Creating Quiet Spaces for Introverts in Church
A few years back, I was at a trade show exploring the latest contract furniture designs. I stepped into the Steelcase showroom toward the end of the day and was immediately drawn to their new workspaces.
I wasn’t really sure why, but I found myself fully engrossed by these tiny spaces—6’x6’ cubes, with glass walls, a sliding door, and just enough furniture for one person. And I wasn’t alone in my interest. The showroom was packed with people taking long, hard looks at these unique designs.
All I wanted to do was go in and shut the door.
Later, I discovered that these cubes—called “Quiet Spaces”—were designed by Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking and a leading advocate for introverts. Steelcase, understanding that introverts make up one-third to one-half of the global population, joined forces with Cain to create these innovate office spaces around the unique needs of introverts—all designed to invigorate their creative and leadership skills.
Check out Cain’s TED Talk on The Power of Introverts, in which she defines the key differences between extroverts (those who crave large amounts of stimulation) and introverts (those who feel most alive in quieter, subtle environments) and discusses society’s strong bias toward the latter group. She also expresses the crucial nature of solitude, even talking about how Jesus and Moses sought out some seclusion.
So what does this mean for our church buildings? Let’s explore the three action items Cain gives at the end of her talk and how they relate to church design.
1. Stop the Madness for Constant Group Work
Per Cain, “I deeply believe our offices should be encouraging casual, chatty cafe-style types of interactions—you know, the kind where people come together and serendipitously have an exchange of ideas. That is great. It's great for introverts and it's great for extroverts. But we need much more privacy, freedom, and autonomy at work. School—same thing. We need to be teaching kids to work together, for sure, but we also need to be teaching them how to work on their own. This is especially important for extroverted children too. They need to work on their own because that is where deep thought comes from in part.”
Are you providing multiple ways and places for large and small groups (one or two people) to connect in your church? In your meeting rooms, for example—where roundtables and folding chairs tend to be the standard options—consider adding groups of lounge seating around the perimeter. Or in your lobby, make sure the seating arrangements naturally welcome and serve both extroverts and introverts. And in your worship space, consider whether or not you’re providing spaces that are less stimulating.
2. Go to the Wilderness
“Have your own revelations,” Cain admonishes. “I'm not saying that we all have to now go off and build our own cabins in the woods and never talk to each other again, but I am saying that we could all stand to unplug and get inside our own heads a little more often.”
Do you have such respite spaces in your church—places away from the main thoroughfare and off the beaten path? Maybe you could create a library and enforce the quiet rule. Or you could help people unplug from the digital world by providing sufficient static signage—something that doesn’t flash, beep, and scream like highly stimulating digital signage.
3. Look at What’s in Your Suitcase and Why You Put It There
As Cain says, “Extroverts, maybe your suitcases are also full of books. Or maybe they're full of champagne glasses or skydiving equipment. Whatever it is, I hope you take these things out every chance you get and grace us with your energy and your joy. But introverts, you being you, you probably have the impulse to guard very carefully what's inside your own suitcase. And that's okay. But occasionally, just occasionally, I hope you will open up your suitcases for other people to see, because the world needs you and it needs the things you carry.”
Taking a look past your building, do your ministries allow people to be themselves? Do you allow people to do deep thinking on their own and then come together to further the mission? Are your ministries led by extroverts, who are, by their approach, stifling your introverts?
It was a strange dichotomy for me at that trade show. I really wanted to try out the quiet spaces, but not if it meant traversing through a large group of people to get to them. And so I did what any introvert would do. I left.
Make sure the introverts in your church aren’t doing the same because of your building, spaces, and ministries.