As a self-proclaimed introvert, I understand all too well the astigmatisms that come with being an introvert in the church. As a Youth Minister, it becomes even more common to hear someone remark or make comments in regards to behavior and personality.
"He's in a bad mood."
"She's being anti-social."
"Well, he didn't talk to me today and was really rude"
"She just didn't seem like herself today. She wasn't quite as perky."
The list could go on and on, but I will stop there. Many churches tend to be extroverted places where the introverted are marginalized with a great potential for misunderstanding and judgment. As a leader, often times, I feel as if I am judged far too often for some introverted personality traits. There are days where I wish I could put a smile on my face and be the most outgoing person you will meet. However, that is simply not the case nor will it ever be the case.
Introverted people are often misunderstood, especially in a church setting. When it sometimes seems that the church is made for the extroverted, it is easy for introverts to become discouraged and feel out of place in a church environment.
Here are some qualities of an introvert:
- They think more than speak.
- It takes solitude, at times, to recharge one's battery.
- They would rather have a small group of close friends.
- They are better at conveying thoughts in writing than verbal communication.
- They would rather listen and take in information than speak.
- They are self-sufficient.
- Talking to large groups is less stressful than one on one conversations.
- Small talk is cumbersome.
- At times they feel alone in the crowd.
Unfortunately, for most introverts, they feel alone in the church. They feel overlooked, like they don't belong, and that people do not understand them. Practically, this means introverts often face unique challenges in church. First, there’s the customary well-meaning greetings: “If you’re visiting with us today, stand up so we can acknowledge you!” Then there’s the small group discussion time when you are called on but only want to listen. And, of course, there’s the forced public prayer: “Let’s end with a prayer. Introvert, can you lead us?”
Here are somethings introverts would want the church to understand:
1. Introverts aren't shy.
Remember how I said introverts are good listeners? We tend to think before we speak and take in all social situations before interacting with others. Often times, because of these qualities, it seems as if we are not engaged in what is going on in front of us. However, this is simply not the case.
The church is not very good, at times, giving introverts room to speak. When we don't speak right away, it is common to be called out. Please don't call us out, instead just know that we are processing our own thoughts and taking in what is being said. Introverts have skills they can bring to the table when interacting with people such as a respect for others, listening skills, and a respect for others. Due to these skills, introverts get labeled as shy when that is simply not the case.
2. Introverts are not anti-social.
The difference between introverts and extroverts is simply where a person gets their energy. Introverts tend to re-charge from time where they are alone. Extroverts get their energy from being social and being around other people. It does not indicate shyness, social awkwardness, or being a hermit.
In fact, introverts enjoy being around people for moments of time and when their energy has run low, they go off to recharge. Often times, introverts express themselves better through writing than verbal communication, once you couple this with the need to re-charge alone, introverts gain the label of being anti-social.
However, we should respect their need for privacy and respect their introversion while not trying to make them into extroverts. Introverts already feel out of place in the extroverted church realm.
3. Introverts don't always want to serve behind the scenes.
Just think of all the roles you have within your congregation. I am sure some are already thinking of roles that would be perfect for the introverts of your congregation. Usually these roles tend to be the behind the scenes roles of making coffee, locking the doors, changing the church sign, etc. However, not all introverts want to serve behind the scenes and we put introverts within a box when we assume that's the only role in which they want to serve.
Each person is different. There are introverts who are comfortable behind the scenes, but their are introverts who want to be out front serving the people by teaching a class, leading worship, or leading in a public way. Every person is different and we should be careful to not fit an extrovert or an introvert into a cookie cutter. This is a receipe for disaster and misunderstanding. However, on the other hand, we should not make the assumption that all introverts want to serve behind the scenes. Be sensitive to their needs and wants.
Simply put, introverts shouldn’t feel pressured to do what is socially acceptable—such as pretending to be outgoing if they don’t want to be. Conversely, introverts shouldn’t feel tied to the stereotype of solitude if they really enjoy talking with people.
4. Introverts are effective leaders.
The church is full of all kinds of personalities and people. God calls and uses each one for His own purpose. All throughout the bible, if you look, God found ways to use each person no matter what their strengths or weaknesses were.
Can you think of some leaders that could have been introverts in the bible? John the Baptist, Sarah (Abraham's wife), possibly Mary or Martha. They seemed to have qualities and tendencies that would closely relate to introverts.
The church needs introverts in leadership roles. They are the ones who push people to sit back and look at the whole picture instead of making reactive decisions. We tend to be more proactive and look towards the future with vision and purpose. Introverts are able to build close relationships with a few in the congregation (possibly ones who need reaching). Introverts tend to bring different leadership qualities to the table to balance out the decision making within a congregation.
The church needs all kinds of personalities to function, introverts included. I think we can do a better job of making sure that the introverts in our congregation do not feel like they are an outsider by understanding their personality better, placing them in roles where they feel comfortable serving, and by making sure we aren't forcing introverts into an extrovert personality.
Introverts need to feel comfortable in our congregations.
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Andrew Thompson is the Youth and Family Minister at Rose Hill Church of Christ. He is married to the beautiful, Joy Thompson (who is way out of his league!). They enjoy sharing life together, ministering to teens and families, football in Tuscaloosa (Roll Tide!), and musical theatre. Andrew is a proud supporter of sarcasm and dry sense of humors. Thank you for reading!