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Introverts in a Church for Extroverts

posted by Scot McKnight

Preaching.jpgEvery now and then a book comes along and I say, “Wow, that’s a great idea for a book!” Adam McHugh’s new book, Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture
, is that kind of book. We need this book, and every (especially an extroverted) pastor needs to read it. McHugh is a Presbyterian and an introvert and he has struggled mightily with his introversion, and this book examines and illuminates the many, many ways the (especially evangelical) church is shaped by extroverted personality styles and behaviors.

What percentage of folks in your church are “introverts”? Do you ever hear anything that reflects sensitivities for introverts? How “extroverted” is your church and even your “style” of spirituality/Christian living?
Introverts are energized by solitude, they process things internally, and they prefer depth over breadth. As a result, the healing process, to name but one issue, of an introvert is different than that of an extrovert. McHugh has an excellent chp on introverted spirituality and some suggestions on how leaders who are introverted can learn to form a rule of life that can help them manage the extroverted demands that are part of pastoring.

He examines how introverts hear the message of “community”: entry, retreat and reentry, and this differs from the extrovert who may take a straight line from the periphery to the pastor! I think this chp, which has a myriad of suggestions, could be the most important one for pastors who need to develop some sensitivities in this area.
I’ve probably said enough, but he’s also got a fine chp on how introverts “lead” and how the current style of leadership is shaped by the extroverted personality type, while there are so many things that can be learned from the introverted style.
There is, as far as I know, no book like this. The pastor who ignores it does so at the cost of some effective ministry. Those who are introverts will love this book. 


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Mark Farmer

posted December 10, 2009 at 3:40 am


Yes, I’m going to love it! I was wondering if there was a chapter on evangelism – and sure enough: “Introverted Evangelism.” And two chapters on leadership. Thanks for another helpful book lead, Scot.



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RJS

posted December 10, 2009 at 6:58 am


Interesting – I am undoubtedly on the introvert end of the spectrum. The impact of this on church experience … I’ve not thought much about it, Certain aspects of the “typical” evangelical church are geared toward extroverts. I think this becomes more severe when “recognizing the business of current life” the leadership dumps “extra” programs to concentrate on the “Sunday Morning Service” the one untouchable piece.
While I value the worship service and would not want to see it diminished, corporate worship is important, the trend to dump all else at secondary hurts.
Of course no church actually abandons all else – small groups and “communities” are big.
But this doesn’t help – the jump from big gathering to intimate small groups, does not cover all needs – in fact it hurts. It is an extrovert pattern. There is no place to move safely into community, no opportunity to enter, retreat and reenter. No place with the opportunity to mingle, talk, interact and grow comfortable.



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Rick

posted December 10, 2009 at 7:20 am


Having started the book (enjoying it/hits home), I appreciate how he talks about the “spiritual inadequacy” introverts can feel in those settings.
I thought his comments about evangelicalism liking to use words was a good insight. He writes:
“A love for the Word of God easily translates into a love for words about God…and words in general. Put more bluntly: Evangelicals talk a lot…Whereas in some church traditions you enter a sanctuary in a spirit of quiet reverence, in evangelical churches you walk into what feels like a nonalcoholic coctail party….In an upfront, talkative, active evangelical culture, we can be viewed as self-absorbed or standoffish, and we can feel like outsiders even when we have faithfully attended a church for years.”
He also has interesting insights on the impact of the Great Awakenings on American evangelicalism, including the loss of the intellectual goals and an “emphasis on overt, demonstrative, experiential displays of devotion.” One additional consequence is what he calls a “restless energy” in the churches. This naturally is difficult for an introvert to engage in (at least on a regular basis).



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Diane

posted December 10, 2009 at 8:36 am


I would love to get this book. As an introvert, the entry, retreat, reentry mode is quite familiar to me as it is how I operate. Of course, my denomination, Quakerism, attracts introverts, and I do like the reverent silence of Quaker worship, but know that many people can’t stand it. In contrast, I had trouble in an emerging church where the emphasis was on exuberant worship and having block parties, and inviting your neighbors over for barbecues, etcs …all the things we introverts recoil from.



