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Does the Church Need Introverts?

Introverts are experiencing a revival. If the internet was a library, we’d need to put in an entire wing dedicated to recent articles and blog posts related to:

  • How to treat your introverted friend
  • How to be married to an introvert
  • How introverts behave at parties
  • Things not to say to introverts
  • Things introverts want you to know

Google the words “introvert” and “church,” and you’ll find that Christian interest in the subject is just as high.

The obvious answer to whether the church needs introverts is, “Yes!” The church isn’t complete until it reflects the myriad of personality types and gifts God has given it. The bigger question is why anyone would even question the role introverts play in local congregations.

The Introversion Spectrum

Many articles on the subject of introverts and extroverts approach the topic with an almost binary understanding—a person is either one or the other. But it doesn’t really work that way.
Introversion and extroversion exist on a spectrum with the more extreme versions of both. In the middle, you find the people who are ambiverts (someone who’s just as comfortable with others as they are being alone).

The spectrum is more about how people are energized than it is about any particular character trait. An extrovert is invigorated and recharged in the company of others, while introverts need some personal space after prolonged exposure to groups of people.

Dumping the Stereotypes

As an introvert myself, I find a lot of online discussions (most written by introverts) tend to generalize and stereotype us. Usually, they assume the most extreme version of introversion; you know, the person that would rather eat lye than talk to a stranger.

The truth is that many introverts aren’t shy and are perfectly comfortable around others. They enjoy being around people, enjoy speaking publicly, and can be the life of the party. It’s just that when they’re done, they’re spent. As a pastor, I loved preaching every Sunday morning, but by 1:00 p.m., I was in an unresponsive stupor. I needed to spend time in my office quietly getting my bearings.

Adversely, extroverts can be insecure and shy. They can have anxiety about speaking in front of others and eschew gatherings. People can land anywhere on the introversion/extroversion spectrum, and we need to be mindful of how they’re generalized.

One of the introversion stereotypes I frequently see makes introverts out to be more thoughtful and deeper than extroverts. But this spectrum isn’t really about what people think about. I know plenty of shallow introverts and incredibly thoughtful extroverts. While the two might process information differently (inward vs. outward), introverts don’t necessarily corner the market on reflection or depth.

Does the Church Favor Extroverts?

After all that, I do have to say that the evangelical church does tend to give preference to extroverts in the way that services are engineered. While community is social in nature, services tend to be loud and overly stimulating while being relationally superficial.

Adam McHugh sums up the problem well, “Evangelicalism has a chatty, mingling informality about it, and no matter how well-intentioned that atmosphere is, it can be a difficult environment for those of us who are overwhelmed by large quantities of social interaction and who may connect best with God in silence.”

Introverts do tend to struggle with small talk. Again, it’s not because they’re deeper; it’s because when introverts engage they want to get into the conversational heavy lifting. They’re putting as much energy into casual small talk as they are into a real conversation, so they’ll often launch immediately into a conversation that requires more input from all parties.

Because we’ve created a culture that leans toward extroversion, people are more comfortable engaging in offhand chatter. If we’re going to have deeply engaged discussion, it’s going to have to be scheduled. This can be hard for an introvert who tends to bypass conversational norms to launch into a concept, idea, or struggle they’ve been thinking about lately.

Because of this, we tend to pick out and promote individuals who excel at the social constructs the church has developed. The tendency to be an outgoing “people-person” can get preference over any other spiritual indicator, or actually be confused for a form of spirituality.

What Introverts Bring to the Table

An organizational psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, Adam Grant, has done many studies on the intersection of leadership and extroversion. His findings were that introverts were better listeners and tended to enhance group performance.

The church tends to prefer leaders who can generate excitement and enthusiasm while exuding charisma, but for long-term spiritual growth and discipleship, the church needs introverts. We all might gravitate towards the physician with incredible bedside manner, but in the end, her level of care is going to contingent upon how well she listens. Empathetic listening can be a struggle for the extrovert, and the introvert’s superpower.

As an introvert, I excel in asking probing questions and drawing the stories out of others. It isn’t a skill I’ve acquired because I’m altruistic, but rather as a way of keeping a conversation going while deflecting it away from me. I was surprised when I found out that many of my introverted friends do the same thing. It’s made me, and many of them, extremely empathetic listeners.
Because extroverts tend to be stimulated from without rather than within, they’ll often wrestle with impulsiveness, struggle with weighing pros and cons, and have a hard time paying attention to details—many skills that come naturally to more introverted personalities.

A team that is able to marry the strengths of introverts with those of their extrovert counterparts can create a great amount of synergy and interdependence. Adam Grant’s studies showed that teams comprised entirely of extroverts tended to be devolved into a competitive environment and diminished productivity. Infusing introverts tended to raise overall efficiency.

Cultivating the Perfect Team

It makes sense that a church would give preference to extroverted leaders. Many of the things the church does seem to be better served by extroverts. Things like evangelism, worship, preaching and discipleship seem to fit natural extroverts better.

But the truth is that all of these things can be done by introverts, too. In fact, they’ll be done in ways that will be attractive to people who tend to shy away from the typical extroverted way these elements are presented. Obviously, a fully rounded team with varying strengths is going to provide the biggest returns.