This is something I have done a lot of thinking on lately, “How do you minister to introverts?” A few months ago I wrote a blog/article, “Is Youth Group Optional?”, where my opinion was fairly unequivocal. My reply to whether or not youth group should be optional has not changed, however it must be said that making youth group involvement for a student who is an introvert by nature is a much more ominous task than it is for students who are not.
Extroverted kids typically want to come to youth group especially a youth group at a large church. They thrive in large group settings. They are energized by environments that are high energy, and high volume. They love being around people. Extroverts may well make up most of the population or at least that is the perception because… well… they are so easily noticed. Often because of that perception introverts are perceived as not being normal, and given an unfair rap.
Generally introverts are perceived to be socially awkward, too quiet, and sometimes not as smart as their louder, more gregarious, engaging, and charismatic counterparts. All that to say introverts are often thought of as having issues, and not normal.
I don’t want to swing the pendulum the opposite direction as some have done and suggest that it is actually the extroverts that have issues and are inferior. I simply want to point out a few things I’ve learned and observed as I am learning how I can better minister and facilitate life formation for introverted students whom I’ve observed are less likely to even want to come to youth group.
- Large Groups Are Exhausting. In the same way extroverts are energized by crowds, introverts become drained when in the company of a large group of people. It’s nothing personal against everyone else. It’s just the way they are wired (by God). In my youth ministry context this means that while these students may find Sunday School very intellectually stimulating they have to endure being in the company of 50+ plus people in a very social atmosphere for a good chunk of time before I even begin to teach. For some this means they are mentally exhausted before I even begin to teach. For some introverts this feeling of exhaustion is so profound and intense that they feel it well before they arrive in the large group setting at just the thought of going.
- Small Groups Must Be Small. It only makes sense that introverts would fair much better in a small group setting as they are less likely to become exhausted, or at least not as quickly. However, the issue becomes whether or not the small groups are truly small. For some even a group of 10-12 is too large whereas a group 6-8 could make all the difference between them being able to engage.
- Engagement Looks Different. Studies of introverts vs. extroverts have shown that extroverts tend to be more spontaneous whereas introverts are more deliberate. In other words they often think before they speak, make a decision, or act. This is a strength that can often be perceived as a weakness in a culture that values self-expression which often values mere expression over content and means of expression. Introverts need to be given the freedom and space to deliberate in their response and engagement because often times it results in something very profound and insightful being said and shared. Likely you know someone who says very little but when they speak everyone listens because every word is rich, because you know they always taken the time to really think about what they say before they say it.
- They Are Normal. I am becoming more and more convinced that the greatest need of a young teen is to know and feel normal. So much about them is changing and it creates an overwhelming sense that they are weird and that something is wrong with them. Whereas extroverts will tend to act out and seek attention when they feel uneasy about being normal, introverts will become even more reclusive.
I’m still trying to figure out what is the best way to minister to introverts. I’m not okay with the fact that many of the students who fall through the cracks in a large youth ministry contexts, like mine, are introverts. I understand that their involvement is going to look different even borderline nominal but I still desire that they would benefit from a ministry that is exists to minister to them too. I’m still trying to figure out what the best way is to accomplish that. For now the two best things I’ve found so far is to connect with them personally, acknowledge and affirm.
If I can connect with them or find someone to connect with them personally, it increases the likelihood of their future involvement. Introverted students whom I’ve acknowledge their introversion and how it can make youth group an exhausting environment for them, helps them feel understood and not quite as weird as they otherwise would. Lastly, the students whom I’ve had a chance to affirm their introversion as a gift, a strength, and just plain normal I’ve seen grow more comfortable and less exhausted by coming to youth group, because they know that I see them as being normal.
If you are an introvert or the parent of an introvert I’d love your thoughts and feed back.