An Introvert in the Great American Megachurch

randomlychad  —  April 24, 2012 — 35 Comments

Recently at church I heard a lesson about the importance of building
margins into our lives. The irony of it was that this teaching came
from the pulpit of a megachurch. And generally speaking, it has been
my experience that most megachurches implicitly gravitate towards an
extroverted structure. Thus, for the introvert, there is very little
room for “margins.” (Or at least margins that an introvert would recognize).

Yet that is exactly where I feel I’m at when I’m attending service, or
trying to get involved: in the margins. Donald Miller
wrote–in Blue Like Jazz–“At the time I was attending this
large church in the suburbs. It was like going to church at the Gap. I
don’t know why I went there. I didn’t fit. I had a few friends,
though, very nice people.” I understand this. My family and I live
this. The only connection we have to our large church is a few
friends–friends we made via some activities our kids were once involved
in. Now it’s really our kids that keep us going back. If they didn’t
like it so much, I’m not sure we would.

This is not a slam against any of the fine people that give their
blood, sweat, tears, and prayers to this ministry–merely an
observation. And the observation is that, by-and-large, the tenor of
the megachurch (indeed probably of most churches) is predicated upon
the personality of its senior pastor. He, and the elders, determine
the philosophy of ministry by which the church operates.

Which usually is a handicap from the get-go for those of us of the
introverted persuasion.

Right, or wrong, this usually becomes a numbers game: how can we reach
the most souls (instead of how can we just reach souls)? Statistically
speaking, it’s hard to argue with the numbers: when a man goes to church,
his family is more likely to follow. So the megachurch generally not only
targets men, but specifically extroverted men.

Simply put: ours is a culture that, by-and-large, places far greater value
on extroversion, and its can-do, gung-ho, let’s go attitude.

But where do men like me fit in?

What’s my place?

Maybe you (megachurch) are not for me–or for my family.

It seems that everything–from the order of service (starts loud,
ends loud, with very little cessation of activity) to the structure of
small groups (designed around a question and answer format. And not only
that: the introvert is asked to invite him/herself over to a
stranger’s house for the privilege!)–is extrovert-centric.

Within the sub-culture of American Evangelicalism, being an introverted
Christian sometimes feels like being a member of another group
entirely—a sub-sub-culture. It feels like my tribe doesn’t “get” me.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the megachurch. Where you either
step up, and stand out—or fade into the woodwork.

Don’t get me wrong: my family and I have been blessed by some of the
programs and activities offered, but not all. And in a place that’s
supposed to feel like home, at times it seems awfully inhospitable.
What the megachurch doesn’t seem to understand is: me–its introverted
member. I may not be the church’s face, but make no mistake: I am a part
of her. My introverted wife is a part of her.

And so are many of you.

So my question is this: is there a place for us, we who are energized by
solitude, in the great American megachurch? Do you want us in your ranks?
Or do we look elsewhere?

Awaiting your response from the margins,

Chad Jones

How about you? What’s been your experience at church?

Some helpful resources:

Adam McHugh’s book, Introverts in the Church, and his blog, The Introverted Church have been invaluable.

I’ve only just started reading it, but Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, but it, too, is a wonderful resource.

I highly recommend all of the above for both introverts, and the extroverts who love them.

Comments

comments

randomlychad

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Christ-follower, husband, dad, blogger, reader, writer, movie buff, introvert, desert-dweller, omnivore, gym rat. May, or may not, have a burgeoning collection of Darth Vader t-shirts. Can usually be found drinking protein shakes, playing with daughter, working out with his son, or hanging out with his wife. Makes a living playing with computers. Subscribe to RandomlyChad by Email

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  • Generally, I’ve had poor experiences at church as an introvert. It’s not a place where introversion is often appreciated or valued. After all, if you’re not out being social, you’re being a recluse, and you couldn’t possibly be serving God that way… right?

    I sort of wrote about this same thing this summer, when I was really fed up with being treated like I’m handicapped (which I am, but not because I’m an introvert): “An Open Letter to an Extrovert” http://www.lifebeforethebucket.com/2011/07/open-letter-to-extrovert.html

    • It is hard to “fit in”--to find my place in that sea of extroversion. I know I have one--just not sure what it is.

      Maybe it’s here, in this forum?

      Do you ever feel like you’re better at writing than you are living?

      • Generally, yeah. But I know God has gifted me to write (at least he seems to be suggesting that through others), so I consider it part of my living to the fullest.

        • I like how you think! “Part of my living to the fullest.” <--I'm adopting that phrase.

          I've heard simliar things from folks.

          • I’ve been doing a guest post series for a while now (nearly 3 months!) about living to the fullest. You should check it out! (and, maybe even contribute! hint, hint…) =)

          • Ok, I’ll check it out.

            Got to clear some other things off the docket, but I might have something to say. 😉

            Was thinking of turning yesterday’s post into a series? Do you perhaps have something to add to that discussion?

          • I’ll think more on that today. I may be able to come up with something for you that deals with culture more than race, if that would fit what you’re thinking.

  • Interesting questions, Chad. I don’t have the answer, but I’d definitely say it’s a question worth wrestling with.
    I’m an introvert by nature, who also happens to be on staff at a church and in front of people on a regular basis. It’s weird.
    But at the same time, I’ve never seen being introverted as a handicap, and I think the church needs a good mix of all personalities in order to keep it rightly balanced. Both sides (introverts and extroverts) have room to learn and benefit from the other.

    • I agree with you--it’s not a handicap. Except when it is, when the prevailing (church) culture in which one finds oneself seems to be working against one. I admit that overall I’m dealing with a pretty narrow subset of the faith spectrum--the megachurch. But what is described above has been my experience.