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Matthew

posted December 10, 2009 at 8:43 am


I second the endorsement—ministers ignore this book at their own peril.



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Phil

posted December 10, 2009 at 9:01 am


To RJS # 2,
Along the thoughts of Entry, retreat, re-entry, and the rhythm’s of life in general, a writer I’ve found helpful is Dan Myers, as he talks about spaces. How, generally evangelical churches have the large social space, and encourages the small group intimate space, but has down played or ignored the 2 other spaces that IMO that introverts do well in, the front porch and the medium sized group. It’s either forced intimacy, and lets face it, it doesn’t work for many, and the big group setting that you can be anonymous in or love the spot-light. I’m more introverted and am the #2 at a extroverted cultured church. It’s worked Ok, but many I feel have been side-lined.



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RJS

posted December 10, 2009 at 9:06 am


Phil,
Exactly – the “expendable” gatherings are exactly those where I am most comfortable and most able to make the connections that can lead to an unforced intimacy.



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Sean LeRoy

posted December 10, 2009 at 10:51 am


I might have to pick this one up….I’ve ‘struggled’ with this not to the point that some have for sure, but have also experienced the challenges of being an introvert working with an extrovert pastor.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted December 10, 2009 at 10:59 am


I have the book and I’m reading it right now. Awesome! I’m also a Presbyterian and introvert (although one counselor suggested that I score close enough to the middle I’m more likely and ambivert. :-) )
Adam has done a great service with this book. Introversion is not a deficiency. I’m a Myers-Briggs INTJ. A counselor once told me that every organization needs one of my type in top leadership … and God help the organization that has more than one or two of my type in top leadership. :-) Both extroversion and introversion have their strengths and excesses, although the gifts that introverts bring are generally not well understood in our culture. We need both in community. There is a reason God gives us a diversity of temperaments.
One of my favorite books on spiritual formation is Robert Mullholland’s Invitation to a Journey where he explores the role of temperament (using Myers-Briggs) in spiritual formation. Adam has done a great service of going more in depth into introverted world on these issues. I hope Christian leaders will take note of what is offering us.



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Jamie Arpin-Ricci

posted December 10, 2009 at 11:27 am


I cannot more highly recommend this book. It has already been a tool for growth, healing and leadership development in our community. I interviewed Adam on my blog about the book some time ago:
http://www.missional.ca/2009/07/introverts-in-the-church-an-interview/
Thanks for highlighting this book, Scot.
Peace,
Jamie



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Rick

posted December 10, 2009 at 11:43 am


Jamie-
Good interview. Thanks for linking to it.
I thought his answer to one of your questions spelled it out well:
“Nothing will kill an introverts? sense of call like trying to lead like an extrovert.”
That is so true. I know from experience.



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Derek

posted December 10, 2009 at 12:01 pm


Looks like I am going to have to pick this one up. A recent Christian Century had an excerpt that I found informative. I have walked an interesting path into pastoral ministry as an introvert. Pretty much all of my mentors are extroverts and a high percentage of my colleagues are extroverts. It can feel pretty lonely. I am quite the ‘functional’ extrovert and many people do not realize how introverted I am, that is until they go on a week long mission trip with me! Then they see that I start pulling away because I need some alone space.
It took a while to redefine many of the ministerial tasks in a way that gives life and energy to an introvert. If that redefinition does not happen then you can feel like a failure because of outside “extroverted” expectations. Much more could be said and I look forward to further conversation. I will pick up a copy of the book.



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Jeremy Berg

posted December 10, 2009 at 12:16 pm


Help! I’m an introverted youth pastor – an even more rare bird in the church! Is there any help for us? Many introverted youth pastors have doubted their gifts and ministry calling for years because we don’t seem to fit the popular stereotypical youth worker mold as “young, hip, loud, video-gaming, crazy pranksters with occasional green or hot-pink colored hair.”
I am an extreme introvert who loves bookstores, libraries, solitude and…um…teenagers. I’m bored by small talk and loath upfront games and mixers. (I refuse to slurp candy bars out of a toilet filled with Moutain Dew.) =)
Does the book offer encouragement and wisdom for folks like me?
Press on my fellow introverted youth leaders out there! Thanks for the book recommendation.



