We all have friends, right? No, you don’t? Off to an awkward start.
I know, some of us sometimes FEEL like we don’t have friends. We work crazy hours, tend to spend our free time with teenagers (weird), have kids that suck up all of our free time, and the list goes on and on. But even though we can go through seasons where we feel like we don’t have friends, chances are we all have a group of people we would point to and say, “Yea, those are my friends.”
It’s also likely that you are where you are today and you are who you are today because of a group of friends. Maybe it was a solid group of Christian guys and girls you hung out with in high school that had a massive impact on your spiritual growth. Maybe it was a Bible study you were a part of in college that left indelible imprints on your life. Praise God for friends.
However, here’s my question; In those seasons of life where God richly blessed you with godly relationships, would you have considered yourself part of a clique?
Cliques are Fake
My guess is you answered the above question as, “No.” You would not have considered your friend group a clique. Nobody ever labels himself or herself as being a part of a clique. Cliques have an obvious negative connotation that people don’t want to be associated with. And although we would have never considered ourselves a part of a clique in the moment (maybe we would retroactively), we are quick to hit the panic button on groups of friends in our youth groups and label them cliques.
I am of the opinion that we are too quick to cry “CLIQUE!” Here’s why:
We are the ones who naturally separate students by putting them into small groups (most of us, anyway). We can then become worried that our small groups have become cliques, which is a different, more negative way of saying, “The groups I put together have actually bonded and become close friends!”
Let me give you an example. My wife leads a small group of 10th-grade girls. She started leading these girls when they were in 7th grade, and since our middle school ministry starts in 7th grade, these girls were put in a small group for the first time in 7th grade. Some of these girls could not possibly have different interests and personalities. The group consists of girls from 6 different high schools. Do you ever think they get accused of being a clique? Absolutely! But these girls weren’t even close to even being acquaintances before 7th grade and now they’re best friends. A group of 10th-grade girls has become best friends within the context of the local church. In my mind, this can’t possibly be a bad thing.
Just because students have friends they enjoy talking to during youth group does not mean they are in a clique.
Just because there are certain students in your youth group who don’t want to and can’t possibly be in the same small group together does not mean they are in separate cliques. Remember Paul and Barnabas? They had such a big disagreement that they split up (Acts 16:34-41). Both godly dudes, but just relationally felt it was time to move on. Not everyone is meant to be in close, intimate relationship with one another. I’m an adult, and there are so many people I would not want to be in a small group with. So many of you are judging me after reading that sentence, but in reality, you’re in the same boat. Think about it…
Cliques are Real
Now, cliques are a very real thing and can be dangerous. I don’t want to sit here and say cliques are a figment of our imagination. We want our small groups to be welcoming and inviting communities that warmly embrace all outsiders who step into their tight-knit circle. That’s a godly and biblical desire that I would assume each of us has for our small groups. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always end up becoming a reality. And that’s OK.
I’ll be honest, I’ve had moments of frustration when small groups in our ministry haven’t been totally welcoming to new students. But after giving it some thought, I get it. Students who have shared their lives together, who have laughed and cried together, who have been to the mountaintops and lowest valleys together, are sometimes hesitant to let new people into the crew. They don’t know them, so why should they feel comfortable being vulnerable in front of them?
It’s a hard dynamic to navigate. It’s messy and difficult and there is tension in having an open door policy in your small groups. Have you ever sat in on a 7th-grade girls small group of 25 students? We have a group that size in our ministry. The group loves and welcomes all new students. It’s amazing to see 7th-grade girls welcome total strangers into their community. But the truth is, every time their group grows, the dynamic changes, and I would argue for the worse. There is a capacity limit when it comes to the transformational power of small groups. You cannot have the quality of conversation and depth of friendship in a group of 25 as you can in a group of 10. Small groups should have an open door policy. And they also shouldn’t.
So what’s the solution? If our ministries have small groups, then we are structuring our ministries in a way that breeds the potential for cliques to form. How can we prevent them from happening and combat them when they rear their ugly heads? Here is what I would propose:
1. Set up small groups to eventually split
You can potentially prevent cliques from happening by setting up small groups to eventually split. If every group has at least 2 adult leaders, it has the ability to eventually split. Decide what your limit for small groups is. Is it 12? 15? There isn’t a magic number, you just need to decide what it is and communicate with small group leaders ahead of time that their group will split when it gets to that magic number. That way, groups can always have an open door while also having an escape valve when it gets too large.
2. Encourage and promote larger group socials
Don’t let small groups do everything with just themselves. Encourage small group leaders to have combined events with other small groups to allow students to meet other students. Build in some ice breaker time into your youth group for groups to intermingle with one another without the pressure of having a serious conversation with students they don’t know as well.
3. Teach on small groups
Have you ever taught on small groups? Why you do them? What their purpose is and what their purpose is not? Instead of getting frustrated when our groups don’t welcome outsiders, maybe we need to think critically and reflectively. Have we taught about welcoming the stranger? Loving others? Showing compassion? Cast vision for what small groups can and should look like and tell stories of awesome small groups who operate this way.
4. Have a strategy for group placement
Don’t put students in random groups for no reason. If you purposely separate friends, students with similar interests, and students from the same school, you will successfully have avoided cliques. Unfortunately, that will be because nobody will return to your youth group. Don’t split up friends for no reason. Why would we not want friends to have space in their friendships to talk about spiritual things? Splitting up friends is not a way to avoid cliques. It’s a way to make people mad.
Let’s be quick to affirm the quality of relationships that are forming amongst our students and slow to accuse groups of friends of becoming cliques. I praise God every time I see students building friendships on the foundation of Jesus Christ within the context of the church. It’s okay that those students aren’t friends with every student who walks through our door.
Jason Lollar is the Junior High Pastor at Calvary Church in Souderton, Pennsylvania. His favorite things include, but are not limited to, coffee, reading, his wife Melissa, and Liverpool FC. You can connect with him on Instagram at LOLLAR_16 or on Twitter at JLOLLAR16.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.