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.
Brilliant piece! I constantly had one extraverted nightmare of a woman at a church tell me I was prickly. She was a leader and always took the opportunity to embarrass me in front of others. And I was the Pastor’s wife…
jendavis Thanks Jen. That does sound like a nightmare! I hope it doesn’t happen again.
How do I reply to the article on here? After years of sometimes struggling in a pentecostal church as an introverted guy, and a single one at that in New Zealand with a small Christian population, I feel I have something to contribute and learn more about.
I feel the greater burden here is not so much on introverted adults as it is on introverted children. By the large, the adults are expected to simply sit through a church service which you can do by and large as a spectator.
However the kids in their Sunday school classes are often expected to do more singing with action type songs, do occasional performances for the adults, such as the nativity or other plays, and be part of various other singing and dancing clubs.
As an introverted, Asperger’s boy who grew up in a charismatic church, I found the environment very intimidating at times. I remember when I was about 5, seeing the older kids do singing and dancing on stage, and thinking this would be expected of me in a few years time made me very nervous. In fact at one time I was the only kid of my age not to be part of the ‘singing and dancing group’ and we were asked to do these types of things at Sunday school I simply refused to join in. I just remained seated and tried to resemble the cynical old man. Some of the adults tried to encourage me but I just refused. From a very young age I was known to be ‘different’ and people just had to accept me the way I was.
However one thing I did learn in these days was guitar. I was inspired by my Sunday school teachers, starting learning properly age 8, and around age 10 or 11 I would always bring the guitar to Sunday school and play along, reading the chords off the overhead. To their embarrassment I think, I was actually better than the Sunday school teacher who played, but I absolutely loved (and still love) doing the quiet, serious, more technical role while everyone else is dancing and doing actions.
Well that’s simply my story, but the main point I feel is that the introvert kids have the greater burden in the church than the adults in my view. I would think that’s even more so now than 20-25 years ago because the music is so loud in some places, it feels more like you’re walking into a rock concert than a church service!
Thanks for sharing your story, Chris. I used to sing in the church choir and youth group band. This made me feel a sense of belonging and allowed me to contribute without having to socialize a lot.
I feel your pain. I am a Sunday School teacher and an introvert. Most of my students are introverts as well, I try to encourage them and make it a safe environment for them to read out loud the material, sing along and just speak. It normally takes about half the class for most of them to open up, but usually they do. It feels like the odd place of not wanting to make them feel left out and not wanting them to feel uncomfortable. If I ask a child to read the material out loud and they give me a look of horror, I try to switch to someone else, because I know exactly how they feel.
Chris. I know how you feel.
I’m introverted and I have Asperger’s Syndrome too.
Ever since I came to my church around 2006 (I think), I always felt I was the Black sheep of the flock and I still do now. I asked myself why does everyone have to be so enthusiastic? Why the loud concert music, especially during times of prayer? What is wrong with stillness and quiet to get engaged with God?
If our growing extrovert church culture is doing more harm than good, then we need to spread the word, get our churches stirred into conversation and try to correct it or at least find some sort of compromise.
I have grown up in the church. I have had very positive responses and also negative responses to my personality. Negative: When I was a teenager, I was prayed over that I would stop being quiet and be this bold extrovert. It was almost like those leaders thought I had a disease or something that needed to be overcome and healed. In college, I did not fit in. I was the social outcast. No one understand me. Even though I very much enjoy all the people in my church, the greeting time for me is h*#$. It makes me feel very uncomfortable, not genuine having to put on a smile and try to small talk in 5 seconds. Positive: The church I am currently in (been there for seven years) embraces my introversion. I am an elder in my church. I serve in many different ways. I think because of me being in leadership has actually helped others to understand that there are different types of leaders. A leader is not always the loudest one with all the ideas; it is the one who leads and serves by example with their life. We need introverts in leadership.
This is super relateable. As a college student who attends a large church semi regularly, I often get asked by the pastors/group leaders/greeters what my major is and when I heard about the Church. Both can be answered in just a word or two but More often than not, one word answers and silence thereafter is frowned upon. Either they or I feel obligated to continue the conversation for fear of the following awkwardness.
I like the Roman Catholic church mass services because some are still very traditional. Specifically, the solemnity of it. The hymns are serene.
I go to a Roman Catholic Church and like the solemnity as well, and because they don’t get in people’s faces like the Protestant churches do. I used to go to a Lutheran church with a friend of mine, and I was so overwhelmed by all the activities and obligations that they had. My friend and I used to fight about it constantly, and I would usually lose because she would go “crying” to her mom and my mom about how I won’t go to whatever church activity. Looking back, I don’t quite understand why all the hoopla of needing so many church activities. I always felt that the church activities were phony most of the time, and there was so much favortism towards some of the other kids in the Youth Group, which made me even less interested than I already was.
