Good Stuff on the Web — Cranach: The Blog of Veith, on Introverts in Church

I have to say that this one caught my eye, given that I’m definitely an introvert. I can empathize as I’ve spent a good deal of time wandering the halls at church waiting for service when I just don’t fit into the socialization events that are going on. From the second comment on Cranach:

For me, an introvert, this was all rather painful. If I didn’t find someone to connect with in the first five minutes–and typically I did not–then I was consigned to 45 minutes of wandering the halls or sitting by myself waiting for the worship service to begin.

I caught this one on facebook as well as receiving an email from BJS Quarterly  editor Cheryl Magness. Cranach: The Blog of Veith is another one that you should have in your regular readings each day.


Introverts in church

Contemporary American churches, for all of their church-growth methodology, are leaving out–indeed, alienating–a whole class of people. Namely, introverts. Joe Carter cites and discusses some recent writing on this topic. Such as this from Christian experimental psychologist Richard Beck:

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!”).

I bet most of you readers of this blog, whatever your political or theological persuasion, are introverts. Don’t you just HATE it when you visit a church and in the name of being friendly to visitors they make you stand up and introduce yourself? And wear a special name tag? And can you stand it when a group of strangers in a Bible study asks you to “share”? And liturgical churches–while perhaps following a way of worship that is a haven to our sensibilities– can be just as bad, as when they make you “pass the peace.”

Seriously, introverts are a major demographic. I would argue that they–we–are especially serious about religion, tending to focus on the inner life, though they are also the group most alienated from the church and thus in particular need of the gospel. Churches drive them away. And yet, churches are always urged to be “more friendly.” Which drives introverts away even more.

Is this right? (Don’t worry. At this blog you don’t have to “share.”)

About Norm Fisher

Norm was raised in the UCC in Connecticut, and like many fell away from the church after high school. With this background he saw it primarily as a service organization. On the miracle of his first child he came back to the church. On moving to Texas a few years later he found a home in Lutheranism when he was invited to a confessional church a half-hour away by our new neighbors.

He is one of those people who found a like mind in computers while in Middle School and has been programming ever since. He's responsible for many websites, including the Book of Concord, LCMSsermons.com, and several other sites.

He has served the church in various positions, including financial secretary, sunday school teacher, elder, PTF board member, and choir member.

More of his work can be found at KNFA.net.

Comments

Good Stuff on the Web — Cranach: The Blog of Veith, on Introverts in Church — 18 Comments

  1. YES! This hits the nail on the head. I can’t tell you how often I’ve been accused of not being loving enough because I can’t stand the endless meaningless chit-chat, or just how hurtful that is. Thankfully, I belong to a church where the emphasis is on receiving God’s gifts (alongside our neighbor, of course) instead of making our neighbor feel warm and fuzzy inside.

  2. Dear Norm,

    This is a particularly insightful post. Thanks for finding it and posting it!

    Christianity differs from many religions, in which the private experience (with a priest) is all there is. One of my favorite places to take tourists in San Francisco (my hometown) is a back-alley in the middle of Chinatown, where devotees can worship the Goddess of the Sea, Tien Hue. It is a three or four story climb of stairs, then the priestess meets you at the door, you pay your dues to her (or give fruit), then say your prayers to the goddess. The only human contact is handing over the offering. The same is true in traditional forms of Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, etc.

    Traditional Judaism and Islam have a lot of male bonding and a lot of intellectual discussion, but the women are definitely prohibited from talking or socializing.

    Only in Christianity is the worship itself communal AND “coeducational.” It always has been that way. Modern Judaism has adopted these features from Christianity.

    Regarding “coeducation,” one of the biggest attractions of both Methodism and Pietism, in their original forms, was that even though the preacher was exclusively male, women had a lot of political clout in the church community. This is brought out in recent historical studies of John Wesley. We have not been aware of this before, because only our generation of church historians have been interested in the various roles of women in church history.

    American Evangelicalism is the current heir to the Methodist and Pietist traditions. It is obvious that, in many of these churches, women have enormous clout, and are the most significant factor in the election of the preacher. Successful preachers in these traditions have to be “sexy,” i.e., attractive to the opposite sex. The unintended consequence of this is that the same man who is “sexy” is often not a “man’s man” or just a “regular guy.” That is why regular guys don’t go to these churches willingly, but only to keep peace with their wives. Taken to the extreme, women find other women attractive and elect women preachers instead of men. It is not an accident that many (though not all) of the congregations with women preachers have lesbians in them. This is one of the factors behind the recent ELCA decision to accept homosexual marriage and homosexual clergy.