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brian

posted December 10, 2009 at 1:12 pm


sounds great. just ordered it.
another book which is from a secular POV but very helpful for introverts is The Introvert Advantage
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0761123695/ref=s9_cxhsh_co_tr01?pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=left-3&pf_rd_r=11HWMX3847BKRG8MN6XJ&pf_rd_t=3201&pf_rd_p=493495431&pf_rd_i=typ01



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Your Name

posted December 10, 2009 at 1:49 pm


Introversion and extroversion represent two poles on a continuum. There is no right or wrong way to be; they are just preferences. However, with 75% of the general population being extroverted, the introverts tend to get misunderstood and have to put up with uncomfortable programming.



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MarkE

posted December 10, 2009 at 1:50 pm


15 is me



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Michael W. Kruse

posted December 10, 2009 at 1:53 pm


Jeremy
Alas, Jeremy, where were you when I was teenager! :-)



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RJS

posted December 10, 2009 at 2:04 pm


Phil (#6),
Back to your comment again – it occurs to me that pastors who tend toward the introverted end of the continuum likely exacerbate the problem for like people in the congregation.
Expending so much effort on the big ticket items and the need to interact in this forum, they need time to regroup and rebuild. The two other “spaces” you mention become the expendable times so that he/she/they can find the time to regroup.



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AHH

posted December 10, 2009 at 2:07 pm


I just got this book and was going to read it this weekend in anticipation of discussion here; guess that will be a little late.
It is badly needed, from the perspective of this introvert. So much of Evangelical church culture is geared toward extroverts, with the expectation of what a Christian life is ?supposed? to look like being such that introverts are set up to feel like failures.
I hope he talks about the balance between accepting my introversion and recognizing that God might want me to overcome some aspects of my introversion for the sake of ministry. I don?t think I can use my introversion as an excuse not to talk to my neighbor about Jesus if that is what God is calling me to do (just as an extrovert should not use that as an excuse for failing to be still and silent if that is what God is calling him to do in some situation).
Here are examples of ways extroverted leaders unwittingly make church an unwelcoming place for introverts:
At one point our former Senior Pastor advocated a ?two-minute rule? ? after the service all in our fairly large congregation were supposed to talk only to people they didn?t know for at least 2 minutes. Hell for an introvert.
Depending on how it is done, ?take a few moments and greet your neighbor? at the beginning of a service, or ?passing the peace? can also be rough for an introvert. If there is ?pairing up? to share some discussion question, the introvert will inevitably be the odd man out and feel alone.
Men?s retreat is not a place for introverts. Being thrown together with a big group, only a few of whom you know well, and be expected to be expressive and exuberant.
Teachings on evangelism. I once was in a small group (with 2 other introverts) where we read and discussed Pippert?s ?Out of the Saltshaker? book. It was a bad experience, as the author seemed oblivious to the fact that there are people for whom chatting with the person in the adjacent airline seat does not come naturally and we felt more and more deficient with each chapter. Our church recently did Hybels? ?Just Walk Across the Room? which similarly seemed to assume that being faithful required being outgoing.
Our ?contemporary? worship service switched from more a ?community singing? music style to a ?rock concert? style. Now, rather than building a feeling of community (which introverts need) by singing with your neighbors, you can?t hear your neighbors and are apparently supposed to worship by feeding off the energy of the band. I?m not sure exactly why, but this has been an introvert-hostile move. To the point where my wife (less introverted than I am, but dislikes loud music) and I have defected to the ?traditional? service.
Finally, a little hint for extroverted leaders. Recognize that calling a stranger on the telephone is about as scary as it gets for many of us introverts, so please don?t ask us to ?just make a few phone calls? unless there is a very good reason.



