A Note from Mary Margaret West: Cliques have and always will be real, so what are we going to do to counteract the norm? This is another way that we can lead well by example, and encourage girls to push back against what everyone else seems to be doing. Lindsay gives some helpful insight in today’s post.
No matter how far removed I am from the high school cafeteria, when my eyes greet new surroundings without grasping a familiar hand, they look straight to the floor, shocked they don’t glimpse a lunch tray on their descent. I don’t lend a lot of time to reliving high school memories, but the moment I walk into an unfamiliar place, the memory of the first day of school, eagerly searching for the lunch table where I belong, welcomes itself into my memory bank, with or without a proper invitation. Maybe you’re shaking your head or joining me in nervous laughter; thankful you’re not the only one. We can laugh, but I’m willing to guess every woman has replayed this lunch room memory for many years post-cafeteria meals.
As women, God has gifted us with a tremendous capacity for relationships. Made in His image, we are the nurturers, the welcomers, the big sisters, the friends, the sharers of hospitality. But with the stain of sin, our natural gifts can quickly become inwardly focused, creating a group where we feel our best rather than inviting everyone to belong.
Because every woman likely remembers a moment when she felt on the outside,
Because our girls may be experiencing the very memory we are rehashing,
We need to address the presence of cliques in small group ministry.
While it would be nice to think that every girl in your group will get along perfectly and never feel left out, this is probably as likely as the same group breaking out into a harmonized song with choreographed dance – both would require a little suspension of reality and some camera magic. So, setting that expectation aside, let’s remind ourselves of truth and discuss some practical tips for helping our girls navigate through cliques well.
We want the girls in our small group to have a close bond. We also know that some girls will form tighter friendships than others. The problem is not with a tight group, but with an identity that gets tied-up in the group. Forming a clique is tempting because it feeds a desire to belong. We want to define who we are by who we sit beside, who calls out our name when we enter a room. Our girls may fall into these thought patterns, but, as leaders, we get the privilege of creating a space where our belovedness is more highly valued than earthly belonging.
Let me break that down: as a leader, it is important to create an environment where girls feel welcomed and comfortable. But, without care, I can take it too far and create a framework for them to hang their identity on something other than being a beloved daughter of God. I can make it too easy for them to BELONG in an earthly way when I should be reminding them they are BELOVED by a great God. And only because of that love, do we ALL belong in the family of God. Do you see the difference?
Paul, directed by God, said it this way:
Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. (Colossians 3:11-13 ESV)
Here, your identities are not built on earthly similarities, family backgrounds or shared extracurricular activities. Here, girls, you are holy and beloved and so you get to extend the mercy and love of God to each other. We are beloved so we treat each other like we belong.
We work (and yes, it is work) to love each other well within our small group, and we always look for opportunities to share God’s love with those around our small group. Sadly, a critique I have heard more than once is that whole small groups or whole youth groups can feel like a clique to others. How do we proactively work to deflate this assumption? Obviously, this can be hard when there are real restraints around your small group, maybe you’ve been advised to keep the group at a certain number or are outgrowing your space. As with everything, we can look to Jesus for our example. Scripture tells us that Jesus chose twelve disciples, but He taught these twelve to keep looking beyond their group.
I am going to venture a guess that you do not have the capacity for a small group of 5,000. Be encouraged, Jesus did not disciple a small group of 5,000 either, but when met with 5,000 people, He saw and cared for them:
When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things. (Mark 6:34 ESV)
He had compassion, and he taught his disciples to do the same. The disciples wanted to send the people on their way, but Jesus desired to feed them. Jesus took not enough and made it abundance for everyone (Mark 6:41-42), and in doing so, he showed his disciples that there is space enough for everyone to experience Jesus. We do not have to fight for a place to belong on earth when we are His beloved.
Here are some ideas I have found beneficial for walking out this truth:
- Create experiences for the whole group – make a craft, bake a dessert, share your favorite childhood movie. Giving the whole group a shared experience provides instant common ground to start conversations (which hopefully leads to the lasting common ground we have in Jesus)
- Exchange prayer cards – Have the girls write down their name on an index card and then redistribute them randomly. Have the girls spend the next week praying for the person on their card by name.
- Ice breaker games – Begin time together by having girls sit in order of their birth month or first letter of their middle name or anything else you decide. The goal is to mix up the normal seating order in a fun way.
- Pursue intentional time with each girl – This might be most important. As leaders, we are also going to naturally grow closer to some of the young women, but remember, our whole group is watching and taking cues. Pray, pray and then pray some more. Reach out to EVERY girl individually. Invest in each girl, and her family, as much as they are open to it. Each girl is unique so this doesn’t mean you have to do the exact same thing for every girl, but there should be the same level of commitment to see that she grows in Christ!
Do you have other ideas or something that’s worked well for your group? Please share with the community in the comments below.
Lindsay Smith is a follower of Jesus living in Texas. She is the wife of a football coach and the mom of a precious son, who joined their family through the miracle of adoption. She is a writer, coffee connoisseur, and “expert” shoe shopper. For the last decade, she has been discipling teenage girls and believes God is doing a mighty work in the next generation. Connect with Lindsay: Instagram