    I am not making this up. This is what late 20th century and current “gender studies” in church history and church sociology are discovering.

    Regarding the communal nature of the church, that was certainly Jesus’ will. His Supper cannot be observed without the community present. Luther in particular railed against private masses. As my wife says, His Supper is a “family meal.” You can’t get more social than that!

    Congregations need to be aware of the dimension of introversion, as you observe, Norm. Introverts are THE major demographic, certainly when they first join churches. My mother has, throughout her adult life, spent post-service time introducing herself to newcomers, guests, and “introverts.” She maintains those relationships for a long time. I have learned from her the importance of this work, and do it myself. Congregations don’t just need “greeters,” they also need “intentional friendship ministry.”

    On a side note: Are bloggers who sign their names introverts or extroverts?

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  3. I don’t think the signing of one’s name or using a psuedonym is a very predictive indicator of introversion / extroversion, Dr. Noland.
    You’ll have to come to the BJS Conference if you want to know who I am. 🙂
    [But as a hint, you’ve met me before. And as an introvert, I appreciate your “intentional friendship ministry”.]

    What would you think of the folks that I constantly invite to Bible Study, but are absolutely resistant to that idea?? There’s a strange phenomenon of being “church anti-social” even when one is an extrovert in the kingdom of the left.

  4. Heartbroken: I think there is SOME correlation between introvert / not signing your name on comments, but not very high. An introvert may not want his/her name to be known out there; but on the other hand we are all hiding behind our computer screens.

    Regarding inviting people to bible study and not having much success .. I don’t think this is related. Years ago it was easy to get tons of people to volunteer, to join choir, etc. It seems that our priorities are wrong somehow in this modern world — we are all too busy with other things in our lives and don’t put the priority on working at church.

  5. Interesting.

    As an introvert who has had to work very hard to be pretend to be the naturally “winsome” smiling “joe” that most expect of a pastor, I find everything said above particularly close to the mark. There seems to be a vast gap, however, between the koinonia “community” and “fellowship” which Dr. Noland rightly defends as essential (“esse”) within Christianity, and the “hey man, let’s get personal” “fellowship” that happens in our “fellowship” halls, which many introverts find simply painful when it is forced upon them. Introverts make friends – they just do it slowly, and usually over actual agreement and shared ideas (as opposed to physical proximity.) Both types of people are profoundly human, profoundly flawed, and profoundly given grace in Christ. But extroversion always seems to have more trouble comprehending introversion than vice versa, and when this takes on a spiritual dimension it can be downright deadly to the soul *of the introvert*.

    This hits home in the classroom as well. There seems to be a grand push to make certain that everyone (especially children/youth) are “talking/asking” during Bible study times. Now, certainly, I am the most ardent advocate that the best way to learn something is to talk about it, to ask questions about it, to challenge it, and to hash it out. But I also am convinced that some people just *want* to listen as others do that. And this is ok. Faith comes by hearing, not by talking. Forcing the shy people (and kids) to talk, even if they’re not talking (especially if they’re not talking because they actually are disinterested – I think of the kids again) will not actually *make* them interested. If anything, it will have the inverse effect. What I struggle with is, again, how to help the extroverts who are parents/leaders understand that perhaps forcing the youth to “talk spiritual” in public settings isn’t the most necessary part of catechesis, nor a good barometer of the Church’s Ministerial validity.

    This is also true of those members who come every Sunday (or most Sundays) but never “get involved.” They are often looked down on as something less than authentic. Again, I believe their is a value to volunteering and stewardship, and we should all be encouraged to share our resources with the community. But I struggle with how to help extroverts understand that the Christian life can rightly include simple quietness, attendance, giving and service in vocations which are outside the walls of our little club/institution. In a small congregation, there is actually very little administration that needs to go on – and what little there is is often stretched out to over-proportion in our perceived need for an extroverted community.

