Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Visiting Churches as an Introvert

I am an introvert. A very strong introvert. The group social interactions where I thrive are the ones where I am free to sit back and observe. I am nourished and inspired by the thoughts and work of others. If given enough time in a small enough group, I will open my mouth but please oh please don't try to force me and especially don't try to make it happen immediately. In high school, "get to know you games" (especially at summer camp) often reduced me to tears. Even now, any time I attend some sort of event or workshop where there is some adult version of these games, I always excuse myself to go to the restroom and will hide outside until it's over if it's at all possible!

Why am I telling you all this? Because, as I enter my Season of Sabbath, I am facing a very anxiety-producing experience and that is visiting new churches. I was trying to come up with some logical and eloquent way of sharing this anxiety when I came across this article : Top 5 Things Introverts Dread About Church. That pretty much covers it for me. The most anxiety producing part of this for me is that I don't know how much of all these things to expect so there's no way to prepare for them. I have just about decided that, no matter what, I'm going to have to visit a place at least twice before I can form an opinion about what kind of fit it will be for me. The first time will be all about survival and getting my bearings. The second time I can actually take it all in and make a more educated decision.

When I think about visiting a new church, I can't help but remember an episode of Designing Women. I can't remember whose church it was (probably Charlene's) but Mary Jo and I believe Julia were visiting. They were immediately noticed by the pushy woman in charge of the "hospitality" committee who promptly pinned a giant yellow mum to each of them so that everyone in the church would know they were visitors. Although I know that there was a certain level of embellishment for the comedic sake of television, there is still a tiny part in the back of my mind that is terrified that this will happen to me as I visit new places.

I have never encountered a church that took it to quite that level, but I do remember the one time I visited a church in college (which may or may not have been part of why I didn't really go to church in college!) when the friends who had taken me forced me over to get a "visitor's bag". Their reasoning behind it was that there was a super-fabulous homemade brownie inside made by one of the sweet ladies in the church. While the brownie was really wonderful, I would have preferred to never eat another brownie again for the rest of my life than have to walk out with that bag. After that incident, I never did go back to that church because I saw myself tagged as "fresh meat" and I just couldn't handle it. I will walk a quarter mile in the rain to avoid parking in a space marked for visitors. I refuse to raise my hand and introduce myself. I will generally only fill out a visitor card if it is small and can be slipped discretely into the offering plate or made as a note on an attendance pad and I promise you will NOT get my address or phone number! If and when I decide to attend regularly or join, only then will I allow myself to exist "on the grid."

My husband is not an introvert. He is happy to shake hands, introduce himself, tell anyone where he works and where he lives. He has no problem jumping right in. Obviously, this can require some negotiations and compromise on both our parts when we embark on new experiences.

What about you? Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert? What parts of church (or new situations) are uncomfortable for you? How do you deal with them?

1 comment:

  1. I feel the same way, I feel like fresh meat, awkward, uncomfortable, and worst of all: I have to put on a cheerful face meeting people. Meeting people I don't mind, but not in that setting as I am not acting like my normal self, which is something culture is told not to do. I feel your pain, and my mother continues to push the church routine on me every special occasion -- but I decline. It's too much negative pressure for a social setting I have no interest in exposing myself to, and I'm not willing to budge as I know I will be absolutely miserable if I do go.