Friday, January 02, 2009

Introverts vs Extroverts in Churches Revisited

A few years ago I wrote a blog examining the churches role in reaching introverts and extroverts. It still gets quite a few hits and I even received a very nice email yesterday referencing it. So I thought it may be worth a revisit. Here is an updated version:

I have often read and heard it said that a church will draw people who are most like that particular church's pastor or that the church's congregation take on the personality of their pastor. Before you guys start freaking out and going to see a counselor let me explain. I am an introvert by nature. It completely drains me to do what I do in Sunday mornings, afternoons, and any other time we have a church event that I am in charge of. I've always felt like church and church events were designed for extroverts and this has bothered me a lot over the years mainly because it made me feel like I was less spiritual for not wanting to sing or for not always feeling "like shouting Jesus name from the roof tops." It's hard being an introvert in an extrovert world and it's even harder being an introvert in church when everything we do demands that we be more extroverted (no matter how uncomfortable we feel) instead of who God made us.

Imagine hearing the following at the opening of your next church service:
Welcome! Were going to worship the Lord in spirit and in truth today. So lets strip off all encumbrances by removing our shoes, socks, and accessories. Now, grab someone new and give them a hug. Go on, don't be shy. In fact, the Bible tells us to greet one another with a holy kiss! Now, empty out the contents of your pockets and purses and form small groups to examine them together. Open up to those around you. Tell them your fears and weaknesses so you can feel the love of your Christian family.

How comfortable would this intro make you feel? A few people might relish the attention, but most would be hesitant to divulge the contents of their pockets, or even of their shoes. All imaginary scenarios aside, Ive come to understand that a significant group in our churches feel this uncomfortable on a regular basis. They are introverts, commonly misunderstood by churches and church leaders who thrive on experiences that extroverts prefer.

Clearing Up the Misconception
1) Introverts are not always shy. In fact, research has shown that introverts are often very sensitive to subtle social signals and may simply be reacting to information others just don't see.

2) In our culture its a compliment to be told you're extroverted it means you're happy and sociable. On the other hand, introverts are frequently thought to be reclusive, self-centered, or anti-social. But introverts care for others no less than extroverts; they simply show it in different ways. While their sensitivities may make introverts seem weak, introversion actually creates many strengths including great depth and insight allowing them to be gifted leaders, speakers, teachers, and visionaries.

3) In fact, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison, Bill Gates and, believe it or not, Steve Martin, are among the ranks of the introverted.

It's important to look at the three main differences between introverts and extroverts:
1. The ways they get energy. Extroverts receive energy from external stimulus, while introverts get energy from the inner thought world. As a result, even if introverts perform well in social settings, they are often drained by people and need time alone to recuperate.

2. The ways they respond to stimulation. Extroverts thrive in environments that provide multi sensory stimulation. Introverts, on the other hand, have a busy inner world and can easily be overwhelmed by external stimulation. That's why introverts may be reserved and prefer quiet environments.

3. Their approach to knowledge and experience. Extroverts like to absorb as much as they can from their environment; they crave variety and breadth. Their introverted counterparts prefer depth; they invest energy in select areas. This is why they may be careful about choosing activities and may be hesitant to offer their feelings or ideas.

Perhaps by now certain friends are coming to mind (or maybe you're the introvert calling "Amen!"albeit silently!) Lets look at how these introverted traits intersect with common church practice and how church leaders can make introverts feel welcome and valued.

Does the Church Ask Too Much of Introverts?
1. Responsiveness during services. The words of influential worship leader Matt Redman sum up the message given, directly or indirectly, by many contemporary worship leaders: "Our Heavenly Father loves us with an extravagant abandon. Passionate, undignified worship is our only reasonable response." Of course, worship should be heartfelt, but can't we allow for worshipers who express themselves in invisible ways?

But the "worship service" isn't the only time we require responsiveness: some preachers feel they haven't touched people unless they've heard "amens" or seen heads nodding during their sermons. Churches that use postmodern models often get very experimental in their effort to create worship experiences; they might ask people to move around the room, remove their shoes, or create works of art during services. These activities can be effective but they can also be very disconcerting for introverts; the experience rarely feels authentic.