    The koinonia of Christ is not a forced fellowship any more than it is rooted in our love for each other. It is rooted in Christ’s love/work for us, from which the love that we poor sinners do manage to work up for each other flows. If a quiet man comes and speaks little to others, but hears the Word which the others hear, and feasts upon the God which the others feast upon, then their is a greater tie binding him to them than the most hearty handshake or the most passionate talk about how good it is to see each other.

    I suppose, in the end, I am making an apology for my own desire to be accepted and loved for the introvert that I am. Look at me, getting all “personal” and “sharing.” XD

    The real test, which the article puts before us, is recognizing these two extreme sets (across which their is a cornucopia of levels,) which are both redeemed peoples in Christ, of value not by the merit of what they are, but because he has redeemed us all with his blood. Then, as sinners, we struggle to live together in peace – which means, on the most common level, the extrovert letting the introvert hide a little, and the introvert letting the extrovert gab a little too.

    Ephesians 4:1-3

  6. Dear Heartbroken,

    I agree that if you don’t sign your name, it doesn’t indicate anything. There are many, and very good reasons, that many people remain anonymous on the web. But if someone is willing to sign their real name, when in “real life” they are an “introvert,” I think that tells me that they may not really be an introvert by nature, they just haven’t found a community of peers. A few may also sign their names for other reasons. So you are right that it doesn’t really indicate, by itself, anything definite.

    People go to particular churches for many reasons, not just to find a community of peers. If they attend a particular church because that is where they always went, or because it is the only congregation of their denomination in town, or because their spouse drags them along, that congregation may not become their community of peers. They may be viewed as an “introvert,” even though in other circumstances they definitely are not.

    Bible study is not for everyone, though it could be. The teacher can be boring or monologic. The class can have a “know-it-all” or a “windbag” who hogs discussion time. The class can have an “argumenter,” who picks on anyone who disagrees with him or the teacher. The teacher can make the class “invasive” of privacy. One or two cases like this can turn people off permanently.

    So, just because someone doesn’t go to Bible class doesn’t mean they are “church anti-social.” Churches can be very abusive places, for anyone involved. One experience like that can keep you away for the rest of your life.

    I never assume that someone who professes belief but is reluctant to attend worship, or other activities, is “really” a non-believer, hypocrite, lazy, etc. I first assume that they have been abused, and do not want to talk about it. I assume they need a friend first, and if someone else won’t do that, then I will. I will stick with them until conversation about religion is acceptable, then I can find out what the problems are.

    On the other hand, there are many people in churches who are there purely for the social benefits. And, for them, Bible study is a waste of time. Actually, real divine worship (Word, preaching, Sacraments, confession of sins, confession of faith, petitions, reverent praise and song) is also for them a waste of time, which is why they are all gravitating to the “Community Church” model with pop-rock band entertainment and motivational speakers and cheer-leaders.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  7. Right. I find the “peace” an awkward interruption of the service, but I’m learning.
    I don’t mind people being willing to talk after church and I enjoy the exchanges in Bible class. Beforehand, I wish they’d chat in the narthex or outside so the nave was quiet. But the narthex isn’t very large, so… maybe, someday.

    Norm,
    Some people’s “dose” of church is satisfied by the service, apparently. That they could learn more in one of the Bible classes doesn’t seem important to them. Their loss but also “missouri’s” because our greatest problem is basic Biblical/Lutheran ignorance.
    lcms inc. couldn’t put so much over on us if we were all still literate in the faith.

  8. Not sure if it’s “introvert” so much as “socially awkward” in my case. I can barely eat with the people from my church (being vegetarian doesn’t help), don’t like the peace-passing thing, etc. I even sat with Todd Wilken at the last BJS conference lunch and could barely ask a question! Not so much introverted as awkward.

    Anyway, I can’t say enough about liturgical services. For awkward people, having a role can be a marvelous thing. I know: sit at this point, sing at this point, bow at this point, stand at this point, and look at the cross during the procession. Except during the peace, I’m utterly comfortable during the service.

    Being awkward kept me out of church for about 20 years. The liturgical style has been a great balm for me.

  9. Norm Fisher:

    I agree with you regarding the priorites of many Christians today. With many (not all) God is almost like punching a time clock, where many just come early on Sunday, do their one hour of time with God, and then move on.

    We all have to keep in prayer for God to give us a desire for His Word and serving in our churches.

    I just thank the Lord that I am a Lutheran. The great theology of Lutheranism and the love of Christ is what keeps me motivated to live a life of gratitude because Christ saved me.

