Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Extroverted church?

Is the evangelical church filled with extroverted people? Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking (Cain, 2012) suggests that it is. At the very least, evangelical churches are places where extroverted people are likely to be more comfortable than introverted people. They are also places where extroversion is seen as akin to righteousness.

Cain talks about her visit to Saddleback Church, a place where the church service seems very similar to Tony Robbins' "Unleash the Power Within" seminars - another event that stresses extroverted behaviour. In a conversation with Adam McHugh (author of Introverts in the Church: Finding our place in an extroverted culture), McHugh says that everything in the service involves some form of communication, including greeting people, the sermon and the singing, with no space for contemplation. Cain says "If you don't love Jesus out loud, then it must not be real love. It's not enough to forge your spiritual connection to the divine; it must be displayed publicly."

I was always a little uncomfortable in the Pentecostal church, for a variety of reasons - not all of which can be explained by the extroverted/introverted divide. But when I read about Saddleback Church and its emphasis on extroverted behaviour I had a bit of an a-ha moment.

When I first started attending a Pentecostal church, one of the things I found extremely difficult was raising my hands during worship. I remember talking about this to someone, who genuinely seemed confused that I would find it hard at all. And I wondered whether there was something wrong with my relationship with God that a simple thing like raising my hands (an action that most other people in the church seemed to do without thinking about) could be so difficult for me.

I also found other things either scary or terrifying. The thought of speaking in tongues in church made me very uneasy. (I actually ran out of a room crying once when I was asked to speak in tongues "on demand".) And there were many times when I didn't go up for prayer because I was afraid I would get "slain in the spirit".

After a while, these things became less of a problem for me. I learnt to raise my hands during worship. I went up for prayer - because I quickly found out that I wasn't about to get slain in the spirit if I didn't want to. (For those who don't know, being slain in the spirit basically means falling down after being prayed for.) But I never became as "demonstrative" in my faith as many people were. And sometimes that made me feel like "less of a Christian".

And now I wonder. Was I really any less of a Christian just because speaking in tongues, being slain in the spirit and raising my hands in worship made me uncomfortable? There are other reasons I've come to question these practices - and so my answer would most emphatically be no. But something that I didn't recognise until I read Quiet was these are all extroverted practices. For someone that's an introvert, of course they're going to feel uncomfortable.

For a while, I went to the Catholic Church. And it felt like a completely different experience. Unlike the extroverted raising of hands and speaking in tongues, there was place for contemplation and reflection - actions that come quite naturally to introverts.

A lot of my friends would not be as comfortable with the contemplation and meditation. But that doesn't mean that raising hands and speaking in tongues is somehow more godly than contemplation and meditation. It just means that people are wired differently. Introverts are going to prefer contemplation. Extroverts are going to prefer outward expressions. And yet I'm afraid that often we treat one or the other like the better (or more godly) choice.

I'm now at the Uniting Church and I don't sense it leaning either towards extroversion or introversion. But I wonder whether churches that do lean towards extroversion are more likely to attract extroverted behaviour and therefore miss out on all the good things that introverts bring.

Another interesting thing I found out from Quiet were that sensitive people (which most introverts are) will often be highly empathic. Cain says, "It's as if they have thinner boundaries separating them from other people's emotions and from the tragedies and cruelties of the world. They tend to have unusually strong consciences." They also tend to be more philosophical or spiritual rather than materialistic or hedonistic.

These are generally traits that people would like to see in a church. I have always thought of God as a God of compassion and justice. People who feel high degrees of empathy for others and are concerned with the 'tragedies and cruelties of the world' would seem to be doing a good job of following that God of compassion and justice.

I'm certainly not saying that extroverts are not compassionate and not concerned about justice. They are. And extroverts can be sensitive too. But if a church focuses on extroverted behaviour, are we missing out on some of that empathy and concern for justice that introverts have? Are we focusing too much on the materialistic side of life and not enough on the spiritual side? Does the focus on a God who blesses us now reflect a church full of extroverted people?

The more I think about my time in the Pentecostal church, and the more I reflect on what I discovered in Quiet, the more it seems that a lot of my uneasiness in that church related in some way to my introversion. I was never comfortable with outwards expressions of devotion to God. My compassion for gays often put me at odds with the people there. My dislike of the 'God wants to bless you message' made me look like I didn't have enough faith.

And introverted traits are sometimes frowned upon anyway. I've had at least one conversation with someone who thought introversion was a bit like a disease that should be cured. No matter how many times I tried to tell him that introverted is actually good, I don't think he believed me.

And what does it do to people who come to church and then find that instead of being valued and appreciated for who they are, they're meant to conform to this 'extroverted ideal'? If we equate extroversion to godliness, what happens to the people who aren't extroverted? Do they keep trying to be someone they're not, rather than appreciating who they are? Do they spend their lives thinking they're a bad Christian or just give up on church (or God) altogether?

I've been to many different churches and I know that the Pentecostal church is not the only way church is done. But not everybody knows this. For some, the first church they go to is church. That's it. They don't realise there are other options, other ways of doing things that may fit in better with their personality.

I'm not saying that introverts are better than extroverts. I have met some lovely, beautiful people in the Pentecostal Church (some - but not all - of whom are extroverted). And extroverts do bring qualities that introverts aren't good at. I liked the way that everybody said hello when I entered the Pentecostal Church. Extroverts are pretty good at doing that. I liked the way they pushed me to do things like pray in groups. Sometimes introverted people need to be pushed a bit outside their comfort zone. I like the way the extroverts I know will often arrange social activities and initiate friendships, because introverts needs friends too but they're often not that good at initiating it themselves.

So I definitely don't think we should get rid of the extroverts. We need them. But if we're holding up extroverted behaviour as the only good behaviour, then something's wrong. Both introverts and extroverts are valuable - and they both have good qualities. We need to ensure that all people (whether introverted or extroverted) can be appreciated for who they are. Because it's only then that they're truly be able to fulfil the unique ways they can help the church.

And nobody should be made to feel that they need to change their entire personality to be acceptable to God. God created both introverted and extroverted people. There's probably a reason for that - he needs both of them. They are both valuable in his eyes.

If you haven't read Quiet, I really recommend it, particularly if you're introverted and you feel you should be extroverted. It will show you your strengths - and I think that's something that's important to all of us.


  1. Wow... thank you for this. I was raised in a pentecostal church and for years have felt uncomfortable. I have long felt that there was something wrong with me as a Christian because I fell so uncomfortable with many of the social aspects of church life (tougues, going to the altar, even singing at times). I have literally found myself in tears after some services. Thank you for this aha moment.

  2. I see this is an old post, so I am sorry for reviving an old thread - but I just had to say that 100% agree with you. I am an introvert who married a Pentecostal and my subsequent decade of involvement Pentecostalism was a constant battle against my own personality.



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