Are you still involved in the Church? If so how do you serve being an Introvert?
Hi Jeremy. No, I’m no longer involved in any church. I spend my Sundays in solitude mostly. 🙂
In all fairness, I can understand your difficulty in this issue… as I deal with a few introverts in my Youth Group. I’m trying to learn more an more about this so I can better understand them, and reach them in a way they prefer. Not to change them, but to be a part of their lives as they prefer. that’s what brought me to your page.
But to not be involved in a Church is EXREMELY not Biblical. Hebrews 10:25 to name one verse. And I could go on about how there are many reasons for needing to be involved in a church not only for you, but to serve God, and others.
How do you tithe? Or do you? if not, this is not Biblical either, and you are stealing from God and robbing his storehouse…
Honestly, I don’t expect an answer, but I would ask you to use these questions to reflect on them, and talk to God about it.
No matter what you decide for yourself, I would hope just a small amount of these questions would help you or others… thinking it’s ok to not be a part of a Church. It’s simply not Biblical at all.
I’m sorry, but I’m compelled to come to Michaela’s defense. I realize what’s unbiblical — but quoting scripture and hitting someone over the head with a 17-pound Scofield Reference Bible isn’t going to win people over.
And yes, I tithe. When the statement comes from the church at the end of the year and it’s not AT LEAST 10% (of gross NOT net) I get very upset about ‘robbing God’ and fix it right away no matter how many peanut butter sandwiches I have to eat until I can ‘breathe’ again.
In children’s ministry, I used to be EXTREMELY involved in behind-the-scenes tech support for lights, sound, video, graphics, animation, and too many other ‘techie’ things. I REALLY enjoyed being behind the scenes making everything look good. I didn’t stop my ‘ministry’ due to burnout (like everyone thinks). I stopped because a family member said I was too selfish using so much of my free time in ‘ministry’.
The ONE thing I felt I could do well was help behind the scenes, and now that gets hindered as well because my own family doesn’t understand that I WAS very happy out of the limelight making everyone (thing) look better. In the five years I was there we grew from about 75 kids when I started to well over 600 when I was ‘reminded’ I was being selfish and left. Today, “Kids Church” alone runs over 1200 each week. The entire church has grown so (TOO) much — I hardly know (or even see) anyone I once knew any more. (There are even times when I hold myself responsible for aiding and abetting the creation of a frankenstein.)
Yes, I believe that there no such thing as THE church getting too big. I am just currently experiencing many difficulties with *A CHURCH* getting too big.
Lost in the herd – patiently awaiting a shepherd who will seriously look for me. A sheep isn’t going to come to you if you’re moving wildly about and shouting — they WILL approach a still, calm voice.
Sorry about the small tirade. I’ll break down the soapbox and use it for kindling.
Joe – That verse was to encourage believers who were, at the time, in danger of being killed if they were found gathered together. The author of Hebrews was telling them not to be afraid to gather together. It was NOT, as has been traditionally taught for hundreds of years, a command to get together at least once a week with a group of other believers to have a “worship service.” Of course iron sharpens iron, and sharing community with other believers always trumps over isolation. But this sharing of community does not have to mean what has come to be called “going to church.” Going out to lunch with a couple of believing friends and praying with believing neighbors about a challenge they are having, are examples of more authentic means of godly community because you actually interact with each other instead of being a passive observer. You actually have to learn to hear God for yourself – which is what He wants!
If you take this Hebrews verse literally and out of its cultural context, then I hope whatever religious service you attend requires women to wear hats and have long hair (and not wear any jewelry), and men to have short hair. Because those verses in Corinthians were also spoken to a specific culture at a specific time, and not to be taken as a divine command through the ages.
I haven’t had any real problems as an introvert (INTJ) in church. I started out in the Catholic Church until I was 18 and then started attending Assemblies of God, and now attend a Southern Baptist church. I attend this church because my bother and his family attend and I have no objection to the doctrines or practices. The senior pastor is an introvert.
The part about greeting where everyone shakes hands was in all three types of churches and while I don’t really care for it I also don’t hate it. Inward and outward focus is contextual and I really had no problem singing at the AOG churches where everyone sang. A lot of guys don’t really sing at my current church. I did like the anonymity in the AOG mega church I attended and there were “small” groups almost as large as some churches. The more moderate sized AOG church I attended before I moved to the city of the megachurch better suited me since the groups were small enough to get to know everyone.
