If introverts are called and gifted by God, then why is church designed for extroverts?

Church, especially the evangelical church, is largely designed for extroverts—and that’s a problem, especially since fully half of us are actually introverted. Such is the picture drawn by Adam McHugh in Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture (2009, InterVarsity Press).

McHugh cites comprehensive surveys of the last ten years showing 50.7 percent of the general population as introverts, and then explores ways to more fully include introverts in the evangelical church, and better utilize their God-given abilities. As to why the church is so bent toward extroversion? The author says that besides the larger culture (schools, corporations and social institutions) already being slanted toward extroversion, it is also because churches place such a high value on relationships.

So we set up groups, fellowship hours, social events, classes, accountability groups, committees and prayer chains and encourage or imply required participation. So much that,
"…. for some churches spirituality is equated with sociability. The mark of a progressing faith is familiarity with a growing number of people and participation in an increasing number of activities" (p. 20).
The author points to evangelicals inheriting much of their values of piety and passion from the Second Great Awakening of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and the tent revivals that led to twentieth-century evangelical crusades, where genuine devotion and obedience were what mattered, along with hard work and common sense. Such people were skeptical of intellectual sophistication and thoughtful reflection. The influential D. L. Moody was to have said, “My theology! I didn’t know I had any!”
"The pragmatism that we [evangelicals] have inherited fosters an action-oriented culture….[and] values the doer over the thinker…. There is a restless energy to evangelicalism that leads to a full schedule and a fast pace….[saying] busyness is next to godliness" (p. 26).
McHugh quotes Eugene Peterson’s indictment of such Christianity: “American religion is conspicuous for its messianically pretentious energy, its embarrassingly banal prose, and its impatiently hustling ambition.”

Also when people think of God as the “extrovert” closely watching all people, then extroversion is thought of as a sign of his people, and in that environment “introversion” is sometimes equated with disobedience. Thus mainstream evangelicalism has created an environment that can be
"marginalizing and even exclusive of introverts. For example, the up-front piety….and the expectations for outward, emotional displays of faith, can feel invasive and artificial to introverts. Meanwhile the anti-intellectual stream can alienate some introverted thinkers who find that their love of ideas, comfort in solitude and powers of concentration translate into a life of intellectual pursuits. Furthermore, the pragmatism that seeks measurable, tangible gauges for success strikes many introverts, who appreciate depth, as superficial and oversimplistic, and our action-oriented culture does not always value people who are thoughtful and reflective" (p. 28).

Little wonder introverts feel displaced, marginalized, and guilty. An introvert himself, McHugh [pictured at right] says that to cope with this bias, and seek acceptance, they may begin masquerading as extroverts, but eventually become weary of fighting and “long to live faithfully as the people we were created to be.”

He believes that in order to capture the depth and breath of God’s mission for the church, there must be a combination of both introverted and extroverted qualities moving together in partnership. McHugh is even convinced that
"Introverts are an important ingredient in the antidote to what ails evangelism. Our slower pace of life, our thoughtfulness, our spiritual and intellectual depth, and our listening abilities are prophetic qualities for the evangelical community, calling us to a renewed understanding of God and a fresh reading on the abundant life Jesus came to give us" (p. 31).
Click here to read an interview by Mark Roberts with author Adam McHugh, an ordained minister, a spiritual director, and an introvert.


Mike Hale said…
Appreciate your contribution, Fred. Yes, McHugh points to an important Christ-centered theme.

Part of this renewed understanding of God and the life Christ came to give is the realization that as Jesus exchanges his life for ours, he does not obliterate the particular person that is you—including whatever gifting you have, or how you are “wired” as a person. Rather, we are never more truly the particular person that we were lovingly created to be than when we find complete healing of our persons, and know and live in the true freedom that is the surprising grace of Christ.

It continues to be a challenge to live this out with one another in worship.
Anonymous said…
Very timely post Mike. We're just completing an interactive Bible Study with a small group utilizing the very popular "Discovery Series" as our text outline and prompt. Throughout Book IV, "How To Share Your Faith", the extroverted approach to acting on the scriptures quoted seems to be the default. I have shared your post with those in the class because I feel it will be especially encouraging to those who by personality are introverted.

Pastor Steve
Mike Hale said…
Here are a few quotes from McHugh’s chapter on evangelism for introverts.

“I would like to present a different model of evangelism that is a better fit for introverts. Instead of a salesman peddling our spiritual wares, I propose that we explore mystery together” (p. 172).

“For too long we have envisioned evangelism as one person, carrying a quiver of answers, assaulting another person who is armed with the questions….Rather, I consider us all to be explorers of the mysteries of God. Fellow explorers are bound together by their trust and friendship, and by their shared aspirations and struggles. Our friendships with seekers involve a deepening process of intimacy and vulnerability….

The gospel paradox is that when we reveal our own weaknesses, we come in touch, and put others in touch, with the One who has the ability to heal. Evangelism does not entail a relationship between strong and weak; bit’s a relationship of two people conscious of their limitations and wounds, drawing strength from God and from each other…Most people today are not at first interested in your answers. But they will immediately relate to and identify with your questions and struggles.

In exploring the mysteries of God together, we relieve ourselves of the need to be the “expert.” The formerly humiliating answer of “I don’t know” becomes not only possible but even profound” (pp. 173-174).

“We may find that our listening abilities are powerful tools in cultivating relationships and revealing the nature of God. We might even call our style of evangelism a ‘listening evangelism.’ When someone who identifies herself as a Christian truly listens to another person, it conveys the love and compassion of Jesus in ways that talking about that love never could” (p. 180).

“…introverted seekers need introverted evangelists. It’s not that extroverts can’t communicate the gospel, either verbally or nonverbally, in ways that introverts find appealing, it’s that introverted seekers need to know and see that it’s possible to lead the Christian life as themselves. It’s imperative for them to understand that becoming a Christian is not tantamount with becoming an extrovert” (p. 185).