Ministry to Introverts: Trying to Figure it Out


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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Conclusion

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.

Author: Cedric Lundy

Perpetual Seeker of Solidarity with God through sharing in the life death and resurrection of Jesus The Christ Pastor Communicator Shepherd Coffee Lover Snob and Roaster Sports an but to rational to be a fanatic Native Michigander living in the Carolinas Son Brother Friend Husband Father

20 thoughts on “Ministry to Introverts: Trying to Figure it Out”

  1. Praying for wisdom for you, Cedric. I love the idea of making the small groups smaller for those introverts. Obviously Caroline is not an introvert but she tries to reach out to those who are to make them feel comfortable. Maybe you could ask the Lord for several people like Caroline who could come beside an introvert and befriend them to make the large group feel smaller???
    Maybe doing a teaching on the different personality types and how God has gifted each of us differently. Hope this was the kind of response you wanted-thoughts and suggestions. Prayer for wisdom is the biggest thing I can do. Thank you for all you do for our youth! You are much appreciated. Glad you answered God’s call to teach youth.You are awesome!

    1. Thanks Emilie. You are right I could always count on Caroline to pursue and reach out to the more introverted students. She has a great disposition for it as she is not the type to overwhelm them or give up on them when she doesn’t get back much from them.
      I think a lesson/forum on personality types is an excellent idea for a large group discussion one Wednesday evening… after small groups of course.

  2. As an introvert, I think it’s important to connect with them or have another adult take an interest in them. Sometimes I feel overlooked (not so much in youth group because I was the pastor’s daughter) and it feels good to know that I am seen. I think it’s good that you understand that introversion can be a strength and that telling your students that helps them feel understood. I agree with your assessment that introverts are deliberate. One thing to be aware of is we tend to wait our turn to speak and sometimes that doesn’t happen in a group of extroverts. If an introvert looks like s/he has something to say, you may want to give them an opening to say it. Giving them a role to fill or a job to do can help them get involved too. We like to be needed and work behind the scenes. As for small groups, I think you’re right about the need for them to be small. I still don’t like to speak in large groups and even in small groups, it takes me a while to feel comfortable enough to open up. Knowing that the information does not leave the group helps. But understand they may need a bit more time to open up than an extrovert. Thank you for giving this so much thought and attention. I’m sure the introverts in your youth group will appreciate it.

    1. Thanks for the reminder that my more introverted students are often great for doing behind the scenes things and in that respect make great servants. Moreover, that being needed for is another great and impactful way to affirm them.
      A couple of my small group leaders observed last year that one our most introverted girls began to become more comfortable and willing to speak up during small group. When one of our most extroverted (read: very loud, and not good with social cues) students cut her off to share once again. Fortunately, the leaders had the awareness to stop her in her tracks so the other could actually speak.

  3. I think by forming small groups all kids benefit. Introvert and extrovert! Addressing the way God created everyone with different gifts can go really far. That affirms that they are normal just the way they were created. Maybe do personality tests in small groups to identify how we all fit together to for the body of Christ.

    1. I like where you’re headed. It may be good to start the year with a type of orientation where they can discover not only how they individually are wired but how their peers in their small group are wired.
      In my nearly seven years at Church At Charlotte only the first year and half we didn’t have small groups simply because we did not have enough leaders. Now the problem is that if all of my core students show up on a given Wednesday night the small groups are all too big. 10-12 in a small group is the maximum they should be, 6-8 is ideal. If all the kids in our small groups arrive in their current format then there is as many as 16-22 per small group.
      Suffice it to say that I am trying to recruit more small group leaders so we can make these groups smaller, and more importantly make it more realistic for adult small group leaders to pursue each student in their group. Since I assign two leaders per group a group of 6-8 means they only have to pursue 3-4. A group of 16-22 is 8-11 which is way too many to actually be able to connect in a way that leads to discipleship.

