Despite popular mythology, introverts aren’t people who fear social interaction and whose skin is desperately pale from never seeing sunlight. Many introverts enjoy good conversations and relish public gatherings. It’s just that these kinds of interactions require an investment of energy, and eventually an introvert needs to find some solitude to recharge.
The difference between introversion and extroversion is all about energy. Some people draw energy from interaction (extroverts), and others recharge in seclusion (introverts). Both types might greatly enjoy behavior from the other side of the spectrum, but both will need to retreat into their comfort zones for renewal.
When it comes to your church services, here are a few things that might be driving your introverts crazy:
1. A lot of shallow interaction
This isn’t a criticism as much as it is a recognition of the normal communication challenges that churches face. Think through the social interactions on a typical Sunday morning.
You show up and your first interaction (provided you don’t get stopped in the parking lot) is with the greeter at the front door. This exchange is pleasant and enthusiastic, but it’s trivial: It never goes beyond pleasantries.
Once inside, you have to run the gauntlet to your seat in the sanctuary. This could involve 2–10 micro-conversations about the weather, events that transpired last week, an upcoming sporting event, or the woes of teething. But this friendly chatter can’t really go anywhere meaningful—there’s no time for much conversation to take place because the service is about to begin.
Then you’re instructed to greet your neighbors in the middle of the service, so you have to stand up and make small talk with all the people around your seat. Afterward, there’s an extended period of milling around with lots of casual conversation.
Don’t get me wrong, community is important. A lot of that small talk can’t be helped. It’s just that every little bit of small talk drains an introvert’s battery. Introverts tend to enjoy engaging in thought-provoking dialogue, but there is seldom enough time for those sorts of discussions.
Instead, it’s a barrage of pleasantries. For the introvert, this is like being stabbed to death with a toothpick.
While introverts don’t necessarily need to be catered to, there are ways that churches can help make church conversations more engaging for introverts (and for extroverts—they’re not generally excited about superficial conversations, either).
- Make sure that you’re not mistaking conversations with community. Just because people are exchanging words doesn’t mean that they’re experiencing community. Don’t set up greeters so that they’re barriers to getting in the church. See if you can open a pathway from the door to the sanctuary so people don’t feel like they have to engage if they choose not to. By simply giving people the choice to opt out of small talk, you’re elevating the kind of interactions that happen on a Sunday morning.
- Before you excuse people after a service, why not give them a topic for discussion? If you’re preaching on the parable of the Good Samaritan, why not excuse them by saying, “On your way out, talk to someone about how a negative stereotype was challenged by an act of kindness you experienced.” This way you’ve opened up the potential for deeper discussion among people mingling after the message.
2. Manufactured enthusiasm
Many evangelical churches have their own liturgies. They start with an appeal for everyone to get really excited and join them in worship. Then there are one or two high-energy worship songs followed by a slow one, and then a song to set the pastor’s desired energy level as the church transitions into the message.
Throughout the faster songs there’s constant encouragement to clap along and really “let yourself go” and “get into it.” This isn’t inherently bad. Many extroverts really seem to feed off of this enthusiasm—it’s just that many introverts don’t.
For worship leaders and pastors on the platform, it’s nice to have a sense of passion being expressed by the people present. When people seem like they’re really getting into what’s going on, it can be helpful. Worship leaders want to see people enthusiastically clapping along, and pastors want people shouting out “amen” and “preach it!”
The problem is that there are a lot of ways that pastors and worship leaders try to solicit those kinds of responses from people. At that moment, introverts feel like they’re doing something wrong by not being the kind of people who dance around or shout out their approval during the service. When this emotional appeal becomes part of every service, it can make introverts dread worship.
Here are a couple of ways to get that enthusiasm without exhausting your introverts:
- Recognize that enthusiasm comes in different forms. For a lot of introverts, intent focus is a sign of zeal. Learn to draw from the people in the room that express their emotions in a way that is most helpful to you, but don’t expect that level of animation from everyone else—or assume that their lack of demonstrative enthusiasm doesn’t mean they’re not enjoying themselves.
- Change the service up occasionally. Instead of always starting with the most upbeat pieces of music, start with something quiet. Choose a couple of songs that start with some introspection and lead to more buoyancy. Breaking the monotony can be a good thing for everyone!
3. Awkward prayer and altar calls
Have you ever been been randomly called on to pray in a service? To be honest, the panicked response of most people has nothing to do with introversion or extroversion. People on both sides of the energy spectrum have a hard time speaking in public. But there are ways that in-service ministry can be hard on introverts.
The altar call is a really good example. Sometimes when a message is particularly powerful and engenders a response, a time is opened up at the end of the service for people to come forward and pray. This can be a powerful moment, but it can often be a challenge for introverts to come forward. This isn’t because they’re not inspired; it’s because inevitably someone will come up unbidden and start praying for or with them. This is a vulnerable moment (made moreso because it’s happening in front of everyone), and this thoughtful act can feel like an intrusion.
Sometimes churches will break the church into small prayer groups, or ask individuals to stand up so that the church can pray for them. Both of these can be wonderful ways to introduce an element of corporate prayer into your service, but reliance on them can create anxiety in introverts.
Overcoming ministry awkwardness:
- You might not want to ditch the altar call, but maybe you can set up some expectations. You can designate one side of your church for people who want to come forward and pray on their own, and the other side can be for people who want to come forward and have someone pray for them. Or maybe you have some prayer partners up front that people can go to specifically for prayer.
- As much as possible, give people a heads up regarding special calls to prayer. If you’re going to have someone pray, ask them ahead of time. If you plan on breaking people into prayer groups later, let everyone know at the beginning of the service. Knowing it’s coming can help introverts mentally prepare.
Don’t Cater to Introverts—Be Mindful
This isn’t about coddling introverts. In fact, some of the most powerful and needed areas of ministry are going to make introverts uncomfortable. No one expects you to throw out your liturgy on this issue.
Instead, think about whether your service skews toward introverts or extroverts. A lot of times church services unintentionally take on a flavor that mirrors the leadership. Learning to think through the service from the perspective of different personas can be very helpful.