Let me tell you a story…
You walk into church and a greeter gives you a handshake and says welcome. There are about two hundred people milling around. They stand in groups with their backs to you, drinking coffee. None of them turn to say hello.
When people do talk to you, it’s small talk and you never really know what to say.
Or, if you show up just as the service is starting, you have to walk past all the eyes to go sit in the front because all the regulars have already claimed the back pews. So many eyes.
In the middle of the service you have to turn around and shake hands with everyone around you, possibly engaging in more small talk or even a series of hugs. At the end of the service you are asked to stand up (in front of everyone) if you need prayer.
When you go to small group, the leader wants you to bare your soul so you can be prayed for. You’re not even sure you know your own soul, never mind how to bare it. Or if you do know it, it would be going far deeper than you want to go with any human being. Also, the leader likes to put you on the spot and ask you questions that require immediate, thoughtful answers.
When you go to a church function/youth group, you never know where to sit. There’s always a party game or an ice breaker, but what you’d prefer to do is stand in a corner and have a deep conversation about the state of the world with one or two people.
And of course, there’s more small talk. By the end of the social function you’re so exhausted that when someone asks if you’d like to go for coffee with the gang afterward, you just stare at them like they’ve asked you to streak through the local country club. In fact, if you were doing it alone, that might be preferable to more small talk in a big group!
Are you an introvert?
If these scenarios had you cringing, then you may be an introvert.
- You probably feel like an outsider, no matter how long you’ve been attending your church.
- Perhaps you’ve hopped from church to church, hoping to find the perfect place that will reach out and accept you and make you feel like you finally belong.
- Or maybe you have found a place where you do belong, but these scenarios still make your chest squeeze with tension.
There are so many aspects of the North American church model that cater exclusively to extroverts, and you may feel like it drains you just to walk into the building. But have no fear!
There are ways to be an introvert and survive church.
Actually, there are ways to be an introvert and THRIVE in church.
[tweetthis]There are ways to be an introvert and thrive in church![/tweetthis]
As I have become more comfortable in my church, I have discovered parts of me that were so deeply hidden, they might never have come out had I chosen to simply sit in the shadows all the time.
So let’s talk about some of the things I’ve found helpful in this journey. This is by no means a list of things that will work for everyone, but I hope they will provide you with some encouragement that you are not alone. Also, doing these things won’t make you less of an introvert, but will hopefully help you develop a sense of belonging.
1. Accept yourself for who you are.
God has created you introverted. Your introversion might look different from mine because introversion looks more like a scatterplot than a smooth line, but God has created you GOOD.
He did not make a mistake when he made you.
Aspects of your life may be more difficult because of your introversion, but that doesn’t mean your personality was a miscalculation on God’s part. When I started accepting this aspect of my personality, I began to find it easier to forgive myself when I stumbled over words or hesitated to start a conversation.
When we give ourselves grace, we are more likely to take chances. And in taking those chances, may we find a deeper sense of self than we had when we existed only on the sidelines.
2. When you feel a sense of disconnect, reach out to someone else who’s standing alone.
Chances are, that person is feeling just as disconnected as you are, and will probably welcome someone saying hello to them.
For these cases, it can be quite helpful to have a few conversation starters stashed up your sleeve (or written on your hand). I tend to go with questions that revolve around children, since I find it easier to connect initially when talking about my family. Introverts are known as being great listeners, so let’s lean into that strength and get them talking about themselves!
Sample conversation starters:
Have you been coming to this church long? If they say yes, ask them how long, and what they like best about it. If they say no, welcome them and ask them what they thought of the service.
How old are your children? (Chance are pretty good this will spark a conversation about families. If it helps, be prepared with a story of your own!)
I see you have ____. (Remark on something you find interesting about them, whether it’s the way they dress or an accent you noticed.) Tell me about that.
3. Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself.
Extroverts often take us on as projects, trying to get us our of our “shell”. It can be very uncomfortable to be in that position. (Extroverts, pay attention here!)
I’m going to tell you right now that “I’m not ready to share yet” is a perfectly appropriate answer!
When you have been asked a deep question that has yet to be processed in your mind, go ahead and answer, “I’m not ready to share yet”.
When you’re put on the spot to tell your testimony, go ahead and answer, “I’m not ready to share yet”.
But don’t leave them hanging forever. Growth does mean stepping outside our comfort zones, so when you think you’re *almost* ready to share, but not quite…that’s a good time to jump in! If you wait until you’re totally ready, the conversation will be long over.
Also, remember that people don’t expect every word out of your mouth to be perfectly crafted. Heck, extroverts often say whatever pops into their mind first, and they rarely get flack for it!
So the point is…find a balance between telling people who you don’t want to share, and learning to share without having fully processed every nuance.
4. Find a place to serve in your gifting.
If you look closely, introverts can be found in any ministry in the church. You are not relegated to cleaning dishes after events (although if you like doing that, would you give me a call? I have a spot for you in my crew).
Introverts can be pastors, leaders, elders, pianists, children’s ministry workers, youth leaders, deacons, committee members, and so much more!
Serving in a ministry that fits you will help you feel more rooted because you’ll be a contributing member of the Body. It also gives you a natural conversation starter (your shared ministry), which makes it easier to get to know the others who work around and with you.
5. Stay in one place.
If I could encourage you in anything, it would be to pick a church and stay there. Find one where you generally agree with what is being taught (no one’s going to agree with the pastor all the time), and plant your roots down deep.
The greatest gift you can give yourself is continuity. It takes so long to build those bridges of relational trust that if you break them by going to a new church every year or two, you will never feel that sense of belonging that you crave.
- My posts about being an introverted parent and raising introverted children.
- These posts from some lovely and brave introverted women, writing about their experiences finding community and leadership in church. (Amy Fritz and Andrea Wolloff)
- This fantastic book has helped me recognize and be comfortable with my place in the church:
Michele Morin says
I’ve heard of this book, and been curious. It does seem as if the entire structure of Christian togetherness is geared toward the preferences of extroverts. Thanks for this reminder that there is room at the table for everyone.
It is fantastic – I found myself in tears several times.
Levi Breederland says
Those deep conversations about the state of the world with one or two people, indeed. Great article!
This is fantastic Christie! While I have never been accused of being an introvert I am quite a loner at times and would say I was introverted as a child and youth. Shocking I know! People thought I was a snob but I just didn’t know how to start a conversation. (And I would not have considered you as an introvert either.) We’ll done!
I do think there’s a large chunk of people that are considered snobs that are actually simply introverted. I would never have pegged you as a loner either! We’re learning so much about each other 😉
Diane H. Runyan says
Your writing is right on target for me. For the extroverts that read this and are looking at new faces coming in the door, it is one thing to be welcoming, and another thing to be too enthusiastic. It makes me cringe, and want to turn and run.
Yes I have had that experience too! It seems fake to me and my “fake” radar goes wild…but when I look back I realize it was probably just extreme extrovertedness!
Nicole Mouchka says
Love this article! The time of “fellowshipping” and greeting people with hugs and handshakes during the service can be so uncomfortable, and for that matter, so can church-wide meals. I feel like the only one who doesn’t enjoy these things. It’s good to hear that maybe I’m not! Thanks for sharing!
Christie Thomas says
Your are definitely not alone Nicole! It can make us feel alone, but we just need to find different ways to create community.
Barbie Ella Pendatun says
Thank you for this. I still have to ask you questions though.
Christie Thomas says
You’re welcome to email me if you still have questions about being an introvert in the church!