Our society celebrates extroverts. It is no secret that the broader culture is kinder to the gregarious, bubbly, life-of-the-party type than it is to more reserved and quiet ones among us. Just ask any introvert you know – many of us have spent many years wishing that we were more chatty and entertaining and less soft-spoken or introspective. Many of us have believed that we would be happier if we were more natural in a crowd, or if it did not take so much time to get to know us. Scientific studies have even shown that extroverts tend to report feeling happier than introverts for sociocultural reasons: because society celebrates the extroverted, they feel more welcome, more comfortable, and more positive. Introverts, on the other hand, tend to feel inferior and out of place.
Lamentably, this way of thinking is shared by many Christians. I know and have counseled many believers who despise the introverted experience. They feel a sense of guilt for needing time alone, and many even simply learn how to fake acting extroverted as often as the situation requires it. I can resonate with them. Learning to be comfortable with my own personality and needs as an introvert has been a years-long journey of learning to accept and embrace that being introverted is part of the way God designed me, and so many others like me.
To be introverted is a matter of personality, and as such it is necessarily complex. Not all introverts would come off as quiet or shy. Some would be more reserved than others, and some even become more or less reserved with time. But all introverts share at least a few things in common: they need time away from others to recharge and process, they are typically the more observant than they are assertive, and they generally prefer deep connection rather than small-talk or surface level interactions. There is much more to being introverted than that, but it is usually not less than that.
Although there is no direct biblical category for these sorts of personality distinctions, there has long been an awareness that some people simply communicate differently. Even as far back as Genesis 25:27, Jacob is called “a quiet man”, and contrasted with the more adventurous Esau, who was favored by his father. Today, while it may not be so openly expressed, many introverts feel that there is no difference between the church and the outside world when it comes to valuing extroversion more than introversion. So how do we address this? And how can we begin to create a new culture that values different personality types equally?
First, you introverts need to understand that most of what makes you introverted is probably unchangeable. Rather than doing the exhausting work of condemning yourself and trying to be extroverted, it would be better to do the still-difficult work of learning to accept and be comfortable with the way that God designed your personality. All introverts will have to adapt and step out of their comfort zones in certain social situations, but knowing and being comfortable with how you function is a good (and even godly) goal. Introverts, God made you to need to recharge through simpler, thoughtful and somewhat solitary activities. These prepare you for being able to contribute relationally or communally. God designed you to process information in your own way. God wants you to see the value of what you offer the church and the world as an introvert. God wants you to know what you need and to take your space so that you can contribute in ways that extroverts cannot.
Second, extroverts need to understand introverts well and know how to include them, so that they do not enforce introverted guilt and insecurity. For example, do not call someone out for seeming quiet or aloof, and do not take it personally if an introvert you know turns down an invitation to an event. It is a good thing to reach out and involve someone when they may need to come out of their shell, but remember that sometimes your introverted friends will truly need their own time. Just as you extroverts provide so much to our churches and communities, learn how introverts provide or offer what you lack, and know that our churches and communities desperately need them as well.
Lastly, church leaders can recognize that oftentimes, church services and events are structured in a way that appeals to and elevates extroverts, and make changes for the sake of inclusivity. For example, introverts might appreciate more mellow songs, time to be quiet and reflect during or after the service, an emphasis on prayer and personal devotional time, and events with smaller rather than bigger groups. A meet-and-greet, ice-cream-social-type of event will always be agonizing for an introvert, because it drains them. They crave deep connections, and may feel more comfortable even with small changes, like setting up smaller tables with fewer chairs at events, or having you as a leader reach out to them with a personal invite rather than being expected to show up to certain things.
The church needs introverts just like it needs extroverts. Since the broader culture makes introverts feel like they need to become extroverted, then the church can be among the first to create a beautiful countercultural approach that makes space for every different type of person. To make space for introverts means that all of us (introverted and extroverted) need to intentionally change how we do things in order to not cater primarily to extroverts by default. It means that individually and collectively we need to stop believing lies about what social habits are better than others (the best, most charismatic leaders and pastors are not all extroverts, for example). Ultimately, to make space for all types means that we must come to terms with the way that God has made us to be, not to always wish that we were different.
William Bowes is a Mental Health Counselor in Boston, Massachusetts and a graduate of Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary.