Last night’s class discussion led to a talk about finding ways for big congregations to make everyone feel as though their voice is heard. Our talk began shortly after a Twitter exercise where we tweeted our thoughts whilst listening to an audio version of Esther, so obviously I was still reading/favoriting/retweeting everyone’s tweets. And before I could chime in about having been an introvert in a large congregation, class was drawing to a close (“having been” is in relation to once being a part of a 150-200 person congregation; not to the introverted part). I’d rather blog my thoughts anyway.
It’s something I’ve been thinking about for some time now; how our Christian sub-culture tends to be geared toward the out-going and extroverted. Of course, I’m speaking from my experience in the evangelical world; I have little-to-no idea how things are in the traditional settings. In said experience, though, church means weaving through the masses, “meeting” a bunch of people whose names I’ll immediately forget, and knowing that at any given point throughout the service, there is usually someone people-watching me (I know this is true because I’m usually the one doing the people-watching).
Granted, some of these things happen with smaller congregations (especially the people-watching thing), there is still something quite challenging for an introvert in a group of 300 or more people. Even 100 people in a single room is overwhelming for me; my class sizes are about my max. Like many introverts, I feel drained by the sheer number of people I’m pressed up against – and this is without talking to anyone or engaging in any type of service-level dialogue. If you add that element in, I usually feel pretty wiped after church.
It’s kind of like alcohol; I have a certain capacity for how much I can handle before I start “feeling it,” (even in that case, it’s not very much). But over time, one’s capacity tends to increase. Similar thing happens for introverts and larger congregations. But even if that’s the case, I still need my time alone. I still need my space – not only for “recharging” purposes, but to connect with God. So in churches with a bunch of people, you could imagine how it might be difficult to have that moment of connectedness – that moment that builds up the introvert, even amongst all the activity.
My introversion is my own, though; I know other introverts who enjoy larger congregations and are even able to grow in those types of settings. But I also know of a lot of introverts who are like me and are rather intimidated, overwhelmed, or flat out drained in places with a lot of people. Not to say that we’re anti-social, even though it seems that way; but to say we function better in smaller, more intimate settings. And this seemed to be a backdrop question to our discussion tonight: How do we grow bigger as a single congregation, but also smaller to provide a “close-knit” group for as many people as possible?
No, I most certainly do not have an answer. And since I’m not part of any congregation right now, I don’t know if I should attempt one. What I do know is that I tend to steer clear of the large congregations partially because of the exhaustion factor. It’s not the deciding element, but it carries some weight.
After leaving class tonight, though, I was actually feeling quite thankful for Twitter or WordPress (microblogging and blogging) or even the practice of journaling. As an introvert, I write to process things, which makes it much easier to “voice” my thoughts (share them with a larger group). Tweeting during class discussions is something that, strangely enough, helps me understand and grasp the concepts we’re learning in class (and also invites non-Seminarians to the discussion/lecture). If there’s a church out there that encourages live-tweeting, please let me know!
So I suppose I’m posing the questions to anyone who’d care to chime in: How does your respective congregation cater to the introverts (or extroverts, if your congregation is mostly introverts)? Especially if you have a larger congregation, how have you focused your ministry (or ministries) in order to create an environment conducive for genuine spiritual families on a smaller scale (growing bigger, but smaller)? What about on the Sunday mornings, Saturday evenings, or whenever you have your larger meeting time? Is there an atmosphere that seeks to build a bunch of smaller families within a large group of people that doesn’t require a separate day?