friend.” She is a strong extrovert. Most of my best friends have been very confident extroverts. And yet we became close once we got to know each other. I do much better in small groups or one-on-one (especially). I can talk, just not publicly. I think that’s where some of my guilt comes from. I have always considered “fear” to be the culprit. And fear is something I should be able to get over or conquer. But I never could.

    Reading this quote is like a breath of fresh air: “we are people who are energized in solitude, rather than among people. We may be comfortable and articulate in social situations and we may enjoy people, but our time in the outer worlds drains us and we must retreat into solitude to be recharged. We also process silently before we speak, rather than speaking in order to think, as extroverts do. We generally listen a little more than we talk, observe for a while before we engage, and have a rich inner life that brings us great stimulation and satisfaction. Neurological studies have demonstrated that our brains naturally have more activity and blood flow, and thus we need less external stimulation in order to thrive.”

    I told a pastor once I wish I could just be a hermit because I feel better alone. I love reading and studying. But then what would I do with what I have learned? I have been heavily involved in church work over the years. Mostly by being asked and strong-armed (begged) to perform a function. I can’t remember “volunteering” for anything. I would say, “I can’t do that.” (Unless it was washing dishes or something like that.)

    I usually have not felt accepted as I am. Extroverts do make you feel like there is something wrong with you that can be corrected. A pastor once told me, “At least live up to your potential.” Wow. That was a real blow.

    It is a temptation for an introvert to be content alone. But it is good to get out of that comfort zone. If I had not participated in the ministries to which I was asked I would not have received the encouragement and apprection that was given me.

    Tom said: “Let’s remember, then, to freely forgive those who annoy or ignore us. If someone presses you to get involved, say, “Thank you, but no – I don’t want to get involved.” If everyone ignores you, look for a way to do someone a kindness. These things work, and are no offense to anyone.” That is true. Because others may not understand what we are like is no excuse to drop out. We are in church to worship God who fully knows and forgives us. And we are to forgive others.

  • Abby

    Then add “guilt” to introvert. I have often been “accused” of being too quiet. I would say, “I just like to listen.”

    Before she “knew” me, a lifelong best friend once told me that when she first met me her initial reaction was, “I could never see myself being her friend.” She is a strong extrovert. Most of my best friends have been very confident extroverts. And yet we became close once we got to know each other. I do much better in small groups or one-on-one (especially). I can talk, just not publicly. I think that’s where some of my guilt comes from. I have always considered “fear” to be the culprit. And fear is something I should be able to get over or conquer. But I never could.

    Reading this quote is like a breath of fresh air: “we are people who are energized in solitude, rather than among people. We may be comfortable and articulate in social situations and we may enjoy people, but our time in the outer worlds drains us and we must retreat into solitude to be recharged. We also process silently before we speak, rather than speaking in order to think, as extroverts do. We generally listen a little more than we talk, observe for a while before we engage, and have a rich inner life that brings us great stimulation and satisfaction. Neurological studies have demonstrated that our brains naturally have more activity and blood flow, and thus we need less external stimulation in order to thrive.”

    I told a pastor once I wish I could just be a hermit because I feel better alone. I love reading and studying. But then what would I do with what I have learned? I have been heavily involved in church work over the years. Mostly by being asked and strong-armed (begged) to perform a function. I can’t remember “volunteering” for anything. I would say, “I can’t do that.” (Unless it was washing dishes or something like that.)

    I usually have not felt accepted as I am. Extroverts do make you feel like there is something wrong with you that can be corrected. A pastor once told me, “At least live up to your potential.” Wow. That was a real blow.

    It is a temptation for an introvert to be content alone. But it is good to get out of that comfort zone. If I had not participated in the ministries to which I was asked I would not have received the encouragement and apprection that was given me.

    Tom said: “Let’s remember, then, to freely forgive those who annoy or ignore us. If someone presses you to get involved, say, “Thank you, but no – I don’t want to get involved.” If everyone ignores you, look for a way to do someone a kindness. These things work, and are no offense to anyone.” That is true. Because others may not understand what we are like is no excuse to drop out. We are in church to worship God who fully knows and forgives us. And we are to forgive others.

