How your church can REALLY welcome everyone

Personality type indicaters show how different we are from each other.Reuters

One of the most popular types of personality test is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. It's supposed to be able to tell you exactly which one of 16 personality types you are, based on your balance between extraversion and introversion, sensing and judging, thinking and feeling, and judging and perceiving.

It's been much-criticised by psychologists who say it doesn't really work very well, and it does tend to look a bit like a horoscope. But it does indicate something very important: that while we're all children of God, made in his image, we are very, very different people. Some of us are reserved, some of us exuberant. Some of us are adventurous, some of us prefer routine. Some of us cry easily, others not at all. Some of us are easily bored, while others are able to concentrate intensely for long periods of time.

Some of us have a bright, sunny disposition, while others are more sombre. It's not that they aren't happy, but they are serious people. And all of these different personality types mean we encounter God in different ways, too. Some respond to intense Bible study. Some have to be active. Some are deeply reflective, while others need to talk and share ideas aloud.

There's no right or wrong about this, it's just how we're made.

The question for churches and pastors is, whether it's possible to cater for all these different personality types in one congregation.

We have to be honest and say that if you take the extremes of congregational life, it probably isn't – and that's why a multiplicity of churches in an area might be a good thing. If someone's fizzing with happiness and enjoys loud music and lots of movement, they probably aren't going to be satisfied for long at a sober Anglican evensong. In the same way, someone who values peace, quiet and Taizé music probably isn't going to feel closer to God during a family service dominated by small children crawling around under the chairs.

When someone's personality type means that they encounter God in a way that's foreign to the dominant character of their congregation, it can be very hard for them to grow. At the same time, being made to do things we aren't comfortable with can be very good for us. It stretches us and it makes us appreciate other ways of being and worshipping. If we have things all our own way, church can become a very selfish experience.

On the other hand, sometimes we really do need to be fed. At one church where I was minister the services were generally quite formal. We used to be visited by members of another church where services were far more exuberant and worship was more expressive. They'd often come to us in sadness; perhaps they'd had a bereavement or a personal tragedy of some kind. They'd stay in our congregation for a few weeks until they felt ready to face their own church again. We were glad to help, but I always thought it was a pity they needed to take time out instead of being supported where they were.

Realistically, no church is going to be able to meet everyone's needs. But a church's worship style and the shape of its congregational life tends to reflect its ministers, especially if they've been there a while. So why not take a 'personality audit' of how the church works and how it leads people into the presence of God? Is it appealing only to one type of person? Does it need to do things differently? Should it listen to the experiences of people who don't feel included? What might need to change?

We are, all of us, made in God's image, and all of us need to be empowered to grow in his likeness.

Follow Mark Woods on Twitter: @RevMarkWoods