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Exterminate the Cliques Infesting Your Ministry

By Guest Contributor October 30, 2014

By Phil Bell

Healthy community is a key foundation to spiritual growth. If students are not comfortable in the community of your youth ministry, they won’t be able to focus on hearing God’s truth. And more than that, a welcoming community embodies the gospel message in a way that’s hard to convey by only talking about it. But what if your youth group community isn’t exactly healthy? What if your students are segmented into clusters, or worse, cliques?

What is the difference between a clique and a cluster? Here are my quick definitions:

Clique: A group of students who find security in a closed group of like-minded people. Their message is, “Stay away from our group. These friends are mine, and you are not welcome.”

Cluster: A group of students who find security in an open group of like-minded people. Their message is, “This is our safe group of friends who we resonate with and feel safe with. Everyone else is invited in, but please keep it safe.”

Do you see the difference? If you have cliques in your youth ministry, you have a lot of work to do. If you have clusters, at least students are able to see the need for healthy community. The problem is, cliques and clusters look very similar from the outside. That’s why either one can be a barrier to vibrant community.

Here are four C’s that can help break down cliques, redirect clusters, and build healthy community in your youth ministry:

1. Cast vision. This seems obvious, but how many of us regularly cast vision for community? Vision leaks out to others, so it’s essential we continuously hold our vision for community in front of students, parents, and other youth leaders so it will fuel their actions. Community is one aspect of a healthy vision statement that everyone in your ministry should know and understand. If people don’t know your vision, they will likely default back to what they do and experience in their world of school, work, and the community in the world they live. I wouldn’t take that chance if I were you.

cliques_quote2. Challenge cliques and clusters. As hard as it may be, we need to intentionally and quietly talk to students who regularly separate themselves from the larger group or shun others. Before we call them out, we must first paint a picture of our vision for community and help them to see our dreams for them as a part of that community. Let them hear your love and care for them personally. Explain how they are missing out and how others are missing out on them.

Here’s the bottom line: Call out cliques and clusters, but do it with gentleness and respect and do it privately.

3. Call out adults. If we want to create healthy community, it begins with leaders in the ministry. In my ministry, all of my leaders know the “no leader huddle” rule—leaders cannot talk exclusively to each other while missing out time with students. They are there for students and not for themselves.

Students follow what we model. What are we modeling to them?

4. Create meaningful games and ice-breakers. Ice-breakers and games need to help students engage with one another in small, unthreatening steps. Breaking up students into random teams can be challenging at first, but soon it becomes the expectation week after week. Gone are the days of five to ten students up front while the audience watches and laughs. We need PURPOSEFUL INTERACTION!

Does your ministry have cliques, clusters, or both? How do you overcome cliques and clusters? What helps you create healthy community? How do you make vision of healthy community a part of your DNA in your youth ministry?

Looking for resources to help build healthy community in your youth group, especially among your student leaders? Try Team Leadership or the Team Leadership Value Pack. Also, check out the Team Up leadership training retreat—a three-day retreat designed to mold your students into a unified team.

CC Image courtesy Twentyfour Students on Flickr.

About the Author

Guest Contributor

The LeaderTreks Blog is proud to share the hard-earned wisdom of student ministry leaders from many different backgrounds and professions. From time to time, we will feature guest blog posts from writers other than our regular contributors. We include these posts to provide additional perspectives and insight that we’re sure will help develop you and your ministry…  Read More