I was in denial for most of my life. It wasn't until a few years ago that I realized that being an introvert could be a good thing. That's because people in our culture—and our small-group ministries—believe a lot of myths about introversion. I was one of them.
A few years ago while I was training a group of leaders, someone asked me, "What should I do about the introverts in my small group?" He went on to describe introverts as a nuisance: they didn't talk much, they weren't engaged, and they clearly didn't like people. What was the point of them even being in a small group?
Dispelling the Myths
As an introvert who loves (and is committed to) small-group ministry, I want to clear up a few common myths. Not only should introverts be involved in small groups, they're an incredible asset to your group.
1. Introverts are shy.
This is one of the most common misconceptions about introversion. Shyness is fear in social situations, specifically related to how we're perceived. Both introverts and extroverts can be shy. Introversion and extroversion, however, are based on stimulation and energy. Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, says, "Shyness is about fear of social judgment. Introversion is more about how you respond to stimulation. Extroverts really crave large amounts of stimulation, whereas introverts feel most alive and most capable when they're in quieter, more low-key environments."
Another way to think about it is to identify what gives you energy or drains your energy. Groups, crowds, and loud, busy settings are highly energizing for extroverts. On the other hand, sitting in solitude near a lake could be incredibly difficult, draining, and even boring. Introverts are the exact opposite. Quietly working on projects, sharing coffee with a friend, or spending time in solitude energize introverts as they think and ponder. Large crowds and loud concerts leave introverts drained of energy. With this understanding, it's easy to see that shyness is not the same as introversion.
2. Introverts aren't engaged in small group.
You're leading a group discussion, and you notice that Dan hasn't said a word all night. He's sitting silently, looking at people who are speaking, and has his Bible out as you read the passages—but he never utters a word. Many group leaders assume that because Dan hasn't shared, he's disengaged. But there could be a lot more to the story.
Introverts do their processing internally. The fact that Dan's making eye contact with people and reading along from the Bible shows he's engaged. He might be noting how one group member's story reflects his own experience. He might be contemplating how the passage applies to his life. He might even be making a mental note to follow up with Sarah later in the week to see how her mother is doing. The point: Silence doesn't necessarily mean disengaged.
3. Introverts don't like people.
I remember taking the Myers-Briggs personality assessment in my high school psychology class. My results came back as clear as day: INFJ. The "I" stands for introversion, and it immediately caused me a lot of stress. I tried to hide my results from my classmates, covering up the giant "I" at the top of the page. I wholeheartedly believed that to be extroverted was to love people, to be outgoing, to be social. To be introverted was to hate people and to be a recluse. With this definition, being introverted was not a good thing in the social structure of high school.