Thursday, February 18, 2016

Church for Introverts

Faith communities frequently and inadvertently make life together more difficult for some kinds of people than others.

Lately I've started to wonder if this is particularly true for introverts.

Introverts are not against being in groups. Many introverts do this well. But to do it, they have to put their game face on. Where they really derive energy is elsewhere, certainly not among, or especially in front of, a large group of acquaintances.

Church for introverts doesn't mean solitary religious practice behind closed doors. Although I bet a lot of introverts would want to remind extroverts that religious practice behind closed doors is beautiful, and fulfilling.

Most importantly, church for introverts ensures the unique gifts of introverts can flourish, building up the body of Christ by recognizing the full gifts the Spirit sends.

Here are some ideas for introvert inclusion, based on the work of Susan Cain.

Offer Space for Parallel Processing

Many teachers are discovering that social media is a great tool that allows students to interact in parallel mediated spaces while classroom activity is happening. Churches can do something similar, encouraging introverts to communicate via social media even while large group events are happening.

Churches might also encourage and create spaces private enough for pairs of people to sidle off and do church in twos or threes (Matthew 18:20).

There's a resurgence of coloring as a meditative practice, and churches might take advantage of this. Introverts prefer to be together but in quieter spaces. Extroverts, as much as they love the energy of groups, can remember that introverts are in their "sweet spot" when they're at a table while quietly doing something with others, but not necessarily talking or appearing busy.


In educational settings, invite people to first think about an answer to a question before speaking up. Then, pair people with one other partner to process and talk about the answer. Then have the pairs share with the group. This does some good things for introverts. As Susan Cain says, "No. 1, it gives them the time to process. No. 2, it allows them to get the experience of articulating their thoughts out loud. But in front of only one other student, they don't have to do it in front of the whole class. And then, often, once they have had that warmup period with one other student, they're then much more likely to want to share with the whole class."

Welcome Isn't Always Welcome

I've often thought when churches are described as unwelcoming, that it might be an extrovert describing an introverted congregation. Although there's not a good excuse for churches actually being cold, it is true that introverts on average might tend towards giving other people their space. Couple this with a general reticence to just run up and meet new people if you're already engaged in meaningful conversation with a friend, and you can imagine why some churches aren't as overtly welcoming as others. 

On the receiving side, introverts who visit a church might feel overwhelmed by overly energetic forms of greeting. It might be tiring to them. I'm not sure there is a good solution to this phenomenon, other than awareness, but awareness is good. 

Susan Cain launched a web site after the publication of her book, and humorously, the title of the site is Quiet Rev. Now, I'm not a complete introvert, and it's likely most people don't perceive me as an introvert, but I actually have many introverted tendencies. At a certain point, I need to get away and have space to recharge. Not all or even most of my energy comes from being with other people.

This is particularly true when we get to the liturgy. To center, I'd much rather sit in silence for ten minutes before worship begins. Certainly, I prefer to be in my office in my own head space before preaching or leading worship, even though the job demands something quite different. So my own experiences as a pastor make me think about Cain's work creatively also.

I also offer this entire post with a small amount of reticence, only because more recently the introvert-extrovert dichotomy defined by pop personality assessments may itself lack validation. We'll have to wait and see. The extrovert-introvert pairing rings true for many, especially it seems to true introverts.

I encourage you to navigate to her site, take the introvert quiz, read a recent article on quiet, and then think for a while: are churches geared more towards introverts or extroverts? After you've thought a bit, find a friend, and talk to them about it. Then come back and share your thoughts with the group.

1 comment:

  1. Is there a way to connect new members in diverse dynamic congregations? For example my congregation has this kind of fellowship group for couples who are parents, but it becomes awkward for couples who aren't parents, and the few 20 somethings don't quite get peer support with a bunch of middle aged folks or youth groups. Any suggestions on connecting peer to peer fellowship for mixed groups (with three services?)