  4. I have been doing a lot of studying lately about different learning styles and right brain/left brain differences. I have 2 girls, both in the middle school ministry. My oldest thrives on youth group and has always had a good church experience in Sunday School. My second has struggled during some of her Sunday School years. There were many a tear on the way home from church because of feeling left out of the clique (whether real or perceived). One thing about her is that because she has felt that way, she has become very good at helping new people feel welcome. She used to cry because she didn’t have a special friend. We had many family friends but she didn’t have someone that she felt liked her for who she is. Now she has several special friends and she has really blossomed and has more confidence. Both of my girls are musical and have found confidence in having something they are good at.

    For my oldest, I asked one of her Sunday School teachers to be her spiritual mentor. It’s important (imo), as a young woman, to have an adult besides your mom that you can talk to and feel safe opening up to. They have had many shopping and hanging out times over the last 2-3 years. I am now trying to find someone like that for my second daughter.

    I was an introvert (still am) that makes myself try to be an extrovert. I was so insecure as a kid and didn’t know how to fit in at school. I was kind of smart but not smart enough to be a geek, not athletic or musical, not a druggie. I just tried to blend in to the background and not get picked on. Lonely middle school and high school years. If I could do it over again, I would take more chances and join some groups. I felt bad that I wasn’t in the “in” group but looking back on it I realize it’s okay.

    My second daughter, that had some years of frustration in her Sunday School group, is doing much better. She loves Faze 6. She is also helping with the preschoolers on Sunday mornings and loves that too. It’s heartwarming to see her happy at church. She is a little quirky, but aren’t we all??

    Thanks Cedric for all you do for our kids. They are having such a great childhood at CAC.
    Diana Quin

    1. Thanks Diana. One of the most impactful things we do is allow for our middle school students to serve in the Children’s ministry. Glad to know she is enjoying Faze 6. I whole-heartedly believe the move to make it a Sunday and Wednesday thing has assisted greatly in retaining more of the students transitioning from Faze 6 to LAUNCH, especially the boys.

  5. As you all know, this is a real issue in my house….okay, maybe not 🙂
    Out of 5 people in our family, we do have one that I would classify as an introvert. She probably appears as an extrovert at church, but only because she has spent SO much time there and feels very loved and accepted. I cannot say enough about all those folks who volunteer in elementary ministry and move up with the kids year after year. All three of my kids had leaders that did that with them, and every year they felt secure, loved, and valued when Promotion Sunday arrived and they saw these people had come back, for THEM.

    It would be lovely if members of a peer group would actually recognize an introvert’s unique giftedness, but we are talking about Jr High kids here…I agree that most of these kids need reassurance that they are NORMAL more than anything. It doesn’t matter if they are homeschooled, private schooled, or public schooled, they all feel “different” and unsure at this phase of life.

    Cedric, thank you for recognizing the preciousness of each one. I pray that all members of this body will ask the Lord to help them view each other as purposed and unique. I believe the leaders and adults in their lives can choose to model this in their own peer groups, and in their interaction with the youth.

    1. Thanks Amy. I’m going to have to pursue these elementary volunteers and give them a vision for journeying with these kids into Jr. High instead of rotating back down into the Children’s Ministry

  6. Thank you for your willingness to go after the kids on the fringe… I have one of these kids and sunday school is a nightmare for her! She won’t even consider youth group! I think smaller groups are great, I also think that the personal connection is critical. If there were someone looking for her and seeking her out it could make a world of difference…it only takes one.

    1. Your daughters are great! If you’re speaking of the one I am thinking of she’s an excellent example of a student whom I know it’s nothing personal. I’ve seen that deer in headlights look on her face during Sunday School from “people overload”. Yet she is not so painfully shy that you can’t engage her in a conversation one on one. Wednesday night small groups is definitely the best option for her and yet the need to connect with a peer or female leader would as you say “make a world of difference”.

  7. Thanks Cedric! I have a very social daughter, however she does have some introverted/shy qualities that make it difficult for hero feel like she fits in. I would say that she’s more of a small group person and Socially middle of the road. I think that having a smaller group that can learn to care for and nurture each other will really form strong bonds, teach them about ways to socially care for and appreciate each other’s and their own differences.

