Churches, Introverts and The Internet

The best explanation I’ve heard to date about extroversion vs. introversion is as follows: Extroverts feel energized when they’re around people, while introverts feel energized when they’re away from people.

A few examples:

  • If it’s lunchtime at work, an extrovert will go out of their way to find someone to eat with, while an introvert will sneak out the nearest exit for some peace and quiet.

  • In a public bathroom, an introvert will try not to leave their stall until everyone else has walked out, while an extrovert could care less about when they emerge.

  • Team building exercises make introverts want to jump in front of a train.

  • With rare exceptions, introverts prefer to communicate indirectly, and will be much more open in a text-based format than in a face-to-face or phone conversation.

I’ve always fallen squarely into the introvert camp, though I’m definitely able to put on a social song and dance routine for short periods of time (largely due to the positive influence of my wife, who, while also reasonably introverted, does genuinely enjoy 1:1 or small group conversations).

I used to feel guilty about being this way, especially in church settings, where extroversion is presented as a desirable personality attribute, and online interactions are generally labeled as junior varsity.

Then the events of the past few years happened, and it caused me (a Christian introvert and member of the Oregon Trail Generation) to realize that that the modern evangelical church has completely missed the boat when it comes to engaging with both introverts and online communities generally.

Allow me to explain…

During the web’s early years, many evangelicals viewed it as a place of ill-repute, somewhere to avoid, lest they encounter boobs, dicks or critical articles from ex-church members and outsiders.

Years later, the emergence of social media caused this crowd (though notably, far fewer men, see “boobs” above) to start participating a bit more online, but largely in a transactional manner, showcasing photos of their offline life/”liking” similar photos from others, making real-world meetup plans, promoting products for sale, sending event invitations and such.

In other words, they treated the Internet as a means to an end, rather than as a valid gathering place in and of itself, a place to seek out, grapple with and discuss new, often challenging ideas. Introverts that would otherwise thrive in such an environment found themselves swatted down by evangelicalism’s strong “we should chat about this more in person” culture.

Treating the Internet more as a promotional tool than a gathering place does two main things:

  1. Aside from presenting an overly-sunny and inauthentic view of the hard, but important challenges of Christianity, it sends a clear signal to outside observers about which topics are worthy of public mention (i.e. which topics are taboo).

  2. It silences introverts that shut down during in-person conversations, leaving problems painfully unaddressed.

So what could be done to improve this situation? I’d propose a few things:

  • Acknowledge that introverts (and/or those that are most comfortable online) should of course strive to be more social in real-world settings, but that there needs to be an equal effort put forth from extroverts. When it comes to hard but important conversations, face-to-face is not always better for some people, so stop treating it as the default setting.
  • Consider why you might be opposed to talking indirectly? Do you lean on your sales-y persuasion skills a bit too much instead of letting your arguments stand on their own? Are you ashamed of expressing some of your views in writing?
  • Realize that you can no longer “opt out” of participating in online communities if you’re truly serious about being all things to all people.