The group member who dominates the discussion demands your attention. The introvert in your group who seldom speaks up does not. Nevertheless, as group leader, you need to pay extra attention to that introvert. Here’s why:
Small groups inadvertently favor extroverts.
An extrovert bias exists in American culture. In our culture, the ideal self is considered the gregarious, outgoing personality who thrives on social interaction and is comfortable in the spotlight.
The same bias toward extroverted qualities unfortunately exists in church. Church in general and small groups in particular tend to be extroverted places that inadvertently favor the gregarious and marginalize the introvert. It’s difficult for introverts to thrive in that kind of environment. They often feel out of place at church, especially in small groups.
An even more subtle danger of the unintentional extrovert bias in church is the tendency to equate spiritual maturity and commitment with extroverted qualities. We tend to lift up the highly social, talkative members who easily engage during the lesson and easily befriend guests as the ideal group members. We must be careful, though, that we do not erroneously confuse Christian devotion and spiritual vitality with personality type and temperament. This kind of thinking can lead to introverts being made to feel spiritually inept and inadequate.
Small groups need the gifts of introverts.
Far from being second-class Christians, introverts have much to offer the church and the small group. In Introverts in the Church, Adam McHugh identifies the following six qualities as gifts that introverts bring to the church. Couldn’t your small group use these gifts?
- Compassion — Introverts are capable of powerful compassion.
- Insight — Introverts are able to offer insight into difficult situations, perhaps because they tend to observe and process information before speaking.
- Listening — Introverts are better listeners.
- Creativity — Introverts are typically the most creative people in a group.
- Loyalty — Introverts value close friendships and are loyal friends.
- Service — Introverts are often eager to volunteer to serve behind the scenes.
Small group leaders need to pay attention to the introverts.
As a group leader, here are some things you can do to help introverts feel at home in your small group while tapping into their potential:
Get to know them. Seek to build one-on-one relationships with the introverts in your small group. The better you get to know them, the more you will discover their hidden giftedness.
Let them be themselves. You can do more harm than good by trying to get introverts (or anyone else for that matter) to speak up if they’re not willing. Respect their temperament; they are hard-wired that way by God.
Build in processes to take advantage of their insightfulness during group times. Introverts want time to think before speaking. If you call on them for an immediate response, you will not get their best answer. Rather than springing questions on introverts during group time, cue members beforehand so the introverts can formulate an answer. Remember also that introverts typically prefer written communication. Asking members to write responses before sharing allows the introvert time to process his answer before speaking.
Need more help in knowing how to tap into the introverts’ gifts? Start by asking an introvert. He or she will have some great insights if you make an effort to pay attention.
Mike Livingstone is a content editor on Lifeway’s adult ongoing Bible studies team, a position he has held for 23 years. Prior to coming to Lifeway, he served as a pastor and missionary in Kenya. He leads a weekly Bible study at his church and blogs at mikelivingstone.com. Find him on Twitter: @m_livingstone.