Sunday service just ended. Everybody is outside of the sanctuary and talking to each other in the fellowship hall. Newcomers are being greeted and members are reconnecting. Meanwhile, I'm in the back observing all of this and wondering whether I should mingle or not. Though I love my church, this large social setting just feels so...overwhelming. And yet it's a scenario I face every week.
What's comforting though is seeing other individuals out in the margins who seem to be thinking the same thoughts. Deep down we feel like we ought to "fellowship." But even deeper down, we just want to go home or, at most, chat one-on-one with someone. What's wrong with us? Why do we feel this way?
Here's a potential reason: We're introverts. And this scenario is one of many situations that makes an introvert feel weird at church. For some reason introverts often feel that they don't fit in at church. In a place that's supposed to be meant for the meek and poor in spirit, introverts feel strangely out of place.
And this makes me wonder: Why do introverts struggle in the modern church?
A (Very) Brief Word About Introverts
Well before explaining that, it might be helpful to understand how introverts work. In his book Introverts in the Church, Adam McHugh describes three characteristics of introversion that I found helpful.
1) Energy Source. A misconception extroverts make about introverts is that they dislike people. This is understandable since we seem hesitant to hang out and try to leave social activities a little early. In reality, we actually like people (at least most of us). The difference though lies in the way extroverts and introverts "recharge" themselves.
Extroverts like being around others because they get energy from stimulation - traveling, mingling, interaction, etc. Such activities fuel them. And that's why extroverts lose energy when they're alone because their energy source is gone.
Introverts though are the opposite. We get energy from a different source: solitude. Being home, by ourselves, curled up on a couch. This restores our battery life.
2) Processing. Both extroverts and introverts process information - but the difference lies in how we process information. Extroverts process everything out loud, which is why they enjoy dialogue. Say you're in a meeting with a room full of extroverts. If you bring up a topic, they will have no problem sharing their opinion on the spot because they like to process their thoughts and form their opinions externally.
But introverts process everything internally. So if we're in a meeting and someone brings up a topic, we will be silent. It's not because we don't care. We're just thinking and thinking and thinking. Introverts have this internal filter that our thoughts must go through before we say anything out loud. And that's why introverts often seem aloof in social settings - we're simply trying to filter through all the dialogue that's taking place.
3) Depth. Generally speaking, extroverts tend to have a wide variety of friends and acquaintances while introverts tend to have only a small circle of companions. While extroverts love small talk and visiting new places, introverts love deep talks and visiting the same spots. Why are we so different?
McHugh argues that the difference lies in breadth vs. depth. It's not that extroverts don't care about depth - it's rather that introverts can't handle the same breadth of information that extroverts do. This again has to do with the way introverts process internally. Therefore new people and experiences result in information-overload, causing our internal filter to malfunction.
Why Introverts Often Struggle in the Church
So if you think about how introverts work and how your church functions, you can understand why introverts often struggle in the modern church. Because generally speaking, modern churches operate as if everyone is an extrovert. The way churches practice Christianity and express spirituality and gauge maturity is often done through extroverted lenses.
Before and after service, we're told to be welcoming and mingle in large crowd settings. During service, praise is loud and passionate where we feel obligated to respond by cheering and raising our hands. In small groups, we're exhorted to share our deepest struggles with people we barely know. In evangelism, we're taught to approach strangers on the streets and share the gospel boldly.
This is challenging but doable for an extrovert. But for an introvert? These are nightmare scenarios. But because this is how Christianity is expressed in today's modern church, introverts feel that they have to practice their faith this way or they're being unspiritual. But it's hard for a lot of them - so they just don't. And as a result, they often feel guilty, weird, and marginalized by the church culture that surrounds them.
A Different Perspective For Church Leaders
I know this may sound like I'm trying to justify introverts for not doing things they're uncomfortable with. That's not what I'm trying to say. I'm also not saying churches need to completely change for the introvert as if introversion is a divine human category that every institution must adhere to.
Rather I'm trying to point out how church leaders don't realize just how biased the modern church tends to be towards the extrovert. And this is understandable. Most church leaders are extroverts themselves, so of course they're going to see things through extroverted lenses.
In other words, pastors and leaders shouldn't look every Christian who doesn't show up to all the church events and conclude that they're being "unfaithful members." That may be the case - but it may also be that we're asking a bunch of introverted Christians to practice an extroverted form of Christianity.
A Word to Introverted Christians
The reason why us introverts are often dissatisfied with our church is because we want to find the right types of relationships and the right types of activities that fit our needs and social make up. But I think it's important to realize finding a church is not meant to be about finding a "place for ourselves."
Rather finding a church is meant to be a place where we can know Christ and His people and be sanctified in such a setting. So while it's understandable to live according to the way you've been "wired," this is no excuse for us to disengage from the body of Christ. And I think this only happens when our introversion is seen in a proper way.
Introversion is a helpful category, but it is not our primary identity. We are not introverts who happen to be Christians; rather we are Christians who happen to be introverts. There is a difference.