    A great help in any Lutheran church is just lending a helping hand where needed. Many times folks are just to shy to get involved. A church can sometimes help out by occasionally listing some needs that the church has. Where some folks might otherwise be too shy to ask where they can help, if they see the needs listed, they very well might volunteer to help.

  10. One of the things that is perhaps the most damaging to an introvert (although by no means distasteful just to them – many extroverts hate it, as well) are the seemingly CG-driven, evangelically-oriented break-out discussion circles during Bible classes. Mainline evangelicals just can’t seem to resist having them. My wife and I both detest them and will often leave a class in mid-session if it leads to them.

    Yet, if you stop to think about it, these very discussion circles are the antithesis of everything the so-called “seeker-oriented” CG-driven churches claim to represent for they often place the newcomers in awkward situations where they feel that they are put on the spot, looked to by everyone else in the circle for answers, testimonies, and other emotionally demanding confrontations. Among evangelicals, at least, these often include biblicistically-oriented challenges like, “Well, what do YOU think about this passage?”

    Moreover, they are often dominated by extroverted, well acquainted members of the church who banter back and forth over scripture passages, current event issues, etc., typically carrying the discussion off topic and further alienating the introvert by making him/her feel like even more of a outsider wall flower.

    They are, in essence, a cop-out; an easy way for the class teacher/leader/moderator/whatever to shift the burden from him/her to the individuals being put upon in the circle. If classes are to be held then they should be TAUGHT – by qualified people. And if the subject matter is such that it has to be the pastor then it should be the pastor, not some ill prepared lay person. Otherwise, we’re all back to the moralists who think that, instead of being catechized, everyone’s subjectively-oriented opinion accounts for a valid answer.

  11. Hi George!

    It really help’s if a pastor is teaching the class. A couple of years ago, we had this one gentleman in our adult class, (he is a CPA–I bring that up only so folks won’t think that he is a dummy) and he would keep asking question after question. Finally, one Sunday I brought the Book of Concord to class, he happened to be out of town that week, but his wife was there. So I showed her the Book of Concord and told her that most of the questions that her husband asked about were answered in the Book of Concord. I told her that the Book of Concord even gave the Scripture references for the answers to his questions.

    Unfortunately, some folks just don’t want to take the time to study.

  12. A few words of caution here in this article.

    Firstly, let’s remember that psychological personality “type” testing (Myers Briggs or portions of) are used in the surveys for CGM programs. It usually one of the first things TCN, or that type of program does, to asses the congregational demographics, congregational populis & congregational strengths. Something to bear in mind. If we are willing to point out that error in others (Ablaze!, TCN, Purpose Driven, Fuller U. etc.) , we should avoid doing the same. Let’s stay above the board, here. This article, in my mind, lowers us to their level, which is what we try not to do & are very willing to point out here.

    Also, I caution anyone, to take great care, in using psychological terms, coined & theorems by Carl Jung. If you know how he obtained his specific “theorem” you wouldn’t touch Jungian Psych with a 10ft pole. The terms introvert & extrovert have huge bearing in Jungian Psych. I don’t particularly care for using terms, obtained by divination & occultic practice.

    This isn’t about “personality” this is about inter personal communication skills & the comfort level & gift for a person, in that skill. Ones who are shy or reserved, have gifts lovingly designed by our God, to give glory to Him (Which I admire greatly, my better half is one of these). Our Lord uses those to His purposes, He designed them folks!

    I’m not shy, I’m the person you see smiling, shaking hands w/new faces, observing the countenances, of my brothers & sisters on Sundays. I am very demonstrative, and I am most comfortable showing it. I’m the one that has no fear or problem speaking to strangers in any place or country, I may be in. What does this article, say of me?

    According to this article, I am less apt to be “liturgical” or attend a “liturgical” church.
    Not true, wasn’t, and won’t be. You, that Perfectly Designed little you, has no bearing on if you are liturgical or not (that is CHOICE). You were not designed for/or to a degree, you were designed by God for God. That has no bearing in this, on what you choose, that is to your own end.

