How Introverts Can Make the Best Small Group Leaders

Cultivating your strengths

Somewhere around 2007 or so, my pastor pointed me to the now-classic business book by Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap ... and Others Don’t. Collins writes: “Compared to high-profile leaders with big personalities who make headlines and become celebrities, the good-to-great leaders seem to have come from Mars. Self-effacing, quiet, reserved, even shy—these leaders are a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will. They are more like Lincoln and Socrates than Patton or Caesar.”

What Collins discovered is that many of the better business leaders are introverts! Just like Lincoln and Socrates. Caesar? Well, let’s not go there. And we’ll come back to “shy” in a bit.

A couple of years later Adam McHugh’s excellent book, Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture, came out. Finally, my own experiences as an introvert felt validated.

Introverts are valuable! Normal! And have a lot to contribute. Albeit a little late in life, like Pinocchio, I could assert, “I’m a real boy!”

My point is simply that if you are an introvert you can be just as effective in a leadership role in your church as the more noisy youth director.

Leading Small Groups

One of the introvert’s greatest spheres of influence is in small groups.

For example, small group leaders are often trained to manage participants who tend to dominate the group. Sadly, a leader can do the same thing. Introvert leaders, however, tend to talk less and facilitate more.

While introvert leaders are quieter, they aren’t necessarily shy. Shyness implies timidity something even extroverts can experience. Introversion relates more to one’s interior life, the need for recharging, and the power of contemplation.

So what are some advantages and strategies for introverts to be effective in leading groups in Bible engagement? Here are a few:

Prepare and plan

Being the leader means you can be in control. The participants will look to you to guide the discussion. It’s your call when to move on and when to pause.

Carla Foote, an introvert who leads a mom’s group in Denver, Colorado, explains, “For me, preparation gives me confidence—as far as planning out questions, praying, and just being ‘on form’ so I can flex with the group and the Holy Spirit. I've been in groups led by extroverts and they usually talk too much.”

Planning can go beyond prepping on the topic. Your attitude and the environment are also important.

“As an introvert leading a small group,” explains Jennie Gerardi, a woman’s small group leader at Huntingdon Valley Presbyterian Church in Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania, “some things I find to be helpful are creating a comfortable environment, providing snacks, spending 5 to 10 minutes in fellowship as we gather to meet, planning out an approximate time frame for the meeting to allow time for group discussion as well as prayer, and praying prior to meeting as well as throughout the week for the Holy Spirit’s guidance.”

Ask questions and tolerate silence

According to Annette Wallen Cousert, who leads groups at Lighthouse Christian Fellowship in Brownsburg, Indiana, success as an introvert leader means: “Asking lots of open-ended questions. Let everyone else do the talking.”

The challenge here is that if you also have introverts in your group, you could experience “crickets” (also known as quiet time) after asking a question. That’s okay. Just wait.

“I am a catechist for the high school kids who are going to receive the sacrament of Confirmation,” explains Vicki Adang of St. Lawrence Catholic Church in Indianapolis. “I have to lead a discussion with a small group of them every time we have class. They don't trust anyone over 17; and they really don’t want to talk about religion. I’ve gotten used to silence. My theory is that the Holy Spirit uses that time to work within them.”

Definitely trust the Holy Spirit! Remember you aren’t leading alone. It’s OK to wait in silence as the Holy Spirit stirs people’s hearts and minds.

Listen and care

It’s important to be a good listener and really care about what’s being shared. Dan Morrison, pastor of Huntingdon Valley Presbyterian Church, facilitates meetings and small groups with both introverts and extroverts.

In any group leadership role, explains Morrison, “My job is to actively hear what people are saying. I can do this only if I really care about what they are saying. I can’t fake it. As a participant in or leader of a group, it is important to actually care about what people are saying as opposed to sitting politely until it's your turn to talk.”

Draw out other introverted leaders

As an introvert, you may be able to recognize the leadership potential in other introverts in your group. Be intentional to draw them out. Here are three tips.

  • Be attentive. To spot a potential leader among your introverts, observe them in various settings. While they will be quiet initially, especially in a new situation, as they become comfortable with the people around them, they will open up. Watch and wait.
  • Ask them (sometimes more than once). When asked to do something extroverts may immediately respond, “Sure thing!” There’s no way they’ve thought through the task! On the other hand, introverts tend to be hesitant. They’ll want time to think and come back later with questions. You may need to ask them again to assure them you really want them! A few weeks later they’ll be ready to offer a definitive yes or no. This is completely normal. Once an introvert says yes, stand back and watch them work!
  • Allow them to be themselves. Avoid asking an introvert to be more extroverted. Doing so implies they’re not good enough the way God made them, that they’re broken and need to be fixed. Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we [all] are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” God put both extroverts and introverts on this earth for a reason. Each is valuable and each can contribute differently in positive ways.

When God called introverts to join the kingdom, God also equipped them to be effective in ministry. Quietness can be far more powerful than making a lot of noise. For an introverted leader, introversion is a superpower. Encourage them to embrace it and do great things!

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Stephen R. Clark
Stephen R. Clark

Stephen R. Clark is a member of the Evangelical Press Association and the principal of CleverSmith™ Writing (www.CleverSmith.com) based in Oreland, Pennsylvania. He also does communications for his church, Huntingdon Valley Presbyterian Church (www.HVPC.org). You can learn far more than you probably want to know about him at www.StephenRClark.com.

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