In addition to introverts and extroverts, psychologists are studying another personality type: the ambivert. [Read more…]
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.
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.”)