Being an introvert in the Church raises an interesting dilemma for many of us strong silent types. On the one hand, churches give us a sense of belonging. On the other, they seem to amplify the extrovert ideal that dominates Western culture.
I have not yet read the book, Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture by Adam S. McHugh, but I spent most of high school and my early 20s as a card-carrying introverted Christian.
Remember how I said that the 20th century heralded a new era where charisma trumped character? Well, this trend is especially obvious in many religious institutions.
In today’s churches, music has gotten louder, preachers more exuberant, and church members more enthusiastic. If you happen to be part of a Pentecostal church (which I was) this phenomenon is exaggerated tenfold.
Many churches embrace this more in-your-face form of Christianity because it attracts new members. It is a way of reaching a generation with a diminished attention span. Instead of dangling homemade cookies and free coffee under our noses, the New Age Church entices us with ten-piece bands, skateparks and spiky-haired
In spite of the horror we feel during the meet-n-greet and shake a stranger’s hand portion of the service, many introverts still flock to large churches. We might be drawn to these kinds of churches for several reasons. The first, of course, is the desire for spiritual growth and a deeper connection with God. We also might happen to like the ten-piece bands and the contemporary Christian music they play.
Another huge selling point for New Age Churches is that they are often massive. For introverts, they can provide the sort of anonymity we crave. At the same time, they offer opportunities to connect with others in small groups.
Many introverts in these types of churches quickly face challenges. The small groups are not quite small enough. We don’t fit into the exuberant, outspoken, New Age Christian mold. Our quiet nature makes us feel like a lone wolf surrounded by a pack of hyperactive chihuahuas.
Worst of all, it is often implied that being a good Christian means being loud, outwardly expressive and charismatic. At the very least you should have a believable fake smile, which you freely offer to anyone who crosses your path. I failed to embody any of the above qualities. I’m not sure that this made me feel like a bad Christian, but it certainly made me feel uncool.
This is troubling in itself because I always thought that church should be a place where you didn’t have worry about being cool. I hoped that it would provide a safe haven where I could be myself. Unfortunately, the reality I faced was quite the opposite.
Indeed, the modern Church can alienate introverts. It can make us feel guilty about our true nature. But, beneath it all, introverts can still find peace, connection and spiritual teachings in these churches. We might have to endure a lot of hoopla to get to the good stuff, but for many of us it is worth it. Personally, I would have taken the homemade cookies over all that other stuff. But that’s just me.
I focused on Christian churches in this post, but I would love to hear comments from introverts of other faiths.