What Can Psychological Temperament Tell You About Your Congregation?

What might you learn from discovering more about the psychological types and temperaments of your congregation’s leaders and members? Do certain temperaments predominate? Is the pastor’s temperament a factor in which types of people are drawn to your church? How does the mix of temperaments in your congregation compare to the United States population as a whole? Is the mix of temperaments different in new church starts, versus long established ones? This past year I signed up my congregation to be part of an on-gong research project which explores these and other questions.(1)

The temperaments referred to in study are based on the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator. Building on the work of Carl Jung, Myers and Briggs group personality types according to four sets of preferences. In terms of the way people perceive the world, they lean toward sensing (S,) which appreciates detail and the five senses, or (N) intuition, which appreciates the whole, relationships. In making decisions, individuals lean toward thinking (T) using logic and reason, or feeling (F) which appreciates human values. A third element concerns the source from which people draw their energy. Extroverts (E) draw their energy from interaction with others and direct their energy toward others. Introverts (I) receive their energy from internal sources and direct energy inward. Myers and Briggs added a fourth set of preferences to their understanding of personality type. In making decisions, judgers (J) like to come to decisions quickly and are more content once they are made. Perceivers (P) prefer to keep options open as long as possible before closing things off with a decision. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator place people in one of 16 different personality types, based on where they fall in these four categories.

Drawing on psychological type theory, Keirsey and Bates(2) group people into four temperament types: SJ, SP, NT and NF. In their Psychological Type in Congregations Study, Royle and Taylor label these types Traditional (SJ), Innovative (SP), Intellectual (NT) and Idealistic (NF). Royle and Norton assert that those of a Traditional temperament prize order and stability in church life and resist innovation. They make loyal church members. Those of an Innovative temperament are flexible and spontaneous and value what is fresh and new. Intellectuals want churches value study and the search for truth. They appreciate the value of debate. Idealists are concerned with making life better for others. They are the congregation’s visionaries.

In their research Royle and Norton surveyed 29 United Church of Christ and Reformed Church in America congregations in the Mid-Atlantic region. Based on their individual surveys, each congregate was assigned a temperament. They also answered questions about what type of worship, sermons and small group involvement they found most meaningful. The mix of temperaments can be comparted to the mix in the U.S. population. The temperaments of the pastor and leaders are compared to the mix of temperaments in the congregation as a whole.

In all but one of the congregations studied, the Traditional temperament was more common than in the U.S. population. In some cases, it was more than twice as common. New church starts, for the most part, had fewer congregates of a Traditional temperament and more Idealists. New church starts also had more Intellectuals. The Innovative temperament was less well-represented in all the congregations studied than in the population as a whole.

What did I learn about my own congregation? In addition to getting some feedback about the kinds of sermons they found most useful, the elements of worship they found most meaningful and the types of small groups they value most, I learned a lot about the types of temperaments found in the congregation and what that might mean for reaching people. A few things stood out. The mix of temperaments in my congregation is more like a new church start than an established congregation. Introverts, at 60% of those surveyed, are more common than the 43% in the general population. Does this help explain why we are not very good at evangelism?! One of the things the researchers wondered about is whether the pastor’s personality type and temperament affects what types are attracted to the congregation. I am both an Idealist (not uncommon among pastors) and an introvert (less common). I am also in a long-term pastorate of 17 years. Does that help explain why we have more Idealists and introverts than others? I also noticed that we lacked only one of the 16 personality types in the Myers-Briggs type indicator. It was the one diametrically opposed to my own. We’ll need to do some thinking about how we might include those out-going, playful, innovative people we lack most.

The research is on-going. If you’d like to be part of this on-going research, contact Marjorie Royle at tayloroyle@comcast.net

(1) What follows is a summary of the research presented by Marjorie Royle and Jon Norton in their Psychological Type in Congregations Study.

(2)Keirsey, D., and Bates, M. 1978 Please Understand Me. Del Mar, CA: Prometheus Nemesis.

Beth LyonRev. Beth Lyon is Pastor of Glenside United Church of Christ in Glenside, Pennsylvania. She has been an Ordained Minister since 1986, serving congregations in Pennsylvania and North Carolina.

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