Extrovert or Introvert? (A review of “Introverts in the Church”)

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

People are usually surprised when I tell them I’m an introvert.

They’re surprised because I’m typically very friendly, open, animated, assertive, and comfortable sharing my thoughts and feelings with others.  A lifelong Southerner, I know how to navigate a conversation and make people feel welcome.  I like to take the lead, and can even come across as bossy to those who tend to be shy or passive. (I say “come across.” Sometimes I’m just plain bossy.)

But what a lot of people don’t know is that I panic in large groups, dread mingling, and hate small talk. I get over-stimulated easily, so an excess of people, ideas, lights, sounds, or options completely stresses me out.  Spending long, extended times with other people makes me tired, and if I don’t have a few minutes to myself to process, I turn into a zombie.  It takes days for me to recover from the annual Evans Family Reunion, not because I don’t love Dan’s family to pieces, but because there are just so many of them for so many hours straight saying so many important things that I genuinely want to hear and process!

For these reasons, I actually test surprisingly high as an introvert on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.

And apparently, some of you do too. A few weeks ago, when we talked about how perfectionism kills community, several of you shared how your introversion can be a hurdle in developing relationships with fellow Christ-followers. That same week, a member at The Mission shared how his introversion makes him feel most alone in big groups.

So when I saw that Adam McHugh had written a book entitled Introverts in the Church: Finding Your Place in An Extroverted Culture, I had to get my hands on a copy. The book had gotten a lot of buzz, and I wasn’t disappointed.  In fact, I loved it.

As an introvert myself and as church leader seeking to welcome all types of people to The Mission, I found it really enlightening, helpful, and encouraging. It had never occurred to me how significantly the modern church—particularly the modern evangelical church—glorified and catered to extroversion, and how uncomfortable (even marginalized) introverts can feel in their own faith communities.

What’s more, McHugh does an excellent job of encouraging introverts to harness their natural gifts—particularly the ability to contemplate, listen, and reflect—to grow closer to God and to others.  (It had also never occurred to me to think of my introversion as a gift;  I’d always considered it a liability.)  My favorite chapter was Chapter 4, “Introverted Spirituality.”  It helped me realize why I’m such a liturgical nerd and provided some excellent ideas for nurturing those contemplative impulses through prayer.

This is an especially good book for introverted leaders, though introverts at all levels of church life will undoubtedly find it helpful. I also highly recommend it for extroverts who want to be more sensitive to the needs of their fellow Christ-followers. (I intend to bug my pastor until he reads it.) It turns out that everything from worship to fellowship time to small groups can be made a bit more introvert-friendly, without leaving extroverts behind.

I’ve been in correspondence with the author—(we’re fellow Arrested Development junkies, so we like to exchange favorite quotes over Twitter)—and the first thing I told him after diving into the book was, “Don’t take this the wrong way, man,  but this book is WAY more interesting than I thought it would be.”

Introverts, take heart! You’re not alone, and you’re not without a champion.

(Note: The nice people at IVP provided a copy of this book for me to review. Also, be sure to check out Adam's blog, here.)

So, are you an extrovert or an introvert? 

How has your personality type influenced your participation in a faith community?  When do you feel most connected, and when do you feel most out-of-place?

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