Cliques aren’t necessarily bad. In fact, in a church of our size, it’s going to be next to impossible for everyone to be close friends with everyone.
The problem comes when one clique, or even group of cliques, becomes “the” clique at the church. When this group gets together, it’s considered that the youth group has gotten together. If some of them are missing from Sunday morning or a Wednesday night, then “nobody showed up” for worship and small groups.
There are ways that a clique can operate in a church setting that can be damaging to the church.
Mostly, these revolve around two groups of people outside the clique: those who’ve been around the church for a long time but aren’t in “the” clique, and new comers to the church who aren’t readily accepted into “the” clique.
The Long Timers
Long timers are students who have been coming to our church for a long time, but for one reason or another, don’t fit into the clique. Perhaps it’s because their personality doesn’t mesh with the main group. Perhaps it’s because their schedule keeps them from attending church as often as they would like. Maybe it’s just that they don’t want to be a part of a big group of friends, but prefer a smaller group to spend time with.
And these youth look at “the” clique, and begin to wonder why they don’t fit in. Or maybe they resent those who do fit in. For some reason, their schedule, their personality, their relationship style, their clothes, their hair, the way they talk, they just don’t fit into the clique.
And because they don’t fit in there, they feel like they don’t fit into the church.
How do I know they don’t feel like they fit in? Because they’ve been telling me.
How would you like to grow up at a church, from birth until your senior year, and look around and feel like the church you know and love isn’t a place where you belong?
You’d feel pretty terrible. That’s what I’ve been hearing. Students feeling like they don’t belong here, even though it’s where they’ve grown up.
Is that what we want? Certainly not.
The First Timers
The other negative side effect manifests itself when new students come to visit the church. If there is only one clique that compromises the whole youth group, then a visitor will feel welcome and accepted only if they “fit into” the clique. Now, again I doubt most of you wake up thinking “Man, I can’t wait to exclude the new kid from church.” However, that doesn’t have to be a conscious decision for it to happen.
Imagine you’re coming to hang at the church. It’s Wednesday night and you’re certain your friends will be there. You come, see your friends, spend time joking and hanging out with them, then go to worship, and then small group. The whole time you’re investing in your friends and growing memories with them. What’s the problem? Your goal in coming to church was to see “your” friends. You didn’t even notice that there were new people here.
Again, I really don’t think anyone does this intentionally. However, unless you come to church knowing that you need to be accepting and looking out for new students, you’ll miss them.
Case in point:
We were having a meeting with students about what to do with first time and other visitors. We were talking about having some students wear name tags, having a visitor station, and other measures to make new students feel welcome.
Some began to say that doing these types of things weren’t necessary, that it would make new people feel awkward, and that it was EVERYONE’S job to greet new people, and it shouldn’t be delegated to certain students. A long time member of the youth group then made this statement: “Is this even really necessary? I mean, in the last month we’ve had like, maybe 1 visitor? We shouldn’t have to make a team to greet new people. Everyone should just greet everyone.” My response was simple: “This last Sunday, we had 3 visitors. Did you greet any of them?”
They hadn’t. They didn’t even know they were here.
Are we going to just wait for these students to “fit in” or are we going to make an effort to ensure they feel welcome and a part of the church on their first visit?
What Makes Cliques Bad?
Exclusivity. When one clique becomes “the” clique and excludes (whether intentionally or unintentionally) others and makes them feel unwelcome. So what can we do about it? Next time I’ll talk about how we can change for the better.