  • http://www.thirduse.com fws

    The aim of all earthly righteousness (aka “being a good person”) , is to serve the needs of others.

    This is an art isn´t it? One would need to know that other person to serve them. Or… if one is a waiter/waitress or store clerk or church greeter/member, one would need to study the art of being available and friendly without being too much or being intrusive. Aristotle, whose ethical system Lutheranism endorses without reservation, says that virtue is what is appropriate for each situation and where there is neither excess nor deficit of what is needed.

    This is not really about being an extrovert or introvert is it? We all need to practice how to be of better service to others.

  • http://www.thirduse.com fws

    The aim of all earthly righteousness (aka “being a good person”) , is to serve the needs of others.

    This is an art isn´t it? One would need to know that other person to serve them. Or… if one is a waiter/waitress or store clerk or church greeter/member, one would need to study the art of being available and friendly without being too much or being intrusive. Aristotle, whose ethical system Lutheranism endorses without reservation, says that virtue is what is appropriate for each situation and where there is neither excess nor deficit of what is needed.

    This is not really about being an extrovert or introvert is it? We all need to practice how to be of better service to others.

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com Steve Martin

    Some give quietly (money or talents), some pray, some teach, some are friendly, some are not.

    Some forget what their point was…

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com Steve Martin

    Some give quietly (money or talents), some pray, some teach, some are friendly, some are not.

    Some forget what their point was…

  • Digital

    As one of those darn extroverts I find that I have to defend us as well. But the problem is, many extroverts are socially awkward. They love being around people, they love getting energy from the limelight and the crowds. But just because you ARE an extrovert doesnt give you some miracle ability to get along with everyone.
    In our Church I am the guy who can talk to anyone and make a friend out of them, but a lot of this is profiling and figuring out what kind of person this is in front of me. I have to actively guide the conversation and the mood to make sure that things arent too threatening. I really want to relate to every individual, but I am aware of some people’s standoff nature.
    Not every extrovert is like this, some are very in your face and can’t read the non-verbal cues. These extroverts are like the introverts who never talk to anyone. They give a bit of a bad name to the rest of the group :)

  • Digital

    As one of those darn extroverts I find that I have to defend us as well. But the problem is, many extroverts are socially awkward. They love being around people, they love getting energy from the limelight and the crowds. But just because you ARE an extrovert doesnt give you some miracle ability to get along with everyone.
    In our Church I am the guy who can talk to anyone and make a friend out of them, but a lot of this is profiling and figuring out what kind of person this is in front of me. I have to actively guide the conversation and the mood to make sure that things arent too threatening. I really want to relate to every individual, but I am aware of some people’s standoff nature.
    Not every extrovert is like this, some are very in your face and can’t read the non-verbal cues. These extroverts are like the introverts who never talk to anyone. They give a bit of a bad name to the rest of the group :)

  • http://thefragrantharbor.blogspot.com Catherine

    A bit late, but I just wanted to say that you can’t cut the population as either wholly introverted or extroverted… there are many, many, many people in the middle. Some lean more towards one or the other or ARE straight up one or the other, but situational factors play a huge role.

    I am an introvert, I like being by myself, I don’t like being forced in a situation where I don’t know hardly anybody. I also don’t like touching strangers, which brings up a whole other can of worms when it comes to shaking hands!

  • http://thefragrantharbor.blogspot.com Catherine

    A bit late, but I just wanted to say that you can’t cut the population as either wholly introverted or extroverted… there are many, many, many people in the middle. Some lean more towards one or the other or ARE straight up one or the other, but situational factors play a huge role.

    I am an introvert, I like being by myself, I don’t like being forced in a situation where I don’t know hardly anybody. I also don’t like touching strangers, which brings up a whole other can of worms when it comes to shaking hands!


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