Other churches require those who are seeking a relationship with God to walk to the front to make their decision. There's no doubt God desires a response of some kind, but are we requiring more than Scripture requires? Perhaps we would elicit a more natural worship response (visible or invisible) from introverts if we included such introvert-friendly elements as acoustic music, times of quiet meditation, and deep exploration of Scripture.

2. Obligatory involvement in a small group. Small groups can be great for introverts because they provide an opportunity to connect with a few people at a time. But leaders often give the message that until someone is in a small group, he or she is not really part of the church. For many churches, small groups are organized so that participants are forced to meet with those they don't know and prodded to share what they'd prefer to keep private. Although small groups can be meaningful for all personality types, Joseph Myerss conclusion in The Search to Belong should make us think twice. He says, "Often our small group models encourage forced belonging."

3. Evangelism according to an extrovert model. Recently, new approaches to evangelism have surfaced. For many Christians, however, evangelism still means talking intimately with strangers, a frightening prospect for most introverts. Even friendship evangelism has its challenges for the introvert, who prefers a small group of intimate friends to a large group of acquaintances.

By no means should introverts be given a "get out of evangelism free" card its a challenge for everyone. However, church leaders need to offer resources and methods that are useful to them.

What Does the Bible Have to Say About All This?
The Bible doesn't deal directly with introversion. However, the Bible does describe characters with vastly different personalities (contrast Davids spectacular worship in 2 Samuel 6:14-23 and Paul's timidity in 2 Corinthians 10:1) without condemning one or the other. We also know that the Bible allows for many different kinds of people in the church (1 Corinthians 12:14-20).
Admittedly, New Testament Christians were asked to greet one another with a "holy kiss" (Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:26; 1 Peter 5:14), but we must question if this was an enforced part of the worship service or a natural greeting. It seems to me these passages focus on the commandment to greet one another and to do so in a way that is holy.

Finally, we must also take the example of Paul to be all things to all men, in order to win some (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). He challenges us to remain unwavering in our dedication to the central truths of the faith, without forcing issues of culture or personality. Its not always possible for us to be introverts to the introverted, but we can at least appreciate their unique approach to the world.

Now my thoughts:
We have a church full of introverts and that's OK! Sure we have a few extroverts and that's great but by and large we are mostly of the introvert personality. I have spent the better part of two weeks thinking on this and going through each person that is at our church now and that has left.

The ones that stay say things like " We love the intimacy", "I love the realness", We love the way nothing seems forced", and "I love the fact that I can just come and grow at my pace".The ones who have left (and there have been lots of them) leave saying things like, "This church is dead", "Everyone here is just playing church", "No one is on fire because they aren't clapping or singing louder", "This church needs the Holy Spirit to move on it", "The people here don't want to grow in their faith", and "This church is boring and God would agree".

That is why we have so many styles of churches. Some are designed for extroverts (99% of churches) and some are designed for introverts (1%)

I wish I could say we had planned all along for our church to reach out to introverts like me, like us, and help find them a home where they could grow in their faith and not feel out of place. But I can't. What we had was a bunch of introverts trying to think like extroverts. Maybe God's intent was for our church is draw folks like us, like me. Maybe we need to celebrate what we are and who we are instead of trying so hard to be things we aren't.

4 comments:

Katrina said...

As a fellow introvert, I really identified with this. Thanks for putting so much thought into something that can help us be better ministers, but which gets ignored a lot.

shaneeckert said...

My wife found your post and sent the link to me. This is an awesome post, thank you for writing about it. I am an introvert and my wife is an extrovert, so we often meet in the middle. Church is a tough one for us, she loves mega, I like small.

Krissi Dallas said...

Katrina sent my husband and I this link as we are in full-time ministry with Youth. I am also an extroverted member of our church worship team ... it is near impossible for me to sing and stand still or not lift my hands when I engage in worship. But, I am in the minority a lot of the time. I really appreciate the insight on introverts. My closest friends tend to be introverted (opposite of me) so I recognize the need for both personality types in my life! I found it particularly interesting when you said, "introverts have a busy inner world" - that makes so much sense and I never thought about it that way. Overall, I found this post thought-provoking and helpful - thanks!

Al Hsu said...

FYI, there's a book on Introverts in the Church coming out this coming fall:

http://www.ivpress.com/cgi-ivpress/book.pl/code=3702