I never had problems with group discussions. These are very similar to my experience in school, where I actively participated in class discussions but not the small talk before and after class. I can discuss theology, Biblical history, social issues, etc. but not last night’s game or who I think will win the Superbowl. I’d say that this is more of a difference between the way I communicate and the way most Americans communicate than anything to do with a church.
I know this post is older, but I thought I’d comment anyway. I think I’d rather be in a large church than a small one. I was in a smaller church for 3 years and I felt like everything I did was scrutinized. Since it was smaller, I was encouraged by leadership that the church was like family so I added some of them to facebook. When I first started attending, I thought “wow, everyone really likes each other here” and it made me feel trusting of them. The Pastors love bombed you when you walked in the door and invited you to their homes–they kept saying how they loved us. As an introvert, I really craved acceptance. I never had been accepted anywhere my entire life. My own family doesn’t even accept me. But over time, I saw that was all an act. Church members rebuked me on facebook for little things (like I said I didn’t like baby showers and one woman attacked me on facebook and told me I wasn’t loving). If I voiced an opinion other than “everything is roses”, I got told I wasn’t acting Godly. Guess what? God knows all about my bad days and bad thoughts and He loves me anyway. The church is horrible when it comes to anything other than positive thinking. Smaller churches are more cliquish, but give the appearance that they care. They are more rigid–you should all homeschool, pop out 20 kids, and love theology books. Men shouldn’t like sports. They should all grow beards like Charles Spurgeon (puke). I could overlook a big part of these things although they all bothered me. I don’t like group think at all. But what bothered me the most is that I offered to help change a few things and was shot down. It was like “we’ve always done things this way and why should we ever change?” The problem was, i had become friends with other introverts and they all said the same thing–“this is one of the worst churches that has cliques”. I was burned pretty bad by other things that happened there with the leadership and I haven’t gone back to church. I just feel like I will never, ever fit in and as much as the church says they love people, they don’t. They just love people who fit in with them. Which is sad. Because I have all kinds of friends, not just ones that homeschool and quote Spurgeon. People try to tell me I should go back to church, but I am not falling apart or running from God. I’m closer than I was to Him while I was there. When I was in a church, I had a tendency to care too much what the people thought of me. Now I am much more balanced and looking to Christ instead of people to fill that need. Sometimes I feel like I’m bad for not going to church, but I really think that is an incorrect view. The church is supposed to help us with our walk with God, but if they don’t, I have the freedom to walk away and pray for something better.
As an intovert, I a historical liturgical church like my Lutheran Church to be the perfect fit.
That’s why I love the charismatic catholic communities. The Catholic Church values a lot silence, knowing it’s a place of encounter. I am currently student at Bethel Church, and I love their worship, but the first few months I needed to adapt myself, because silence is not included in worship like in the worship time in the charismatic Catholic communities… Preachers also seems often introverted in the Catholic Church. They don’t have value in shouting ^^.
I tend to see the catholic church more adapted to introverted because she calues the power of silence even in charismatic meetings (and extroverted often seems to need a extrovert teacher to catch their attention..)
I am a believer in Jesus who is an introvert with (gasp!) social anxiety and depression. The journey has been difficult in the church. I love serving, but have difficult periods of time where I need to back off and take that ‘mental health break’. This is not understood by many. It is strange that if it was a break for physical illness, it would be accepted. This very morning I am fighting a panic attack because I am dreading this morning’s meet and greet. I have been told I have terrible sin that causes this, I have been told I need more faith. And most church days I am reminded of every little mistake and sin I have in my life. It is very discouraging and when I have my low depression times I feel very useles and broken…even useless to God.
The meet n greet thing I never really liked. It made me feel like a trained seal. Why, you ask? Well because in the end we all promptly returned to our own little bubbles and in some cases, cliques. So this practise was like the expression ‘cognitive dissonance’. Church can be just a microcosim of society unfortunately. And making suggestions on how to improve, well, decisions are ultimately made by only a few. Sometimes you can try six ways to Sunday and they just won’t let you in. I carry scars, and recall them as I comment here. Grown ups are not much different than school kids. Some bullies punch you in the kisser, others do the Cathy can come in to play with us, and you have to go home. That is more subtle. I called my church out on it after years of pussyfooting around. Here’s my pain! And still no response. A stranger on the street would have been kinder to me. Reminiscent of the Good Samaritan? You shouldn’t second guess yourself too much. If one hundred people tell you that the sky isn’t blue with white clouds, that doesn’t mean you are wrong. Churches need to be more about people not programs and formulaic sundays. Just once I wish for a breath of fresh air. Come on in, bring your chairs in a circle, you don’t have to grin and bob. So, how are you doing this week? Is there anything one of us can do, tell us now, that’s what we are on the planet for. And now, how about you? … we might have real purpose, real love, and real fellowship. Not just walls.