    1. Those are the kind of discussions that we typically will have on a Wednesday (if at all), and yet it may be more ideal for the discussion to be had in small group and create space to emphasize the characteristics of Christ-centered community aka being the church.

  8. I haven’t fallen through the cracks! I just have been so busy, I haven’t been able to make it in a while. I’ll try to come next Wednesday.

  9. One of my former students now in college inboxed me a reply on Facebook, which I found to be very insightful and helpful with what works when ministering to introverts. Not to toot my own horn but I thought what he had to say about desiring to connect is helpful and also about others not perceiving them to be awkward when they’re not as talkative.

    “This introvert wanted to comment on your latest blog post. You certainly have figured things out and know stuff, but I figure it wouldn’t hurt to have a student/former student comment and confirm some things for you…in particular that I completely agree with your 4 main points.

    The following thought turned out to be much less coherent and succinct than I had intended…but I hope it turns out to be at least interesting to see some thoughts of mine.

    A thought that perhaps could be helpful to helping introverts not fall through the cracks: like many people, I quite wanted to feel normal. Being quiet didn’t really help with that. But something that did was leaders talking to me. I wanted to mention this because I think a lot of times leaders could try to talk to me, just making conversation, and since I wouldn’t have much to say, they would feel awkward about it, or like they hadn’t succeeded in making a connection with me. But I loved it when people would talk to me – I wanted to be noticed, though not at the center of attention. This is something that I liked about the way you always interacted with me. No matter my talkativeness, you continued moving the conversation, and didn’t make it an awkward point that I was quiet. Maybe the conversations weren’t as long as with other people, but you didn’t make it a big deal. That was cool. What I was attempting to say above was that I think when people would talk to me and I would be quiet, I wish they would realize that I appreciated it, and that me, as an introvert, just wasn’t going to seem like I was opening up to them – but that didn’t mean that they weren’t connecting or doing good, even if they felt like that. So for example, post-conversation, when you and I would part ways, I felt more welcomed and like I fit in. And with some people, I would get the sense that they felt like that they failed in connecting, and that would just make me feel more awkward and anxious about my social interaction skills.”

  10. Hey Cedric, I just want to affirm you in your efforts to minister to the introverts. I had a pastor who did this for me and made all the difference in my life. It was well after my junior high years, even after my college years, but a Bible study leader went out of his way to help me feel included. Despite my shyness, he saw my gift for organizing and gave me responsibilities to coordinate events for our group. He slowly but surely pushed me from the outside to the inside of the group, making this introvert able to converse comfortably and feel accepted within the group. So much so that it even began to make a difference outside the group, and I learned maybe I wasn’t so awkward and weird just because I am quiet and prefer to be behind the scenes, and because I like to think before I talk out loud. I have learned that these are not bad traits, just different traits that make me who I am. It has made me a stronger, more confident adult, all because one pastor took notice and didn’t let me fall through the cracks, and encouraged my strengths without emphasizing what I perceived as weaknesses. It has also made me hyper-aware of people who need someone to just reach out and include them when they are sitting on the outskirts. Now I sometimes have a hard time convicing people that I am a shy introvert underneath it all! One thing I will point out though, small groups can also be terrifying for an introvert — because now there are fewer people to hide behind, and participation (or lack thereof) becomes more noticable and can make one feel even more pressure and stress. I was actually more intimidated by smaller groups than by large groups. I would encourage your leaders to allow for the opportunity for everyone to participate in a discussion, but not to force it – like going around in a circle to share prayer requests or to pray out loud. Make it okay for them to share or not to share without making them feel awkward about it. As time passes they will feel more comfortable with the others and be ready to open up, but if you push them into it the first time, they might never come back. Just my two cents as an adult still very in touch with my introverted adolescense. 🙂

Responses and Feedback Welcome and Appreciated

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s