My educated guess is that a lot of youth pastors are extraverts. They’re high-energy people persons who thrive on being in groups and love to be the center of the ‘party’. They’re primarily doers, not thinkers and they get stir-crazy when they’re in meetings too long. Reflection and introspection don’t come natural, they’d rather think out loud and it takes effort to slow down and breathe. Sound familiar?
Yet not all of us are extraverts and definitely not everyone in our team of volunteers or leaders, or even in our youth group or youth small group. But for extraverts it can be a challenge to truly understand introverts because they’re so…different. But if we want to work better together, to understand others better, we need to come to a better understanding of what it means to be introverted. So here’s a quick guide to understanding introverts.
Extraversion and introversion
Let’s start with trying to define extraversion and introversion with a few examples:
- Extraverts are people who get energized when with other people, introverts get energized when being by themselves. (As one introvert described it: ‘introverts are people who find other people tiring’)
- Introverts usually prefer environments with less stimuli (sounds, visual stimuli, etc), whereas extraverts love being stimulated on multiple levels.
- In general, extraverts are more doers, introverts are usually more thinkers and want to understand things.
- Extraverts are talkers, introverts are usually more thoughtful and less impulsive.
- Extraverts are often restless when alone and tend to constantly seek the company of others, introverts need time alone to recharge and think.
- Extraverts most of the time think out loud, they formulate their opinions and come to conclusions through talks and discussions. Introverts need time to process and think things through. They need solitude and reflection to come to conclusions.
- Introverts often have better concentration than extraverts, who get easily distracted by what’s happening around them.
- One other very interesting difference: extraverts often focus on breadth, introverts on depth. It’s one of the reasons why introverts are often bad at small talk, they just don’t see the point and would rather talk about stuff that matters.
Research has shown that these differences have actually to do with specific brain activity, with extraverts having more activity in the back of the brain (areas that deal with external sensory input) and introverts having more activity in the front of the brain (the ‘thinking’ part of the brain).
Introverts are a minority worldwide, the guess is that about 75% of the people is extraverted as to 25% being introverted. Interestingly, there is a correlation between IQ and introversion, with introversion being more common among higher educated people. Of course not all people are completely on one end of the scale, many are somewhere in between the two with a slight or more obvious dominance of either one.
Because extraverts are in the majority, introverts are sometimes frowned upon. They’re seen as shy, aloof, sometimes even arrogant because they won’t mingle or show up at every party. But as the above has made clear: introverts are simply wired differently than extraverts, which leads them to making different choices.
Taking care of introverts
So knowing all this, what could you do to take care of the introverts in your team, your youth group or your youth small group? Here are a few suggestions:
- Introduce some silence every now and then, because this will make the introverts very happy. Some silent prayer, moments for reflection, etc will not only help them recharge after (for them) too many sensory stimuli, but will also help them process and thus apply whatever you’ve been teaching.
- In a camp, residential or teaching weekend, allow for alone time. Don’t schedule every single minute full with activities, but create some downtime.
- In making decisions, allow for processing time for introverts. Schedule a 15 minute break before making a major decision, or split a discussion up in two meetings with time to think and process in between. It will help introverts make up their mind and formulate their opinion.
- The same applies to small groups: introverts need time to think before answering a question. So ask a question and give them a minute to think it through.
- Don’t force introverts to talk, to mingle or to make small talk. Accept that they don’t like this and leave it at that.
- Reward introverts by shutting up and listening more and better to what they have to say. Often, their opinions drown in those of the extraverts who shout far louder. Ask introverts specifically for their input and listen more than you talk.
- As a leader, schedule one-on-one’s with introvert leaders. They often function better in one-on-ones than in bigger groups.
- In youth ministry training, let the introverts observe first and give them time to process before you call them to the front to do anything.
- Introverts often don’t like to be interrupted when they’re working, so let them work uninterrupted whenever possible. If their time for an assignment is running out, give them a warning a few minutes ahead so they can finish in peace.
- And maybe most importantly: check your assumptions and expectations constantly. Don’t expect or require introverts to behave like extraverts, it’s not who they are.
Are you an extravert or an introvert? If the latter, do you have any advice to add how you’d like people to approach you, take care of you better?