Cliques are a reality for our students in their schools and community. Unfortunately, it is often a reality they face at church too. Cliques are the enemy of healthy community and ultimately the enemy of students hearing God’s best for them. When students don’t feel relationally comfortable, they are less likely to relate to God’s truth. Here are 7 priorities I am constantly working on to avoid cliques in my ministry.
1. Cast vision—It’s important to constantly compare and contrast a vision for healthy community compared to painful reality of cliques. This can be done through intentional messages but also weekly in announcements. It’s imperative to constantly paint a picture of a community where students can feel safe and belong.
2. Know the difference between Comfort and Clique—Some student groups could be described as a clique, when in fact they are simply too comfortable to be aware of others. A clique is defined as, “a small, exclusive group of people” (dictionary.com). It’s important to discern whether students are intentionally exclusive or just missing the point. The way to respond to comfortable students is quite different from clique-y ones.
3. Understand cliques—It’s easy to get frustrated by students who are intentionally clique-y. However, it’s important to remind ourselves that many of them find security in keeping others out. Most cliques, in my experience, are comprised of insecure kids trying to control their environment.
4. Address cliques immediately—It can be difficult to confront students in a clique, and it can be tempting to avoid conflict with these kinds of students. However, the longer we wait, the worse it gets. First, cliques will often sink deeper into their exclusivity. Second, as one group of students begins to clique, you might find that others follow the same pattern as a way to protect themselves.
5. Program for community—Intentionally break up circles of friends and place them in different groups from one another. Create ice-breakers and team building activities that allow for students to get to know each other better. Realize it takes time to see students connecting and developing authentic community.
6. Leaders set the example—It means everything that youth leaders cross the lines of friendship groups and do not become comfortable with their “favorite” students or fellow leaders.
7. Give ownership to students—Whether in a student leadership setting or in small groups, students need to be given the reigns to own the problem and create solutions. When we empower students to discover and develop solutions, they are more likely to be aware of cliques and break them up when they see them.