Ah yes. The infamous youth group cliques. If you are a youth leader, you’ve seen this plenty of times. A teenager awkwardly enters a new and uncharted territory to see if this “church thing” is for them. A couple of kids say hi, but they mostly stand in the corner by themselves. An adult woman comes to talk to her for a bit about her day before she takes a seat by herself.
She listens to a story from the youth pastor about showing Jesus’ love to others. But she is wondering the disconnect between what the youth pastor is saying and how her experience has been. She enjoys the lesson, but quickly heads for the exit when the time is over for fear of having to stand by herself for another 5 minutes, which felt like an eternity when she arrived.
She isn’t coming back. And she didn’t meet or experience Jesus.
And those of us in youth ministry have seen this time and time again.
Cliques cause jealousy, hurt feelings, and exclusion. They are the complete opposite to the Kingdom of God.
So how do we stop it?
1) The best idea our group has come up with actually came from the teenagers themselves in a concept we call “Clique Busters.” Clique Busters is where a student notices a closed-off circle of people talking to each other and runs in the middle of the circle, flashes their hands in their face, and yells “Clique Buster!” At this point, the group has to scatter and start conversations with other people, specifically anyone who is not talking to someone else. It sounds ridiculous (and it is), but the kids love it. To be honest, I didn’t think this would work, but a few of the more outgoing and funny kids have really run with it. It has been a game changer for our group, and I regularly have people tell me how great our kids are about not being “cliquey.”
2) Create small groups that split off friend groups from one another. If two girls are attached at the hip, start two small groups and place them in separate groups. They will be unhappy at first, but this will prove helpful for the group long term. It will also be helpful long term for whomever is spending all their time with one friend, as they will create new relationships.
3) Teach Love God / Love Others / Put Others First regularly. In order for something to become a part of the core foundation of the group it needs to be focused on. I regularly tell the students of our youth group that new people walking in the door will not listen to a word I say if they do not feel welcome. I think that teenagers make up their mind whether they are coming back within the first 5 minutes of their experience. Make sure that the first impression is a welcoming one or the student may never return to learn more about God’s love.
4) Start a secret greeting team. This “secret greeting team” would be a small group of kids whose mission every single week is to be on the look out for any person who is by themselves. This applies not only to a new person, but to students who have been coming for a long time, but may be disconnected. Those on the secret greeting team do not need to be outgoing personalities; in fact a mix of personalities would be ideal.
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