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February 21, 2012

Recognizing a Blind Spot in Church Culture

Learning from the introverts among us


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.

posted by Amy Jackson on February 21, 2012 1:18 PM

Related Tags: Amy's Insights, Extroverts, Introverts


Thanks for this post. I am an introvert leader who looks like an extrovert from the outside. I often wish and pray to be more of an extrovert, so I would have more capacity for people. On the other hand, I do have a solid devotional and prayer life that I see lacking in others. I often feel inferior to those who appear to be "doing" more in ministry. Can't wait to read this book.

I encourage our group leaders to have a goal that at least 6 people will attend their small group meeting. This is for the introverted attendee. 6 people will reduce the feeling that an introvert would feel. With 2 or 3 or 4 people an introverted may feel overwhelmed by a sense that they have to shoulder the weight of the dialogue. 6 or more relieves this feeling.

I think I'm I bit of all three. I don't do big crowds even tho I know tons of peolpe and could probably find at least 1 person I know 80% percent of the time I go out. I'm like the weird, kooky, talkative, LOUD , person of the group who will probably do the stupidest,randomist, things EVER. But at night sometimes I just want to be left alone. ( but that could be due to my parents or when I'm reading)And then sometimes I just limit my self to one group that day. Cause I just don't want to talk and they'll do most of the talking for me. But I will say something here or there(it'll really freak everyone out if I don't talk, the teachers too, they'll think something is wrong). So I really don't know.

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