The Extroverted Christian is easy to pinpoint.
He or she is the person who might sing or play guitar during worship, the first to befriend any visitors and the last to linger behind, chatting, at coffee hour. They generally shine with what seems like an otherworldly charm and confidence. The Church loves the Extroverted Christian, and the Extroverted Christian loves the Church.
Undoubtedly, this type of person contributes significantly to the church community. Far too often, however, these outgoing few are held up as the ideal Christians, leaving the uncomfortable implication that those who are more introverted somehow fall short—that maybe they aren’t even quite as good at being Christian. When it sometimes seems that the church is made for the extroverted, it is easy for introverts to become discouraged and feel out of place in a church environment.
The hallmarks of introversion tend to be thinking more than speaking, recharging one’s batteries through solitude and thriving on good conversation with a small group of close friends rather than a large party of acquaintances. Practically, this means introverts often face unique challenges in church. First, there’s the customary well-meaning greetings: “If you’re visiting with us today, stand up so we can acknowledge you!” Then there’s the small group confessional icebreakers: “Why don’t we go around the room and tell the group something you’ve never told anyone before?” And, of course, there’s the forced public prayer: “Let’s end with a prayer. Introvert, can you lead us?”
And yet, appreciation for introversion has slowly come more to the forefront in response to these challenges. A spate of books on the topic have been published in recent months, including Quiet by Susan Cain and Introverts in the Church by Adam S. McHugh. Both suggest that introverts often zap their energy endlessly trying to “play extrovert,” while ignoring their own inherent talents and gifts.
God made many different types of personalities, and He gave us all a multitude of special strengths to use for His glory. While many men and women of the Bible seem to be extroverts, we also hear that a gentle and quiet spirit is very precious in God’s sight (1 Peter 3:4) and that we should be quick to hear and slow to speak (James 1:19). We should use what we have been given, not try to hide it and force ourselves to attempt to gain what comes naturally to others.
So, how can introverts put themselves at ease in church and contribute in their own way?
Develop one-on-one relationships with other church members.
Introverts are often wonderful listeners, and their knack for asking questions makes others open up and feel loved. Seek out church members who seem like they might need someone to hear them, and then do just that. As Adam S. McHugh says in Introverts in the Church, “Introverted seekers need introverted evangelists.”
Volunteer for behind-the-scenes services.
Silent roles, such cleaning the grounds or cooking meals for homebound members, allow introverts to feel involved in the church community without self-consciousness, strengthening their feelings of belonging and usefulness.
Go to group events in which you can just listen, not talk.
At lectures or conferences held at the church, often introverts can happily sit, think and take notes on an important topic, letting those wonderful extroverts do their thing in the front of the room.
Find your niche, and put your gifts to work.
Whether it’s volunteering with children, working the sound system or organizing the food pantry, pursuing roles in which you feel confident can give you additional motivation to engage with your church community.
Go outside your comfort zone—sometimes.
While it’s important to be true to yourself and thankful for your own distinct gifts, there are also times when it’s necessary to make yourself feel uncomfortable for a good reason. Moses begged the Lord to send someone else to speak in his place—and Aaron did take over Moses’ initial public speaking duties—but at the end of the day, Moses came through to guide God’s people out of Egypt. While being the leader of so many must have been stressful for him, he knew that the cause was so far beyond him that he did well to ignore his natural feelings of reluctance and fear.
As we introverts acknowledge, accept and even learn to love our personalities, we will grow in an understanding of when to stretch ourselves to our limits and when to follow our instincts. In this way, we will be able to better serve our church communities, rather than fearing them.
Laura Marcus lives with her husband outside of Baltimore, Md. She holds degrees in the fields of political science, french and education and is currently a fledgling writer, test-grader and volunteer literacy tutor.