For most of college, I didn’t have a consistent group of friends. It seemed like everyone around me found their clique freshman year while I didn’t find a clique until the summer of junior year. If I’m honest, during that time when I was still searching for a group of friends, I started to feel bitter when I would see church people on Instagram having a beach outing or birthday party while I was home alone on a Saturday. Why didn’t they invite me? I felt hurt and excluded.
I don’t think my freshman self is alone in feeling wounded by cliques in the church. Many people are hurt by the existence and exclusivity of cliques. I don’t blame them. Cliques can be exclusive and I do believe that is problematic in the Church. However, I do not believe that the mere existence of cliques is inherently bad. Here are some reasons why cliques can be helpful to the church and glorifying to God.
*Caveat* Not all cliques are helpful or even healthy. These are just some ways that a group of believers who consistently spend time together can be helpful to the church.
1. Cliques provide a consistent group of people to do life with.
I am really encouraged by some of the cliques at my church. I see them doing devotions, praying, and reading the Word together. I also see them studying, getting food, and simply doing life together. It’s interesting how the early church is described in Acts 2:42 “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” The fellowship described here by the early Christians involved both spiritual activities (devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching) and mundane, daily activities like sharing a common meal (breaking bread). Having a clique in the church provides a go-to group of people to both grow and participate in daily life together.
2. Cliques can be a safe space to grow in intimacy with fellow believers.
Being intimate with another person means to be truly known by that person. For most of college, I was noticed, but not known in church. People knew who I was, but they did not know my greatest insecurities, what made me angry, or how to cheer me up. Intimacy takes time and consistency. Aristotle noted that true, lasting friendship is rare because people need time to get to know each other, “for though the wish for friendship comes quickly, friendship does not” (Nichomachean Ethics, Book VIII, Ch 3, paragraph 8). Everyone wants lasting, intimate friendship, but that kind of friendship takes time. You can’t truly know every single person in your church. It’s just not realistic. Having a clique provides people the space to grow in intimacy because you are consistently seeing each other.
3. Having a clique can provide real accountability, naturally.
“Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Proverbs 27:6) Accountability requires the ability to “faithfully wound” your friend. Giving someone the permission to wound you requires vulnerability. Vulnerability requires trust. Trust is a process. In the past, I would create “accountability groups.” The idea was simple. Have a group of believers meet regularly to talk about our struggles. While the intention was good, I was never successful in creating a consistent group. I think the reason why was because, aside from talking about our struggles, there was no real friendship there. We didn’t have any substance to our relationship to have the right to faithfully wound each other. I have found my inner circle of girl friends to provide the most faithful wounds. They aren’t afraid to confront me lovingly if I do something that is hurtful to them or myself.
These are just some ways that I have found cliques to be helpful in my walk with Christ. That being said, I do think there are a few commissions to both those in cliques and those without.
To those in a clique:
Open yourself up to new friendships.
“There is one Body and one Spirit– just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call– one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-5). At the end of the day, whether we’re in a clique or not, we already are one with everyone at our church because the Spirit unites us all. For this reason, it’s possible to have meaningful friendships with the most unlikely people at church. I have incredibly significant friendships with women who are not in my clique. Just because I don’t interact with them on a daily basis, doesn’t mean they are any less precious to me. Cliques become unhealthy when they are closed off to other friendships in the church.
Exercise wisdom on social media
I will be the first to admit that I am addicted to social media. I cannot resist posting if my friends and I are sharing a meal together or having a sleepover. Isn’t that strange? Even though I experienced the pain of feeling excluded firsthand, I still struggle from withholding posting every single hangout, birthday party, and outing I get invited to. I don’t think we should ban social media, but I do think we should exercise caution. We can even just acknowledge that though we don’t mean to be exclusive, some people can take it that way.
To Those without a Clique:
Understand that cliques have history with one another.
Every clique has a reason as to why they are together. Maybe they lived together. Perhaps they were in the same small group for many years. It could be they served on missions with one another. Cliques oftentimes don’t mean to be exclusive, but they have a unique history that drew them together. This doesn’t mean friendships can’t arise with people who don’t share that history, it just means it will take time.
We already have the greatest Friend in Christ.
Isn’t it absurd that the Creator of the Universe, the One who is holy and without sin, would call us His friend? (John 15:14). Isn’t it even more absurd that He would lay down His life for us? Whether we are in a clique or without one, we will all experience disappointment in our friends. We will wound our friends and be wounded. Yet, we can extend grace to anyone when they hurt, exclude, annoy, and disappoint us because “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Finally, if you are in a place where you left the church because of its cliques, you are not alone. Even those in cliques at times feel excluded by other people at church. We are all in the messy process of being molded into the image of Christ. May we be slow to criticize His Church, and quick to love one another as He shapes us day by day.