For shy worshippers, church can be overwhelming
Lilly Fowler, Religion News Service
July 09, 2010

For shy worshippers, church can be overwhelming

For shy worshippers, church can be overwhelming
Lilly Fowler, Religion News Service
July 09, 2010

LOS ANGELES — If Jesus were

to take a Myers-Briggs personality test, would he rank as an introvert or an

extrovert? He was, after all, popular with crowds, but often retreated to pray

in solitude.

As an undergrad, Daniel

Perett wrestled with similar questions as a member of the evangelical

InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at Middlebury College. He soon discovered

that his introverted personality clashed with the group’s prayer-and-share


“The expectation is if you

really are having a spiritual experience, the first thing that you’re going to

do is share it very publicly,” said Perett, 31, now a graduate student at the

University of Notre Dame.

In other words, “if the Holy

Spirit were working in your life,” you’d be talking about it — “you would be an

extrovert,” he said. But what Perett really needed most was time to process

what was happening to him spiritually.

Perett says evangelical

Christianity — with a bigger-is-often-better strain deeply embedded in its DNA —

is stacked against introverts like himself. And so, like other introverts, he

began to develop coping methods rather than a deeper theology.

Perett started to speak in

code. He sprinkled phrases like “God was testing,” rather than “God was absent,”

in his testimonials so that his peers would not realize that he was actually

trying to determine how — if at all — God was present in his life.

“It forces you to put on a

spiritual show for everyone else,” he said.

Perett is far from the only

Christian whose introverted personality has caused religious obstacles. Writer

and pastor Adam McHugh has taken note and released a book called Introverts

in the Church.

“In my mind at the time,

ideal pastors were gregarious, able to move through crowds effortlessly, able

to quickly turn strangers into friends,” he writes in the introduction of the

book published by InterVarsity Press.

RNS photo courtesy William Vasta/Claremont McKenna

Pastor and author Adam McHugh is the author of the new book, Introverts in the Church.

But as an introvert himself,

McHugh found the social demands of his job overwhelming, which led him to take

a closer look at his specific personality type.

McHugh discovered that

although introverts had previously been thought to be in the minority, more

recent studies reveal that introverts actually make up roughly half of the

population. That doesn’t mean, however, that they’re always understood.

By definition, an introvert

is someone who is energized by solitude rather than social interaction. An

introvert might also love long intimate conversations; they aren’t necessarily

shy, but they may very well dislike small talk. In short, introverts like to go

deep, and they often like to do it alone.

As writer Jonathan Rauch

described introversion for the Atlantic Monthly magazine in 2003, “introverts

are people who find other people tiring.”

McHugh, for example, felt

absolutely exhausted by all the retreats he was required to attend as an

InterVarsity college minister in California. Canadian Jamie Arpin-Ricci says he

has endured similar frustrations as a pastor.

Arpin-Ricci, a Mennonite

pastor in Winnipeg, Manitoba, said most Christians expect a pastor to be

available at all times, which gives introverts like him and McHugh little of

the much-needed downtime.

Arpin-Ricci said it’s

important not to fall into certain stereotypes — that introverts are

anti-social, for example, or extroverts have plentiful but only shallow relationships.

His church, the Little Flowers Community, is intentionally community-led,

giving him the freedom to hand off certain responsibilities — especially when

he feels a more

extroverted personality may

be better suited to the task.

Donna Katagi, director of

spiritual formation at Cerritos (Calif.) Baptist Church, estimates that her

congregation is made up mostly of introverts who don’t fit neatly into the

category of demonstrative Christians that many believe define a truly spiritual


Although Katagi says her

church engages in typical activities like refreshments after worship, she also

says she’s catered her spiritual formation program to meet the needs of her

introverted congregation.

Outside of worship, Katagi

says she’ll break up members into smaller rather than larger groups to better

facilitate discussion.

For his part, McHugh says he

has learned to incorporate solitude during the day, and says he remains

confident that introverts can make good Christian leaders.

“I had to just figure out my

own rhythm,” he said.