I attend a large church.
Now several decades old, the church has experienced tremendous growth through the years. From humble beginnings in living rooms and elementary school cafeterias, the multi-site ministry now features numerous campuses.
Facilities are top notch.
The music is superb.
Child safety is paramount.
Excellence is the standard.
It’s an approach that has attracted thousands of congregants.
Each week, I encounter an army of greeters when I arrive. These folks generously give of their time while expressing kindness and warmth through friendly waves and cheerful smiles.
Hello, yes, I’m well – how are you? Hand squeezes. Hardy laughter. Thank you. Yes, it is a beautiful day. Sincere nods with eye contact and lip pursing.
Similar interaction plays on repeat during my quest to find a seat. And yet, in spite of these well-meaning methods, I’m mentally spent when the service begins.
Did I mention I’m an introvert?
Over the next 90 minutes, I’m directed to Give your neighbor a high five! Glossy videos with polished production play intermittently. Get on your feet! Read aloud with me. Give a shout of praise! Put your hands together! Say thus and so to the person seated next to you. *playful elbow to their ribs* Lift your hands.
Because the more energy we display, the greater the depth of our spiritual fervor….right?
It’s just that, too often, church feels like a pep rally. A celebratory high.
Personally, I don’t consider the enthusiasm I’m able to muster at 9am to be a reliable indication of anything. Let alone an expression of my devotion to God.
My church isn’t all that different from scores of others across the country. America has long romanticized gregarious extroversion within and beyond church walls.
But I wonder if we’re getting it right?
On an unrelated note – listen, I understand the importance of marketing and branding, I really do. But the fellas indiscriminately pointing their lenses at people’s faces as they enter….wandering through the aisles snapping less than discreet pictures in service…..waiting for just the right facial expression for promotional use…..yeah, that’s gotta stop.
Believers fashion themselves savvy analysts of society’s cultural flaws. Effortlessly detecting superficialities from miles away and ardently encouraging one another to stay true to scriptural truth. We’re conditioned to cautiously engage with secular entertainment. So I wonder – why do we emulate the kind of in-your-face messaging we so carefully tip-toe around?
I, for one, believe we are called to engage with popular culture. I’m not fond of us/them divisions. But is force-feeding the best way for the spirit to lead? Have we succumbed to the common refrain which laments our nanosecond attention span?
The noisier it is, the less we’re required to listen. To grapple with our spirit. To wrestle with conviction.
Noise is not synonymous with loud music. Music can be loud, full, and moving without being noisy. Without serving as a distraction.
Are there people who prefer such a church just how it is? Of course. Which is perfectly fine.
Like life, church isn’t about me. I get that.
I’m just not wired that same way, and I don’t think I’m alone. It is estimated that introverts comprise somewhere between 30-50% of the population.
I don’t think forced corporate acts matter all that much to Jesus. I imagine if Jesus were physically present He wouldn’t be interested in boisterous introductions or standing ovations. I mean, He was the embodiment of humility.
I think He’d be interested in sitting with folks, and getting to know them. Exchanging stories and finding ways to connect. Exhibiting charity and empathy.
I think his teaching would invite self-reflection and calls to action. (As is common in my church.)
I believe there is a place in modern, culturally-relevant churches (an essential place as it were) for quiet contemplation. A chance to listen to that “still, small voice” beyond the service’s closing moments alone.
Church shouldn’t be geared toward extroverts; nor should it be geared toward introverts. Church should be geared toward everyone. It’s possible for services to meet the needs of various personality types. And churches do well when they prioritize their planning accordingly.
My church does an awful lot right. If judging only by local extension ministries, the positive impact is significant. But that’s not all. Internationally, we are active in countless ways. Lives are regularly changed for the better.
Church is community. Imperfect people with shared values. I‘m grateful for my place in the church and the role it’s played in my life.
I don’t have it all figured out. There is still plenty for me to learn.
Perhaps we can do so together.
(Highly) Recommended Reading: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain