I wanted to make you aware of a new book out entitled Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture by Adam McHugh. You can also follow Adam at his blog Introverted Church.
I was very interested in seeing the book in print because Adam had let me know that he cited a post of mine concerning introversion in the church. That post is reposted below. In the coming weeks I hope post a review of Adam's book.
Introverts in the Imago Dei? (reposted from 6.19.2007)
In Lectures 6-7 of The Varieties of Religious Experience William James moves from his discussion of the healthy-minded believer to speak of the sick soul. Again, the sick souls are those who tend to be the more pessimistic believers among us, those of us preoccupied with the problems of existence. In my own research, I've labeled this type the Winter Christian and the Existential Believer, so I won't write more about them in this post.
What I do want to write about starts with James' sick soul type but goes in a different direction. Specifically, I want to write about the place of introverts at church.
Most people are aware of Jung's typology of Introverts and Extroverts. What you may not be aware of is that trait affectivity is highly correlated with these types. Specifically, positive affectivity is significantly associated with extraversion and negative affectivity is associated with introversion. That is, extraverts tend to be energetic and enthusiastic while introverts tend to be mellower or even melancholic.
The point here is that James' sick soul type is very often going to be an introvert and the healthy-minded type is very often going to be an extrovert. It is this connection that I want to discuss.
Here's the question I want to ask you: Do introverts fit in at church?
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 sociable—visiting 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.
Consequently, the "issue of the introvert" is one of the big overlooked problems in these sociable churches. For example, church leaders often want to make church more "meaningful." What they mean by this is that they want to create an atmosphere were deep human contact can be made. This is a fine goal, a worthy goal. However, to pull this off in an ordinary church setting demands a degree of sociability that introverts just don't have. Take a typical church service, communion service, small group service, or bible class. Let's say, to make it more “meaningful,” you ask the participants to find someone sitting close to them to have a spiritually-oriented exchange/conversation with. A time of sharing. Well, the introverts are just going to HATE this activity. They may hate it so much that they just might stop coming to your services. In fact, I know introverts at my church who purposely come in late to avoid the perfunctory meet-and-greet that occurs right at the start of our services ("Find someone close to you and say hello!").
Now, you may say that these introverts just aren't good people. But you would be wrong. Introverts are very, very relational. They just aren’t sociable. And to confuse the two is a grave theological and ecclesial mistake.
But many churches fail to make this distinction. They tacitly set up the following equation for church life:
Spirituality = Sociability
The problems with this formulation are obvious:
1. From a psychological perspective, introverts don't change into extraverts (or visa versa). To expect this is ridiculous.This last is the most worrisome. For years, sociable churches have ignored the introverts in their midst. Worse, they have sent a consistent message that they were less spiritual than their extraverted brothers and sisters. That to be like God was to be extraverted.
2. From a moral perspective, you are moralizing aspects of personality: Extravert = Good and Introvert = Bad.
3. From a pastoral perspective, you are confusing relationality with sociability. That is, your pastoral intervention, although well-intentioned, demands a kind of personality to work well. It is true that deeper relationships are needed at church, but the route isn't always best achieved by throwing strangers together into forced conversation.
4. From a theological perspective, you are insinuating that introverts are not created in the Imago Dei, in the Image of God. (In fact, the etymology of the word "enthusiasm," that trait of the extravert, means "filled with or by God." The association, then, is that introverts are NOT filled with or by God.)
In my opinion, the damage this subtle message has caused has been enormous.