Experiencing Church as an Introvert
Nearly every Sunday for the past fifteen years, I’ve gotten a migraine headache. It typically sets in sometime after the benediction—while I’m standing on the church lawn talking with members and visitors. Once I get home, the subtle throbbing behind one eye increases until I can’t ignore it anymore.
With the judicious application of caffeine and medication, I’m usually able to head off the most debilitating effects, and I’m grateful for the prayers of God’s people which have been answered with some headache-free Sundays over the years, but, for me, migraines and Sundays will probably continue to coexist until Christ calls or comes.
That’s largely because I’m an introvert.
Contrary to popular assumptions about introverts, this doesn’t mean I hate people or even that I’d rather spend my days in solitude. I find people—especially other Christians—amazing, I’m honored to hear their stories, and I genuinely want to love them well. I’m genuinely grateful to God that my life is joined to his body, the church. But talking to people gives me a headache. And, as a result, it can be tempting to think I just don’t belong in the church.
If, like me, you’re an introvert (or know someone who is!) consider these seven ways to connect to your local church.
1. Affirm God’s wisdom.
The church is made up of people and the Christian life depends on interacting with them regularly—something that doesn’t come easily to introverts. In our individualistic, consumer-minded culture, it can seem acceptable to conclude that, if you’re an introvert, church just isn’t your thing.
But the Scriptures tell a different story. In the whole biblical narrative, there are no lone Christians. Every time God saves someone from their sin, he joins them to his body, the church (cf. Acts 2:41, 47). If you’re a Christian, there’s no such thing as church not being your thing.
Engaging the church as introverts begins with acknowledging that we don’t always know what’s best for us, and our experiences don’t determine what’s true. Instead, we can affirm that the God who made us and takes care of us designed the church for his glory and our good. Our all-wise God has placed us in the congregation, and we can trust he will bless us there.
2. Remember Christ’s sacrifice.
Introverts make sacrifices to gather with God’s people. Whether we have migraines or anxiety—or just simply feel awkward and uncomfortable—it costs us something to show up on Sunday.
We can take comfort from the fact that, as in all things, our Savior has gone ahead of us. He surrounded himself with disciples who made his life uncomfortable in many ways—they dogged him, misunderstood him, contradicted him, undermined him, and even betrayed him. And yet, “having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1). He suffered all things, even death on the cross, for the sake of his beloved followers.
When life in the local church causes introverts to want to draw back or stay away, we can remember that we have a Savior who loved the church so much he suffered for her sake.
3. Seek the Spirit’s help.
Thankfully, the same Spirit who helped Christ in his human suffering is ready to help us too. Introverts can call on the Lord in prayer, ask him for his help, and trust that he loves to answer. It’s the “unity of the Spirit” (Eph. 4:3) that knits a group of unlikely people into a church, and it’s the Spirit we can ask to help us grow in unity with the people around us—whatever our personality.
4. Recognize everyone’s weakness.
Church may be hard for introverts, but it’s hard for lots of other people too. Energetic kids struggle to sit through a sermon, widows grieve the lack of someone to sit with, pastors’ families feel the stares of a hundred pairs of eyes, and everyone feels out of place at one time or another. Remembering that I’m not the only one who feels uncomfortable on Sunday helps me to retreat less and reach out more.
As Paul explains in his letter to the Corinthians, “God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may the same care for one another” (1 Cor. 12:24–25). On Sunday morning, when I see someone else who looks like they’d rather be elsewhere, I can approach them with compassion and care. I usually receive the same in return.
We can affirm that the God who made us and takes care of us designed the church for his glory and our good.
5. Pray for someone’s concerns.
“Pray for one another,” instructs James (5:16). This command goes out to introverts and extroverts alike. In prayer, we “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15) and “bear one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2). In the solitude of the prayer closet, we are not really alone. We bring the beloved people of God before the face of God, and we intercede for them.
This, in turn, invests our hearts in their good. When you have prayed for someone to be healed, to be freed from besetting sin, to receive their daily bread, or to get the wisdom only God can supply, you have aligned yourself with them. It may still be uncomfortable to make small talk with them during church coffee hour, but, in the unseen places, you have loved them by prayer.
6. Meet the congregation’s needs.
As an introvert, you may never be the life of the church Christmas party. You may never be the one standing up front leading the prayer meeting. You may never be the person who sings loudest or laughs longest. You may always be most comfortable wiping down the tables while everyone else talks. And that’s okay.
In fact, as Paul explains, “there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:4–7). Your gifts and activities may be quiet ones—done in the empty hallways and back pews of the church—but they are given “for the common good.”
If you can wipe tables, do it. If you can rock babies or clean bathrooms or make coffee or fold bulletins, do it. Your church needs the service of introverts.
7. Learn people’s names.
Being invested in the church as introverts doesn’t require grand gestures. But it also doesn’t exempt us from learning to reach out. One of my favorite verses in all of Scripture is John’s tiny exhortation in his final letter: “Greet the friends, each by name,” (3 John 15).
When we learn people’s names, we can confidently say a simple hello, offer a warm smile, extend a moment’s hug or handshake. When we learn people’s names, we acknowledge their worth in the sight of the Lord who calls us each by name, writes our names in his book, and gives us his own name. And, as John’s verse testifies, we aren’t greeting just anyone; we are greeting the ones God calls his friends.
On Sunday morning, it’s not the easiest thing for me to say, “Hi, I’m Megan. What’s your name?” but it’s a start. And as I get to know the people God calls his friends, I trust he will make them my friends too.