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Rick

posted December 10, 2009 at 2:08 pm


Mark E.-
“However, with 75% of the general population being extroverted,the introverts tend to get misunderstood and have to put up with uncomfortable programming.”
In regards to tht 75% stat, McHugh states:
“…those findings were based on research done in 1962; more comphrehensive personality surveys, done in the last ten years, have actually revealed that introverts are in the statistical majority at 50.7 percent of the population! And researchers point out that there are not more introverts in the population than there were in 1962, but our current data and samplings are just more thorough and accurate.”



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John Sobert Sylvest

posted December 10, 2009 at 2:19 pm


When this book was announced, I reposted a 7 year old discussion called Jesus was a Capricorn, but was He an ESFJ? an Enneagram 2? , which was prompted by a book called The Discipling Dilemma by Flavil R. Yeakley, Jr., Editor, Howard W. Norton, Don E. Vinzant and Gene Vinzant (and which can be read online at this link).
Per the Discipling Dilemma, there are some religious sects that have been turning out ESFJ?s based on research conducted utilizing MBTI [Myers-Briggs Type Indicator] personality testing. Critics of such groups and movements charge that leaders of these sects are 1) making members over after their own image, 2) controlling them in such a way that their personalities are changed to conform to the group norm and 3) argue that such personality changes are destructive psychologically and spiritually. Leaders of these groups claim that such research simply proves that Jesus was an ESFJ !
For any interested, I reposted my old poem, inspired by this reality: For My Little Jung Catholics (or how to lick your sacred wounds) . As an INTP, who experienced a great deal of type-falsification, professionally, as a bank CEO, and in church ministry, these studies and books were very consoling and healing. They are also challenging.



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Rick

posted December 10, 2009 at 2:23 pm


AHH-
“Depending on how it is done, ?take a few moments and greet your neighbor? at the beginning of a service, or ?passing the peace? can also be rough for an introvert. If there is ?pairing up? to share some discussion question, the introvert will inevitably be the odd man out and feel alone.”
And I would add praying in a group- or worse yet, having everyone in the group hold hands while they pray. Ouch!



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RJS

posted December 10, 2009 at 2:49 pm


Whoa – Rick, you mean I’m not the only one who dreads the “spontaneous prayers in a group” – you know the kind where everyone is supposed to contribute a sentence or two and knows if someone fails to “put out” … the leader waiting with a pregnant pause before closing?



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Michael W. Kruse

posted December 10, 2009 at 2:57 pm


#AHH #19
How about church camp as a kid? Every minute scripted with constant activity. I almost became an atheist to escape it! :-)
However, I will add, as others have acknowledged, that being a community means doing things that don’t always match up with my proclivities. Robert Mullholland notes that whate ever the proclivities of our temperament, there is a shadow side that must be engaged as well. If I’m right-handed and therefore opt to do nothing with my left hand, my left hand will wither. We have to be intentional about exercising the shadow side of personality to have holistic spiritual formation.
Personally being uncomfortable isn’t in itself justification for resisting participation in certain behavior. Yet, I will confess that it frequently feels like the introverts are the ones doing the lion’s share of accommodating.



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Rick

posted December 10, 2009 at 2:58 pm


RJS-
Indeed. You end up not listening to much of the prayers, instead you are focused on figuring out how to get through the situation.



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RJS

posted December 10, 2009 at 3:11 pm


Rick,
And carrying a load of guilt about it in the process.



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AHH

posted December 10, 2009 at 3:36 pm


Rick & RJS,
With you on the spontaneous group prayer thing — I find myself not really praying because I’m trying to figure out (and rehearse in my head) what I’m going to say. For some reason it isn’t a problem for me if I’m asked to do the only prayer, like to open or close a meeting, or even to do a prayer for the offering in front of the whole congregation.
Seeing other comments, it occurs to me that we shouldn’t over-generalize — for example not all my list of introvert-hostile things will seem hostile to all introverts. The praying in the front of the congregation I just mentioned would terrify some introverts (but maybe that’s a different thing; it terrifies some extroverts).
Michael K. had a good point about sometimes needing to sacrifice our comfort for the sake of the community. Discerning when and how to do that is a challenge. I participate in “greet your neighbor” and stretch myself to be as friendly as possible. But I don’t bother going to the Men’s retreat. I may need to think about criteria for when to stretch myself for the community and when to decline to be pushed into being something I’m not.



