Like an itchy tag that keeps poking out of the back of an old, comfy shirt, I’ve worn the ‘shy’ label my entire life. Occasionally, it’s misread as ‘snobby.’ Either way, it’s distracting.
I’m a textbook case of introversion: plays well with others, but prefers to re-charge on my own. Although stimulating, group interaction drains me. Solitude is my fuel.
Church worship has always been a challenge. As my friends sang praises with lifted arms, I stood uncomfortably stiff trying to focus on the message of the songs. And Sunday school discussions? Just the thought made my stomach swirl with butterflies.
Yet somehow, I had never connected my introverted personality to my discomfort in church until I read author Susan Cain’s recent op-ed in The New York Times, The Rise of the New Groupthink. In it, she muses that our society’s overt favoritism towards extroversion has stifled spirituality in introverts (which make up at least half of the population).
The new groupthink also shapes some of our most influential religious institutions. Many mega-churches feature extracurricular groups around every conceivable activity, from parenting to skateboarding to real estate, and expect worshipers to join in. They also emphasize a theatrical style of worship—loving Jesus out loud, for all the congregation to see.
Throughout years of uncomfortable Sundays, I held tight to my spirituality, while each passing week meant an internal demerit to my faith. Why was church not fun for me? Everyone else seemed to be enjoying it.
Cain’s op-ed and my question led to a reflective email chat with Sue Arnpriester and Brock Somsen, both self-professed introverts who attend Jacob’s Well United Methodist Church in Chandler, Ariz.
While not all introverts are shy, Sue wrestles with differentiating her shyness from her introversion. She explained she enjoys the anonymity provided by large church services, but said her introversion leads her way from small group worship.
“It’s why I rarely join Bible studies or classes in church,” she explained. “I’d rather just sit and soak in everyone else’s knowledge and opinions, and go home and think about it.”
Brock’s experience is very different. He thrives in small group settings instead of “over-the-top worship services with lots of bells and whistles.”
He explained, “I would apply the 80/20 rule in this area. I would prefer to spend 80 percent of my spiritual time in individual prayer/meditation and with small groups, and 20 percent in a large church setting.”
Seeking my own 80/20, I attended online church last week. Yes, church from my laptop. Van Dyke Church in Tampa, Fla. simulcasts their live Sunday morning service at 11 a.m. ET on their website. There’s a chat room for fellowship—with worshipers from as far away as Germany and The United Kingdom. Private prayer with a minister is a click away. A full Bible rests at the bottom of the page next to a window for notes.
The best part? I was finally able to push that pesky label down the back of my shirt without fear that it would creep back out—at least for a little while on Sunday.
By Natalie Bannon
More: acceptanceOriginally Posted: Feb 16, 2012