How Introverts Can Save the Church

by Carey Nieuwhof

You have a secret you’ve never shared with anybody:

You’ve always felt like an imposter at church.

At praise and worship services, you’d stand when you were expected to stand, sing along with the words on the projection screen, and sometimes even raise your hands with your eyes closed (most often during the key change at the song’s bridge).

But, if you’re honest with yourself (like, really honest), you didn’t do any of that because you felt a supernatural compulsion to do so. You did it because that’s what you thought you were supposed to do. You did it because you wanted to fit in.

On church retreats or at Bible studies, you’d listen to peers describe their relationship with Jesus like it was something out of a paperback romance novel, full of flowery prose and intimate yearnings, and you’d think to yourself, “I wish I knew what that felt like.” And when it came your time to share, you’d exaggerate spiritual experiences to match the energy in the room.

While listening to sermons, you could never turn the analytical part of your brain off. You’d sit in the pew, poking and prodding the message in your head, scanning for logical fallacies and strawman arguments. Sure, you were listening (very attentively), but probably not in the way the pastor would’ve appreciated.

I’d be willing to bet between one-third and one-half of people reading this blog post right now connect with at least one of the situations I’ve outlined above. Why? Because between one-third and one-half of people are introverts, and those examples came directly from my personal experiences growing up in the church.

Looking back, it seems so obvious. And understanding came as a huge relief and helped explain some of the reasons why I felt like an imposter for much of my religious upbringing

But it also dredged up some more uncomfortable questions, like:

  • Why did I equate being a “good Christian” with being an extrovert for so long?
  • How many other Christians quietly wrestled with shame for not living up to the “extrovert ideal” of their faith communities?
  • And, perhaps most importantly, what can introverts teach us about living faithfully in an age of disruption, scandal, and instant gratification?

Christianity needs extroverts. We need their rapturous energy, charismatic personalities, and daring vulnerability. We need them to teach us how to welcome strangers, take risks, and inspire others.

But we also need introverts. We need their gentle disposition, thoughtful intellect, and quiet passions. We need them to show us how to find God in the stillness, listen instead of talk, and respond instead of react.

In an age of instant gratification and entertainment-on-demand, introversion is directly related to “less flashy” spiritual disciplines like meditation, prayer, studying, simplicity, and solitude. As such, introverts are probably more receptive to the patient and arduous process of spiritual formation – given the proper instruction and encouragement.

It’s only together can Christian extroverts and introverts ever hope to build a “counter-cultural” presence in a culture of personality, celebrity, and shallow living. Without one or the other, the church will only ever be a hollow shell of its beautiful potential.

Regarding leadership, introverts are far less motivated by external rewards and social validation. They’re also more risk-averse. Related to their less-active dopamine pathways, introverts are less prone to impulsive decision-making and more comfortable with delayed gratification (as opposed to being driven by novelty and short-term gains).

Highly-sensitive introverts also seem to be more attuned to the hurts and needs of others, being able to process and detect subtle social cues and changes in their environment. This is one of the many reasons introverts tend to excel at one-on-one interactions and sustain deeper friendships for longer than extroverts.

In a world where nearly 1 out of 3 people say they have less than two close friends (with 12% reporting they have no close friends), an introvert’s ability to develop and sustain close friendships may be their most potent “superpower.” Extroverts excel at bringing people together, but introverts are likely the key to forming tight social bonds in groups.

(This dynamic interplay between extroverts and introverts cannot be overstated. When working together in harmony, the personality quirks and temperaments of extroverts and introverts appear designed to magnify each other’s strengths and mitigate their weaknesses.)

So listen closely to the quiet ones in your life.
They probably have something important to say.

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