Recognizing a Blind Spot in Church Culture
While it’s been difficult for me to admit for most of my life, I’ve finally become comfortable saying that I’m an introvert. For those who know me well, it’s really not surprising—after all, I primarily spend my working hours alone in an office typing on a computer, reading books, and manipulating words.
It’s taken me a while to realize that being an introvert doesn’t mean I don’t like people. And it doesn’t mean I’m super nerdy (although, I am a little nerdy). It means that I’m highly sensitive, easily over stimulated, and better at working alone—at my own pace with few distractions. On the positive side, introverts tend to have rich inner lives, are able to concentrate for long periods, and have fewer but deeper relationships (in fact, many introverts struggle with relationships that consist only of small talk).
Recently, I started reading a book on introversion: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. She explains that one-third to one-half of people are introverts, yet American society greatly favors extroverts. She gives a history lesson of how that came to be, and talks about her visits to places in the U.S. that exemplify this fact.
Would you be surprised to know that one of the places she visited was Saddleback Church? She explains that evangelical Christianity highly favors extroverts: we want funny, engaging teachers that move around the stage, lots of time to casually fellowship and mingle with one another, and elaborate, highly sensory worship settings. We expect true followers to be involved with many groups, and to attend all the group activities offered (like retreats, women’s and men’s events, and family events). We expect true followers to express their faith publicly and vocally.
Now think about the types of people we desire in our small groups: people who share often, easily mingle during fellowship time, and strike up conversation with newcomers. And these are good things. We see these as signs that someone is actively engaged—both with the group and in their relationship with Christ.
But what might an actively engaged introverted group member look like? Have you experienced that group member who listens intently for the majority of the meeting, but shares a nugget of truth that blows the group away? Have you noticed those group members who seek out the newcomers by quietly welcoming them and getting to know them one-on-one? Are you aware of the person in your group who quietly yet actively listens to other members, encouraging them by leaning forward, nodding, and smiling?
While we like to see people living out their faith in highly visible ways, consider this: there is a lot of activity happening in the introvert’s mind and heart, activity that is important yet often overlooked. And this way of life isn’t against the grain of Christianity. In fact, Scripture tells us to meditate on the Word. We have countless examples of historic Christians engaging the contemplative life. Even the modern theologians we look up to must spend countless hours alone with God and his Word. So maybe introverts have something to offer our extroverted culture—the reminder to slow down, to reflect, to “chew on” God’s Word, to go below the surface.
How can you encourage and empower your introverted group members? How can you change your perspective of what an actively engaged group member looks like?
What about you? Are you an introverted group leader? Check out our Leading as an Introvert resource.