Extroverted Rituals in the Church

“We just aren’t friendly enough.” Pastors hate to hear this – even if it were true (and often it is not). It is generic enough that it could be true of any congregation. But it is not specific enough to offer any real insight or help into solving the problem.

I was at meeting once where the charge was made, and a member responded with, “When I visited, I liked it here because people left me alone.” For the introvert, going somewhere and being left alone is a joy. And with 30-50% of the population rated as introverts, it is a good idea to make sure that our churchly customs do not alienate them. Let’s be clear: Introverts do not need to have someone “bring them out of their shell.” They like their shell. Let’s be clear about something else, as well. The outgoing, gregarious good-old-boy yuck-it-up and poke-at-each-other shtick appeals only to a certain type of person. I have heard of too many occasions where a poorly-timed joke offended someone, and they never returned. This is doubly true for first-time visitors. (And it usually happens to pastors who are seen as “the best of the best” because they are so outgoing.)

Perhaps there should be a course in this at seminary (Care and Feeding of Introverts 101). I recall being at a table listening to seminarians mock the idea that an introvert could even be a pastor. Unbeknownst to them, there were two introverts at the table. Some people will not listen, even if you tell them the truth.

But here is a bit of truth that my extrovert friends may wish to consider: The #1 reason that people do not visit a church for a second time is not the worship style. It’s the stupid “greet your neighbor” ritual that has become all too common today. It will instantly offend 30-50% of the visitors you see. They will not come back, not matter how good your preaching is. (And it’s probably not as good as you think.) So, to put it succinctly, “Don’t do it.”

PS. The Liturgically-Lutheran-ized version of this is the “sharing of the peace.” Don’t do that either. It’s not historic. Unless you first ask the visitors to leave, and then have the men exchange the ‘kiss of peace’ with the men, and the women with the women. Since, you are not doing it that way, you are not re-instituting an ancient practice. The “Holy Handshake” is new. And silly. And waaaaaaaaaaay more unsanitary than the common cup. But that is a different topic entirely.

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