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
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.
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,
How about you? What’s been your experience at church?
Some helpful resources:
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.