My older sister went to our church’s youth ministry but it didn’t last long. In fact after only lasting a short time she decided to never go back. The simple reason was that the group of girls in her age bracket were a clique and there was no way she was going to get into that group. Dealing with cliques in your youth ministry is one of the most important issues you can address to make sure students want to come back.
Is it a group of friends or a clique?
The first thing you have to be able to do is tell the difference between an open group of friends and a clique. The easiest way is body language. Not only their literally body language but also their attitudes towards others. When this group of students interact with a new student or someone outside their group are they a closed circle (really hard for someone to join them) or a “U” shaped. You see when groups are “U” shaped (figuratively and literally) then they are an open friendship group and it is easy for someone to join up and not feel awkward.
Here are 4 ways to break up cliques in your youth ministry and create open or “U” shaped friendship groups which are adapted from Jeanne Mayo’s book Thriving Youth Groups.
1. Use language that breaks down cliques
The words that we use are important and they have influential power. When you are interacting with a student one on one or are talking to the entire group from the stage, are you unintentionally promoting cliques or open friendship groups? It is important to constantly reinforce that everyone is welcome. However it is even more important to always be reminding your regular students that we must be welcoming and including those students that enter into our ministries.
2. Get the influencers on board
Every youth ministry and every friendship group has influencers and leaders. One of the most basic leadership principles is to find those influencers and get them on board. If they are convinced of the need for their friendship groups to be open then chances are they will convince their friends to have open friendship groups.
3. Use different groups
Let’s be honest, as leaders we tend to use the same students and groups more often than not. This is communicating a very clear message to your students even though you have not said any words. However if you are always using different students and groups upfront and behind the scenes, it clearly communicates that cliques are not valued but everyone is.
4. Positive reinforcement works best
Numerous studies have been done and show that positive reinforcement works the best in causing change. Therefore you need to be looking for every time a student includes and welcomes a student into their open friendship group and then announce it from the roof tops. What do you think would happen if students were constantly being cheered on for having open friendship groups? I think it would transform the culture of your group.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, so what are some ways that you break up cliques?