  • I’m an introvert and have never felt like I fit in well in large churches. It’s not my scene. God bless people who go for that, but it’ll never be me. I don’t want to blend in or have to fight for attention. My experience is a little different from the standard introvert though, as I’ve almost always been a worship leader. People assume I am an extrovert because I’m generally in front of people and acting as a leader. It isn’t true. I’m a walking (and singing) paradox.

    • So to put it in broad, general terms: you can perform, are socially adept, but solitude refreshes you. Is this correct? This is the introvert’s paradox.

      After having “performed” all day, I’m usually the most tired during the commute home from work. If I don’t have time to “recharge” when I get home, look out family.

      How about you? After leading worship, are you pumped, or pooped?

      • Everything you said was right on. To answer your question, usually pooped.

    • I’m an introverted worship leader too. It can be incredibly draining to lead peppy songs. I like that… A walking and singing paradox.

  • I’m a bit of a introvert. Would much rather stand in front of 100 people and talk than have to mingle with them for an hour. In a way mega churches are great, because no one knows who is visiting, and you can just sit and go unnoticed for an hour each week. Of course that’s not really the point.

    • Anonymity is great--until one longs for a deeper connection with a few, but can’t find it. That’s the sword’s other edge.

      • Joshj

        Right, but that’s the role of the small group. Chad, you said you don’t like the small group setup of your church. Is there a way to do small groups that is more introvert-friendly? Or, if it’s a setup that’s inherently introvert-averse, is there a better structure that could help facilitate deeper connections for introverts?

        • Unfortunately, the groups are divided by regions. The onus is on me to reach out--which I’ve done. And we’ve been, too--It’s just hard finding one that feels like a fit. Make sense? We’ll keep trying. But we may need to transition to a different fellowship to make those connections.

  • I am a situational extrovert. Meaning that normally I am introverted, but because of my position God has given me the grace to be extroverted when I need to be.

    • I like that, Matt--“situational extrovert.” By that metric, I’m one, too. But as I stated in another comment, after “performing” all day, my energy is at its lowest ebb when I’m on my way home. I feel bad about giving my family the “leftovers.” So I pray for grace.

  • These are exactly the thoughts and feelings of my interverted husband and me! We have had these same experiences with church and small groups. The church is also very family-centric. Not having kids makes it even harder to know where we belong in the church. I’ve been struggling a lot lately to figure out where we fit in. At least in this sense, we are not alone. I don’t have the answer either, but my search led me here today. As an introvert, it’s so easy to say that Christ is all I need. But he has created us for community, and I do long for meaningful relationships. I think it starts with Christ, and in faith we have to believe that He will provide the right community for us at the right time. Perhaps this is as good a place as any to begin that?

    • Teri, I’m so glad that you found your way here today! If I can in any way be a resource, then the risk of putting my heart out there is worth it.
      Like you, I have more questions than answers. That said, I believe you hit the nail on the head: the search begins and ends in the Answer, Jesus Christ. Trusting that He will provide in the right way, at the right time.
      The stretching this requires is hard, but ultimately worth it.

      Thank-you so much for coming by, and reading today!

  • Michelle Woodman

    I don’t think I’m wired to be a loud, “Ra-ra!” person in the church. But, thankfully, there are others within the growing church I attend who are the same way. So there is some silent solidarity there. 😉 And there is some nice “background” stuff I am involved with as well, which helps me be a part of the community without being in the limelight. 🙂

    • Yes, this: “helps me be a part of the community without being in the limelight.”

      And the solidarity doesn’t hurt--not one bit. 😉

  • great info graph on the 12 ways to lead introverts! Def. going to be using some of those in the future

    • Thank-you! I intend to be a resource however I can. As such, I can’t recommend both Mr. McHugh’s, and Ms. Cain’s, respective books highly enough.

  • I love the cartoon at the beginning.

    I experience a lot of the same feelings: where do I fit in, where do I serve? One of my biggest introverted problems is with worship. Like you said, it’s a lot of noise with very little time for introspection. How do we worship effectively in an extroverted church? I feel like I’m being dishonest with God if I worship big and loud. It’s just not me.

    • My wife and I are grappling with this right now, and are getting some pushback from our kids of all people! They don’t want to change, but we’re longing for a place where we can legitimately connect.

      Isn’t that cartoon great?

  • As a fellow introvert, I completely resonate with your experience. My husband and I are trying to get involved in a new community now, and the advice from the leaders of the community group was to show up early and stay late so we could talk to people--completely missing the fact that an introvert’s worst nightmare is having to mingle… Thanks for sharing!

    • Thank-you!

      I wish it weren’t so, but just the other night, we were out for yogurt, and our son said “that’s so-and-so’s parents. You met the dad the other night.” Took me 20 minutes to work up the nerve to go over and talk to them! But it worked out.

  • seniorcit

    Try being an introverted, older widow with no nearby family in a family oriented church somewhat out of your geographical area. Coffee hours are painful as is sitting by yourself behind a family of three generations. Church can be a lonely place. The consolation was that sometimes this church valued silence and contemplation as part of the worship service.

    • I feel for you (I won’t say that I know exactly what you’re feeling)--I’m so sorry that church is a lonely place. That feeling out of place is familiar to me, of not quite belonging.

      I envy my daughter’s ability to readily make friends.

  • I’m planning on reading that book! Did you finish it?

    I’m curious to know what you think of it Chad.

    Crazy, I used that pic in my post as well. I suppose it would make sense that many writers/bloggers are introverts 😉

    Thanks for tweeting me here Chad!

    • Still working on it--got waylaid by rereading Donald Miller’s Million Miles (I did finish Introverts in the Church--outstanding). Quiet delves into the brain structure differences between introverts & extroverts. It’s really fascinating.

      🙂 I found it via Wylio.

      It does, doesn’t it?

      You’re welcome! Thanks for dropping in!