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John Sobert Sylvest

posted December 10, 2009 at 3:55 pm


Here’s a counterintuitive irony – on a silent three day retreat, an extrovert “quiets” faster, almost immediately, because, without speech, overt nonverbal gestures & other activity, her psychic energy has been siphoned off, indeed. Not so for the introvert, who may not “quiet” ’til some point on even the third day, his psychic energy actually fueled by such environs and dissipating only through more rigorous asceticisms & disciplined prayer.
While we all continue to experience ongoing growth, development, conversion and individuation, expanding our horizons and enlarging our capacities, some of these hard-wired inclinations are rather permanent “gifts” that we need to accept and even honor, inclining us to one ministry or another, one spirituality or another in a unity of mission and diversity of ministry, I think.
As they say in the East, let us seek enlightenment – not solely for our own sake, but – out of compassion for those who will otherwise have to suffer our unenlightened self. As Teresa of Jesus said in the West, let us desire and occupy ourselves in prayer – not so much for the consolations, but – to gain the strength to serve.
This thread is like group therapy for me – a big ME TOO moment of solidarity and compassion and deepened self-understanding, compassion on self, on others like me and on those who struggle to understand us.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted December 10, 2009 at 5:15 pm


“… Not so for the introvert, who may not “quiet” ’til some point on even the third day, his psychic energy actually fueled by such environs and dissipating only through more rigorous asceticisms & disciplined prayer.”
Fascinating observation, John.



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John Sobert Sylvest

posted December 10, 2009 at 6:25 pm


Thanks, Michael. And, of course, like AHH cautioned, we take care not to over-generalize. My comment about “quieting” on silent retreats comes from trading anecdotes. My own experiences have changed thru time. For instance, it really might not apply to either extroverts or introverts who’ve cultivated certain prayer and meditative disciplines and asceticisms over some period of time and have learned how to thus dispose themselves to quieting in solitude, wherever they are (for example, some who habitually practice certain contemplative approaches).



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Ted Seeber

posted December 10, 2009 at 7:26 pm


My autism makes me naturally introverted. One thing I heard once when talking about the Mass with another, more traditional, autistic was the holding of hands during the Lord’s prayer was a problem for them. It felt like, to this autistic, that other people in the congregation were trying to invade his personal space. Same with shaking hands during the kiss of peace.
I’ve got the opposite problem on personal space- I’m often too close for other’s comfort. But I thought it was interesting that the more traditional Tridentine Mass is more comforting for an introvert than the Novus Ordo.



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Kristen

posted December 10, 2009 at 9:26 pm


RJS — I’ve chosen to consider myself Quaker at those times and be comfortable in silence unless the Spirit moves otherwise. If other people are not comfortable in said silence, well that is not my problem. ;)
Also, I remember having a bit of culture shock when I started attending my current church (which I love, BTW). I would arrive 10-15 minutes before the service starts, and while I was there to pray, everyone else wanted to chat!



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Dave Faulkner

posted December 11, 2009 at 7:48 am


I recently discovered McHugh’s book and had just started to type a blog post on this very subject when I found this post. (I expect to publish it on Sunday.) I spent some of a sabbatical earlier this year looking at ministry and personality type. Although here in the UK extraversion is less culturally dominant than in the States, it is still a factor in church life, even in the more traditional mainstream denominations. As a Methodist minister, I find congregations typically demand an extravert (cunningly called ‘a people-person’), which creates tensions for me as a strong introvert. I’m INTP on Myers Briggs, which my research showed to be one of the least popular personality types for a minister. We normally end up in research! McHugh’s book is already a healing and empowering experience for me. I can’t recommend it too highly.



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Dave Faulkner

posted December 11, 2009 at 8:15 am


PS: Beth Quick helpfully links to this interesting article on Forbes. Very affirming.