    If I don’t buy this farce, from the left, why would I buy it, recoated from the right? I know Who gave me the strengths I have, and those aren’t “liturgical”. I never want to attend a church made of all toes, that wouldn’t make a body, would it? Ya need a fair bit more than that. We cannot all be digits, as we cannot all be vital organs, can we? Both must be present and active, or you open the door to things like CGM/Emergent. One of the reasons, I have always thought, this parasite got in the back door. btw

    If we used the same premise, this article states….
    how would Katy Luther & her sisters rate?

    Katharina (Luther) & the sisters that flew w/her, would still be sitting in their barrels.

    I beg here, have a bit of care & discernment in what we see & read on other sites, prior to us posting those articles here.

  13. Katharina (Luther) & the sisters that flew w/her, would still be sitting in their barrels.

    That story is probably a little fishy! 😉

  14. Dr. Noland, I appreciate your comments (6). In working with a wide variety of blind and visually impaired people, I find many who do not attend worship regularly or at all have felt some extreme abuse or expectation placed upon them which they attribute (rightfully or wrongfully) to the Church. Now, of course, my desire is that everyone I help will eventually come to the services of God’s house and rejoice in the blessings of corporate worship , the preached Word, and administered Sacraments.

    Yet, the most helpful thing I’ve found with particularly introverted blind/visually impaired folks is showing them unobtrusive but genuine human care. Especially in the context of one of our Synod’s fifty+ outreach centers for the blind or in church, the display of human concern helps build trust between them and the average attender of any given church.

    So, often, in the CG/CW settings, people feel “lost in the crowd”. Some people like it on the surface because of some private defense they’ve built up. Yet, many feel intimidated because, in the said context, they feel pressured too quickly to be part of a small/encounter group setting.

    As we have been pointing out, the liturgical congregation is perfect. Everyone sits, stands, listens/responds in unison. Some people sing well, others do not. And, yet, in this said context, one’s psychological disposition needs not be so much a factor. What counts explicitly is receiving the forgiveness of sins in Christ Jesus. Including visitors and new members, be they extroverts or introverts, is our joy since we desire that they receive the same gifts our Savior bestows upon all who trust in Him.

    It helps, of course, for congregations to have a large print or even braille hymnal available for someone if they be blind/visually impaired. It brings them into participation in the corporate worship and helps remove their understandable self-conscious fears. The same goes when we have the opportunity to help them know when the offering plate is coming, when its time to sit and stand, etc. All it may take is a tap on the knee or a gentle but casual whisper.
    What an amazing post from Veith’s blog. There are a lot of directions we can with it!

  15. David,
    You hit the nail on the head. It is about being genuine, not false, but truthfull in our manner. This is about being truthfull in our speech & actions. If we are, what we say we are, & we subscribe, to what we say we do, we are mindful of those around us. Not for ourselves, but for others. Should every congregation, have a large print hymnal in every pew? YES. Should every congregations for-go the bells & whistles, to have 1 or 2, hearing impared technical aids, for those who may need them? YES. If you have physically challenged individuals, do you make a way for them? YES. Why? If it were you, would you want someone to notice, aid, or encourage you? YES. Are we to encourage those, who have diminished mental capacity, to attend our congregations? YES. Are we to make the Confessions & Liturgy age appropriate, w/o altering it, for children? YES.

    But do we? Not always, no. I’ve been a member of a church, that went through & spend $$$$ on a revamp, but forgot those who are confined to wheelchairs. (Two families, one a child) If you have members, who have health concerns, you must take that into consideration. It is called foresight. Odds being what they are, sort of thing.

    But we shouldn’t tailor a congregation to fit one specific need? No. The day any church, in any denom, figuratively hangs a sign, “introverts only” or “extroverts only”, “+55 & over” or “youth & young families only”, etc, you begin the process of segregating the Body of Christ in that denom.

    If Christ & the Apostles didn’t, why would it be reccomended by any of us?

  16. Thank you. Someone understands me!
    When I am in the church proper, I’m a total introvert. I just want to worship and focus on the service……not socializing.
    IF I want to socialize, I’ll do it in the narthex or a social function.

  17. I have been in a church which allowed space for wheel chairs and provided a “pocket radio” with ear plug and volume control for those who might need it to hear all of the service. Wheel chair members are not going to argue; the spaces were used.

    But can anyone tell me why most people take eye glasses for granted but are extremely reluctant to pick up needed hearing assistance when it’s provided?
    Then they have the nerve to complain that the Pastor mumbles!

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