Adam S. McHugh is an introvert, a pastor and I think all around a good writer. His relatively recent book Introverts in the Church: Finding our place in an extroverted culture, is an encouraging read if, like me, you score fairly high on the Myers-Briggs scale (a personality test) as an Introvert and you go to church. According to McHugh, there is reasearch which shows that its likely that more than 50% of Americans are introverts. While it is hard to draw conclusions about the UK from evidence and research conducted in the US, it is probable that a high proportion of UK people are introverts.
The main difference between extroverts and introverts is that extroverts are energised by being with other people, while introverts tend to be energised by being alone. So what is interesting about this book is that it relates to how the Evangelical church has to some extent failed introverts because of the large expectation which is put on personal interaction in the church, over and above contemplative forms of worship and togetherness or community.
It’s important to note that McHugh does not say that it is good for introverts to be alone all the time. Rather he offers helpful ways for introverts to set boundaries for themselves, to develop rhythms which make sure that they have time to themselves during the day. As a Pastor he has experience in needing to manage his own distance from others whilst also being open and able to connect.
Perhaps the most profound thing he has said so far in the book to the church is how introverts relate to the church in how they participate and belong to the church community. Citing Joseph Myers from the book The Search to Belong, he describes what Myers calls the myth of belonging, which is basically the assumption that more personality equals more belonging (91), which points to what McHugh says is a “subtle and detrimental assumption about the forms that healthy Christian community is supposed to take and what ‘faithful’ participation looks like in these communities.” (91)
Looking at Acts 2 the assumption in the church could easily become that ‘togetherness’ is the defining sign of a faithful community and so McHugh argues there is a temptation:
“for churches to define spiritual maturity as attendance: regular worship, participation in a committee or leadership team, and involvement in a small group. The implicit thought is that the mark of a true, progressing discipleship is participating in an increasing number of activities. Along with attendance should come a steady increase in the number of people you know and who know you. Periodic worship attendance, hesitance to join many activities or a tendency to be elusive in social settings lands you squarely in the ‘uncommitted’ camp.”
McHugh isn’t arguing that it is right not to be involved in community, but rather he says that introverts function differently in relation to community. Whilst extroverts follow the direct line into the core of the community, entering as an acquaintance, moving on to becoming a participant, to core membership. Introverts don’t do so directly.
The journey of the introvert into community can be conceptualised as a spiral. Introverts take steps into the community but also takes steps out of it. “They move between entry retreat and reentry… (and) it never reaches a point in which the spiraling form is shed.”
The book offers a number of practical ways for introverts to use their gifts and see their role in community flourish. He offers a chapter on introverted leadership which is very worth reading, particularly if you are leader a church. Do read the book. It will not take long to read and is worth while. If you are an extrovert, particularly in leadership in your local church, I also recommend you read it. Perhaps it will help you shape the way you structure church life.