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PW

posted December 11, 2009 at 1:56 pm


I have actually thought about this as a PW.
An introverted PW caught in the world of the extroverted church hub-bub can be hard. It can be hard and you can be easily misunderstood. I actually knew one PW who had to explain why she never “laughed out loud.” Her style was just to smile (she was amused, no doubt, but rarely was a laugh-out-loud person).
An extroverted PW caught in the world of an introverted church is also very hard. It is another case where misunderstanding can be very great.
This is actually an area where placement of the pastor’s family in the right matching church is crucial, IMHO, however not everyone thinks through those things during the search/placement process. As a PW, you have to be mature enough to know what you need, and wise enough to know what the congregation needs?in congregational moments as well as personal interactions.



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dave wainscott

posted December 19, 2009 at 4:27 pm


There is a good book, “Personality Type and Religious Leadership” whuch covers a lot of helpful ground on introvert pastors:
http://www.amazon.com/Personality-Religious-Leadership-Oswald-Kroeger/dp/1566990254



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Pat

posted December 19, 2009 at 8:19 pm


I love just the description of this book. As an introvert, the following two quotes resonated deeply with me:
“Introverts are energized by solitude, they process things internally, and they prefer depth over breadth.”
“He examines how introverts hear the message of “community”: entry, retreat and reentry…”
That’s exactly right! Introverts don’t tend to get their energy from people (at least I seldom do). I’m more energized by solitude which enables me to be with people and then retreat. I think what hinders the acceptance of introverts are the stereotypical ideas of hermits and recluses.
I think my own church is fairly welcoming, but I have heard people comment about those who are introverted and not in a positive manner. It seems to be that there’s an expectation, particularly if you’re in leadership that there will be certain things you do and certain ways that you should act — all of which are extroverted. I’ve recently introduced a Quaker silent meeting into our fellowship (which is an evangelical, pastored meeting). While a few have embraced it, I find that most people still cling to the one idea of prayer as us doing a whole lot of talking. So, in that respect, I find that we aren’t that receptive to some of the ways of the introverted. There also is a big emphasis on family in our church, but again, not all healthy families are filled with outgoing people who always want to get together, so why do we force this model upon our church families?



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Pat

posted December 19, 2009 at 8:21 pm


PW -
My church is in the midst of a pastoral search, so thanks for that reminder.



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Vaughn Treco

posted December 19, 2009 at 9:04 pm


Your question reminded me of an observation made by F.F. Bruce, in his autobiography, “In Retrospective” noted that the Plymouth Brethren Movement thrived in community characterized by rugged induvudualism and a spirit of independence. It floundered in more passive communities. It seems to me that he might have been on to something.



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David

posted December 20, 2009 at 8:00 am


This is not only important for the pros in the pulpit but for those of us in the pew that really would like to spend an hour on sunday or saturday night…worshipping…rather than chatting with the pewmates around us. My wife and I tend to be rather introverted, we have close friends but feel most comfortable in our studios working on art, sculpture etc. what has turned us off most about churches has been the attempted forcing of introverted people into roles and activities that have the rules of extroverts. so I say YEAH, I mean yeah, for the book.
by the way most prayers warriors tend to be introverted and more than likely most people don’t know they are prayer warrior because they don’t advertise it the way extroverted prayer warriors do..just some thoughts. thanks for bringing this book to our attention.
By the way the most frightening and bothersome part of many worship experiences is that “hand of fellowship” time in the middle of service, really not necessary and makes some of us very uncomfortable.



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Sherri

posted December 21, 2009 at 12:22 pm


Love it, and definitely needed. Many churches are set up for the extrovert type. Many use extrovert activities, like big parties, as a way to connect people, which can be quite overwhelming to introverts. And then wonder why those people don’t stick around because they provided connection opportunities.
Or they put introverts at the front doors as “greeters.” It makes me sad that I feel more welcome when i walk into the Apple store then I do when I walk into church. I think many churches use the “greeter” spot as an entry level position for anyone, and don’t think about the type of person who should be on the front line. It’s not a good experience for the introvert doing the greeting (exhausting), and it’s not a good experience for the new person who is giving church one last shot and is hoping to find someone at a church who is really excited that they’re there. Maybe the introvert is excited on the inside and can show it later in a one-on-one conversation…



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