Sunday, August 4, 2013

8 Reasons Why Introverts Don't Like the LDS Church

I'm an introvert. For me, this means that I don't like to meet new people, spending lots of time with people exhausts me, and that I'd rather be at home. I only start talking a lot after I've really gotten to know a person, and I rarely ever talk in a large group. This isn't unusual - there are lots of introverts out there, and they've been speaking out more and more about it. Basically, introverts gather their energy from being alone, whereas extroverts gain energy from being with others.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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. 
  3. 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. 
  4. 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.
  5. 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. 
  6. 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. 
  7. 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. 
  8. 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. 


  1. Came across your post after starting to read "The Introvert Advantage" by Marti Olsen Laney. It seems like a valuable read so far. Part way through it mentioned how introverts can feel shame or guilt for being that way and I thought no where is that more true for me than at church. I'm an LDS member living in BC with an extrovert wife and two little ones.

    I agree with many of your points, although I have felt through a mission and my current work, which is one on one, I've managed to cope better with public speaking. Another point you alluded to is simply the number of activities. With my wife in Young Women's and the regular busy schedule (our ward seems to like activities), there's usually two or three days a week with something going on and the perhaps somewhat self-expectation to attend. And that's not mentioning anything about leadership meetings and the like.

    I am indeed glad that as you said, I am not alone. But the question still remains. how does one cope? I think it's more difficult to be an introvert in the LDS Church than other organizations because of the extrovert/missionary mentality. I have tried to simplify as best I can but the exceptions are still there. For example I asked our home teachers not to visit last week because "we have been busy and just needed a family day to relax". Despite that, my home teacher still pushed and said "Well, I guess that's okay this time but next time I need to come and see you". Oh, is that how this works? I've asked not to have regular visits before and settled with our home teachers that we would just call when we need help and that it's good just to know someone is there if we need something, but that doesn't work for long. Doing my own home teaching is another whole other issue, but I still manage to do it most months.

    Anyway, I could go on as I've only recently discovered this introvert in myself and realizing why I feel the way I do. I think the first step for coping at church is to induce a shift in the way others perceive introverts. In the book cited above, it talks about needing this mentally shift; that being an introvert is okay, that introvert's are a minority and therefore feel pressure to act more like the extroverted majority. Perhaps starting a the ward level a discussion, fireside or talk could be given about the differences in introverts, or even just in casual conversation and could be brought up. Awareness just like the churches awareness to other minority groups like singles who can't marry, people with disabilities, gays and people with depression. (Remember Elder Holland's conference talk last year). In the meantime, it's nice just to know there's others out there with the same struggles.

    Thank you for your post.

  2. Great observations, although I would counter that the world was set up by extroverts for extroverts. The church is just reflective of this. I particularly see this at my job. Despite doing my assigned work and doing it well, I'm constantly told that I need to be more visible and more vocal in order to advance in my career. Even though being visible and vocal does nothing but distract from the tasks I am paid to complete, it apparently makes the extroverted managers uneasy to be surrounded by people who sit quietly and think.

    While I wholeheartedly agree that the church can be a difficult place for introverts, in my personal experience, it is also a great place to stretch your boundaries and hone your public speaking skills. In my callings I have received far more training and support than I've received in school or at work.

    I've served as a ward mission leader, elders quorum president, high councilor and member of the bishopric - all of which required me to get well outside of my comfort zone in a public capacity. As a high councilor especially I had to visit unfamiliar wards each month and speak for anywhere from 15 to 35 minutes (I never knew how much time I would have until the speaker before me finished). This made for some very uncomfortable moments and I'm sure I delivered some awful talks, but over time I improved. Most of all, my confidence improved as I realized that, although I would much prefer to sit in the congregation, I CAN speak in public if I need to.

  3. Good points and another that I'll add as a deeply introverted person is the church's emphasis on work and doing. The LDS culture strongly encourages its adherents to have their lives filled with 24/7 activity, much of which is expected to be highly interactive with others. While many extroverts find this energizing, introverts tend to find it energy-depeleting. Because of this, we crave periods of solitude during which we can step back and recharge our batteries. This type of battery-recharching is discouraged within the LDS culture and is often percieved as lazy and/or selfish.

    In the LDS culture, living an introvert's lifestyle is viewed as a lesser lifestyle than an extroverted one and, along those lines, many within the church see it as their duty to "save" introverts and convert them into extroverts. In that regard, time that could be spent reading a book, going on a walk, writing, taking a bath, having a deep conversation with a close friend (and even oneself), or watching a sunset is almost always vewed as being better spent doing home teaching, going out with the missionaries, attending meetings, or performing service. Not that introverts are entirely opposed to ever doing those things, we would just prefer to do them in more moderate and infrequent doses than most church members and leaders expect.

  4. I am and LDS convert, and an introvert. However I am not shy, I have no aversion to public speaking and have held a great many leadership positions professionally. Funny enough I was an HR Dir. and headhunter for many years. That being said, large social gatherings, or even church on Sundays are so incredibly difficult and draining for me. I'd rather never ever ever participate in the visiting teaching or home teaching programs. I cannot stand making small talk on Sundays and the ward Christmas party, Relief society evenings and ward socials are the ingredients of my night mares. Honestly the "culture" stuff constantly pushes me to become inactive and I find myself constantly thinking, "why can't they just leave me alone?!?!?!?!?!"