“Our students are so clique-y!”
This is an unfortunate but common refrain in youth ministry circles. We do such a great job of building community, but that community becomes so tight it does not welcome newcomers. It is a tight rope to walk, but we want a loving community that is also welcoming to those outside the group.
The question is, How do you manage it?
Here is one simple solution – kick your students out of the youth group. At least for one week. Give them a “homework assignment” of going to a different church’s youth group for a week. They need to go, by themselves, and see what it is like for a new visitor to try to break into an already established group.
For most of them, this will be terrifying. (It might be terrifying for you, too! What if they like the other youth group better? What if their parents get mad? What if the other youth minister is cooler than me?) What this will do is get them out of their comfort zone, and begin to empathize with people trying to break in to strong communities (or cliques). Some of them will experience very welcoming environments. Some will be completely ignored. Either way, they’ll begin to understand the sheer terror that a new visitor goes through when coming to youth group for the first time.
To make things easier, plan it out way ahead of time. Clear it with parents, talk with the youth minister of the local groups (if you know them. If not, hey, great way to connect!), and of course clear it with your leadership. Its best if you “assign” churches to your students, that way they don’t “accidentily” show up at these other youth groups en masse. Pick churches close to their houses so you lower the barrier of participation in this little field trip. And of course make sure these churches have a youth ministry to go to! You wouldn’t want to send little Johnny to an empty church some Wednesday night!
The real key is in the debrief the next week. Get the students to explore how they felt before, during, and after. Really probe and dig deep into the experience. Explore the “why”. Then let students come up with a way to make sure that people visit don’t feel the way they felt. You’ll find that once your students have really experienced a clique on the other side, they will be more welcoming and less clique-y.
Has anyone ever tried this? How did it work? Any other tips on overcoming cliques in your ministry?