Do introverts fit in at church? That’s the intriguing question Richard Beck, an associate professor and experimental psychologist at Abilene Christian University, asks in an important post on introverts and the Imago Dei :
The answer, obviously, is that it depends upon what kind of church we are talking about. In liturgical churches I expect introverts and extroverts fare about the same. But in non-liturgical churches they may fare differently.
Specifically, non-liturgical churches tend to be more sociable churches. So, let’s call them that. That is, there are liturgical churches and there are sociable churches. Sociable churches tend to emphasize relationality among its members. For example, a large part of the sociable church experience involves lengthy greetings (being greeted and greeting others), adult bible classes that are conversational and oriented around fellowship (e.g., in my church we sit at tables drinking coffee, eating donuts, and chatting), and the in-depth sharing of personal prayer requests.
This is not to say that liturgical churches aren’t sociable or don’t have sociable facets to them. It’s just the simple recognition that going to a Catholic mass (the prototypical liturgical experience) differs greatly from my day at church at the Highland Church of Christ in Abilene, TX. My experience is heavy on the visiting, as they say here in Texas.
In these highly sociable churches there is an implicit theological theme that marries sociability with spirituality. That is, being sociablevisiting intensively, and being willing to “get into each other’s lives”is highly prized. To a point, this is understandable. A sociable church is going to rely on extraverts to make the whole vibe work.
But introverts fare poorly in these sociable churches. The demand to visit, mix, and share with strangers taxes them. Worse, given that these social activities are declared to be “spiritual,” the introvert feels morally judged and spiritually marginalized. As if their very personality was spiritually diseased.
As an introvert who has always attended non-liturgical “sociable” churches, I can relate to the feeling that my lack of sociability was a sign of spiritual malaise. Fortunately, several years ago I stumbled across a quote by C.S. Lewis that has provided both comfort and a challenge: “Some people are ‘cold’ by temperament; that may be a misfortune for them, but it is no more a sin than having a bad digestion is a sin; and it does not cut them out from the chance, or excuse them from the duty, of learning charity.”
We church-going introverts often find it difficult, especially in smaller congregations, to find the right balance between being true to our natural temperament and being relational and loving to our neighbors. Its encouraging that others are beginning to recognize this struggle and that our standoffishness is not necessarily snobbery or aloofness (though at times it can be). But as Lewis noted, out natural temperament does not relieve us of our duty to be loving and kind to our extroverted neighbors.
On a related note, Adam McHugh has written a book on this topic, Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture , that I plan to review for the Evangel blog.