Churches are typically vey mindful about reaching different aspects of their congregation. However, there is one group that unintentionally gets missed in all of the programs, conferences, and event planning: introverts.
Being an introvert often has negative connotations. We are seen as reclusive or closed-off from other believers when really, we just have different ways of expressing ourselves and engaging with others on Sunday mornings. This does not mean we can’t serve God wholeheartedly. God’s use of introverts in the Bible and in the modern church can provide clarity to pastors about the other, quieter half of their congregations.
Introverts in scripture
Although being introverted has its disadvantages, it can help people to develop other gifts. God used Biblical figures with many different personality types to accomplish his work. Moses, Luke, and Paul may have been introverts.
Moses used his lack of speaking skills as an excuse as he argued with God (Exodus 4). God instead gave Moses and his brother Aaron the words to say. They both visited Pharaoh and spoke and acted as God told them (Exodus 7). This encouraged community among the brothers since Moses did not want to perform these tasks alone. Moses also took his father-in-law’s advice on judging the people because he would have taken all of the people’s problems on himself out of duty (Exodus 18).
Although author Luke interviewed many people to write both of his books and wrote in first person, he focused on aspects of the stories that made sense to his audience, such as plot and dialogue, rather than aspects that pointed to him as the only teller of the story (Luke 1:2-4).
I forget many times that he experienced events first-hand in Acts because I focus on Paul as the main character of the history. Luke did not feel the need to take all of the credit for his work. For example, he did not write a sign-off at the end (Acts 28). He didn’t feel the need to draw the attention to himself, instead, he used his talents to write for God’s purpose of creating the Bible.
Paul admitted that he acted “humble when face to face with [a congregation]” (2 Corinthians 1:10). This could imply that Paul was an introvert If so, then he forced himself to speak in front of people constantly, despite anxieties about doing so.
Introverts in today’s church
I once heard a pastor compliment a college student on “overcoming” her shyness to talk to others about the Bible. While I understood his point, I wonder if there may be a better way to describe people who are introverts, like me.
Some sections of a church service such as worship time can positively impact introverts. However, churches often encourage their members to be vulnerable through conversation. This is difficult for some introverts to continually engage in. We may enjoy someone’s company, but find it draining to talk to them for long periods of time about deep topics.
Although some introverts can talk in front of others and take on a speaker or teacher role, we may still need outside time to refresh and reflect on our experiences.
The church should not look down on introverts but inspire us to use our gifts. Many introverts do not like being the center of attention, and it may be difficult for us to admit their frustrations with current practices. If someone is naturally extroverted, they should not assume that all services and activities will cater to them.
At the same time, introverts cannot expect leaders to change everything for us. Instead, what about seeing people with different personality types as valuable members of the church?
Some introverts enjoy organizing tasks and working behind the scenes. We can serve in those ways rather than interacting face-to-face with many people. Other introverts enjoy working with people, but only for small increments of time. I can force myself to speak in front of a large group of people, though I prefer participating in smaller groups. I experience the benefits of fellowship, even though it can be difficult for me to explain my habits and preferences to others.
Practical Suggestions for Welcoming Introverts
- Provide a way for introverts to share how they worship and interact best. This could be an online survey or an handout in the bulletin.
- Give introverted leaders and teachers space to recharge.
- If you plan services and curriculum, what about considering the fact that every introvert is different? Some prefer small groups, while others prefer large.
- Teach on biblical examples of introverts, like the ones listed above.
To church leaders: I ask you to recognize the introverts in your congregations and attempt to understand and affirm them in their personalities and walks with God. Introverts don’t need people to judge them; we deserve to be recognized as gifts.
Mary Helen Thompson is a senior English major with a concentration in Literature and a minor in Intercultural Studies/Missions at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana. She made an impact in the Book Editing and Publishing track during the summer of 2017.