Church is a place where introverts and extroverts can get along

My favorite new light bulb joke is: “How many introverts does it take to change a light bulb?” And the answer: “One! Why does it always have to be a group activity?”

That little joke highlights the difference between introverts and extroverts. It’s not about being social or anti-social, but about energy.

In general terms, extroverts thrive and draw energy from being around others. They especially enjoy large groups, parties, and social gatherings. They tend to be outgoing and talkative. Introverts draw energy from their alone-time. They prefer smaller gatherings and one-on-one conversations. An extrovert gets more energized at a social gathering and becomes bored when alone. An introvert can socialize well, but then gets wiped out by all those people and needs to get away to re-charge.

I was recently struck by this basic difference between us when someone at church commented, “I just can’t understand why there are people who don’t want to go downstairs for coffee and fellowship after worship. They’re missing out on all that Christian fellowship and time together.” And without thinking, I responded, “It’s because they’re introverts. They don’t need to have one more social encounter.”

But it did get me thinking, how do we acknowledge and affirm our basic differences, and see them both as a gift to the church? Churches thrive on numbers, and like to have lots of people join in on whatever activity the church has planned. They smile upon the folks who show up for everything, and wonder about those who are content with minimal involvement outside of worship.

But even though we gather together as Christians and consider Christian community to be important, there is biblical support for getting away from the crowds. How many times does Scripture tell us that Jesus withdrew from the crowds to pray? Matthew, Mark and Luke all record moments of Jesus seeking time to be alone.

In addition, we want to lift up the value of living out our Christian lives in the greater world. Introverts may well function as yeast when they are out and about, conversing with one person at a time at work, at the store, checking in with a close friend. Those conversations bring the opportunity for a good listening ear outside the walls of the church-building, meeting people where they’re at, showing depth and concern for one’s fellow neighbor in a way that is not always possible in the context of large social gatherings.

Yeast slowly works its way through the dough, eventually making it possible for the dough to rise and produce a wonderful loaf of bread. Introverts do their work quietly, permeating society with their listening ear, a spirit of authenticity, willing to spend more time with one person rather than bouncing off quickly to check in with someone else, offering prayers and support for those they encounter.

It takes both introverts and extroverts to make up the body of Christ. The light bulb will get changed, whether it is by one person or by a committee. Plus, God’s family is richer for the many-splendored variety of his children.

The Rev. Janet Hernes Mathistad is pastor of Bethany Lutheran Church in Minot.