Today, I realized just how much the culture and format of the Church does not cater to introverts. Really, this Church is made for extroverts. Here are a few of the ways I think this is the case:
- There is a huge emphasis on fellowshipping. Part of your duty as a righteous member is to befriend others, especially those who are new, visiting, or less active. You're supposed to go right up to someone who looks lonely and start talking to them. Introverts don't like new people.
- The other side of #1 is that if you look lonely, someone is going to try to fellowship you. This is only slightly better than the introvert having to muster up some courage to go and talk to someone else. But it also catches the introvert off guard.
- Church activities vary, but there always are sporting events. I hate this because I don't like sports, but also because, as an introvert, I tend to do better with activities where there are smaller amounts of people. Most church activities involve huge groups of people and events that are less intimate.
- Everyone in the Elders' Quorums and Relief Society is asked to be home teachers and visiting teachers. The assignment is to visit with other predetermined people in the ward, either by coming to their home, calling, or leaving some sort of message. Basically, it's concentrated fellowshipping. Again, for introverts, they both have to visit someone and be visited by people, both of which they aren't fans. It's a little easier because it's one-on-one, but it's still uncomfortable.
- Mormons are huge on sharing their beliefs. They do so in missionary work, testimony meetings, etc. When it comes to missionary work, this means sharing something intimate with friends or complete strangers. In testimony meetings, you are asked to share your beliefs in front of the entire congregation from the pulpit as a way of strengthening those beliefs. For me, I'm not going to make myself vulnerable like that for crowds, friends with whom I've never had that type of relationship before, or complete strangers. It makes me very uncomfortable.
- The Church relies on a lot of volunteer work, or lay clergy. Since no one is paid to preach, members are asked to conduct meetings, give sermons, and prepare lessons. Again, this could be in front of the entire congregation (100+ people). This could also occur in smaller meetings, anywhere from 10 to 50 people. Because many introverts dislike public speaking, this is definitely more of an extroverted activity.
- Church culture encourages lots of displays of emotion. Feeling the Spirit is an overwhelming experience for many. It is very common to hear members cry or become emotional while they are doing any of the above activities: teaching, giving talks, bearing their testimonies, missionary work, etc. Introverts are not always comfortable with these occurrences, either seeing them or being asked to show powerful emotions themselves. Again, it puts them in a place of vulnerability, which they don't like.
- Similar to #6, members are frequently asked to pray in front of others. Mormons like to have prayers before meals with the family, morning and/or evening prayers with family, and prayers before and after each meeting (not including personal prayers). This combines introvert's dislike of public speaking and their discomfort with making themselves vulnerable by sharing something intimate.
To me, it's pretty obvious that this church was set up by extroverts for extroverts. And these are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head - I'm sure there are more. Actually, many introverts may find these aspects of Church helpful, because they are learning to become more outgoing in a safe environment. But for many introverts, all of these items serve to alienate them in a culture that is very open, outgoing, and social - something that does not come naturally to me or other introverts.
I'm also not sure what the Church should be doing to better include introverts. I would say for sure that some of our activities (dances, sporting events, etc.) should become more intimate and productive (honestly, anyone who isn't 16 is sick of those kinds of events anyway).
But I do want to say that if you are an LDS introvert, you're definitely not alone.
Thoughts? Comments? Disagreements? Observations? Praise? All are welcome in the comments below.