Church Cliques: Sunday Morning’s The Breakfast Club

(This is a hard post for me to write, since I am also guilty.  I hope you hear my heart in it.)

I’ve been convicted in the last several years: We, (I), need to quit with the cliques in church.

We need Saturday detention — together — on Sunday — the whole lot of us.

There’s plenty of speculation right now about why so many people are fed up with Church and the institution of it.  I don’t know all the answers or all the reasons.  But I’ve known many people who have felt out of place, unwelcome, under-valued, or stuck back in high school when it comes to the Church, popularity, and social politics.  They’ve tried church–tried to come back–tried to re-engage, and they’ve not found the Church a very hospitable community.  They’re over it.

This is tragic.

I don’t quite know how to solve this, except that I must take some ownership.  All of us probably should.

There’s that line in “You’ve Got Mail” where Tom Hanks tells Meg Ryan, when he’s trying to befriend her after he put her out of business, “It wasn’t personal.  It was business.”  She responds, “What does that mean?  All that means is that it wasn’t personal to you.  It was personal to me.  What’s so wrong with being personal, anyway?”

Just like Joe Fox, we have, maybe unintentionally, maybe out of selfishness or ignorance, or maybe out of habit or our own insecurities, or maybe in our flesh and envy and fear, we have excluded.  Maybe it wasn’t personal.  Maybe it was.  But if you have come to church and felt on the outskirts, have felt unwelcomed or unincluded, I’m so sorry.

I was the kid in youth group growing up that had many friends.  I walked into that building and felt like I owned it (or it owned me). And yet, even with all my confidence, I still sometimes felt anxiety walking into the youth center.

Even with all my confidence today, as a grown up, as a worship leader and someone ‘up front,’ I still feel, (often), vulnerable and anxious going to church.  This is partly my introvertedness.  But also because I worry I might forget someone’s name, or I might say something strange, or I fear the awkwardness.

But what a difference it makes when someone approaches me and hugs me!  When someone walks up to me and welcomes me.  It makes me feel noticed, and seen — like he’s glad I’m here and she’s happy to see me.

Too often we leave the job of hospitality, of friendliness and inclusiveness, to someone else (many times the already overextended pastor).  Just like high school, we walk into church and sit with our same friends in our same section. On the patio we approach the people we know, the people we are closest with, because we want to hear about their week, about what’s been happening with their family, about their job or what-have-you.  Mid-week we meet up with a small group at a park or coffee shop or lunch date, “let’s just keep it us so we can really talk.”  We assign people to groups, we divide by difference and common interests.  At MOPS or bible study, we would rather pull up another chair at our friend’s table than sit down with all the singletons at the newbie table.  Many times we have “community groups” and we don’t want new people to join because a new person will “mess up the dynamics.”

The excuse many of us Christians make (when we are aware of our actions) is that “even Jesus himself had a close, inner circle.”  We argue that we can’t be close friends with everyone.  We only have so much time to go around, and we hardly spend time with our best friends, let alone have the time to meet so many new friends, new people.

Those things are true.

But we are to befriend the outcast too.  And if we are honest with ourselves, sometimes we simply don’t want to.  It takes energy and effort to befriend new people.  It takes risk.  And we are about our wants.  We want to sit with our clique, the friends that make us feel loved.  We want to go out to lunch with people we like, people we prefer.  We want to spend our time our way.  

Some people are desperate for community.  They are searching for friendship, and they have come to the church, the place where we should be the most friendly, where they should be most welcome.  They’ve come half-way.  They’ve done their part in trying something new, being vulnerable, walking into an unknown.  Now it is time for us to do our part and say, “You are welcome in this place.” 

Our cliques, be it intentional or unintentional, are a contradictory representation of the inclusiveness, warmth, sacrificial love of Jesus.  He said we should put the needs of others above our own, and we should do to others what we would wish for ourselves.  We wouldn’t want to be excluded.  It’s a cruddy feeling.  So why do we do it to others?  

There are a lot of hurt feelings in the church.  People who sit alone.  People who wonder if they stopped coming if anyone would even notice.  People in the ‘out’ crowd observing from afar people in the ‘in’ crowd.  There’s an awareness of the ‘cool group’ and the ‘not as cool group.’  There are people who have no where to go on Easter and no one inviting them to lunch and no one commenting how cute they look.  There are people who stand on the patio after service and nobody talks to them.  There are people whose children are not welcomed, aren’t played with, aren’t invited to birthday parties and playgroups.

There are outsiders right in front of our noses.  We don’t even see them.

This week, what if we sat in a different place during service, next to a person who is sitting alone?  What if we scanned the patio after church to see if anyone needed a friend, or to search for someone we didn’t know, and we courageously approached them, reached out our hand, and introduced ourselves?  What if we crossed cliques–walked over to someone in ‘the other group’ and started chatting about March Madness or spring break or the weather, even?  What if we sent an email to a group of people for a playdate and we included the people we never include?  What if we sat at a table with a bunch of people we don’t know?  What if we each carried our weight in being hospitable?  How different would our churches be?

Let’s be different.  Let’s be known for our friendliness.  Let’s be more inclusive than the little league moms and the PTA parents.  Let’s open up our garages, share hot dogs, host BBQs, greet people with grace, ask for phone numbers, send emails, and be hospitable to everyone.

I think we can do better.  What do you think?  


  1. Loved this!!! I’ve been on both sides which is enlightening. This was just perfect, Karen.

  2. Agreed! Our church instituted a 2 minute rule. When church ended, we, as leaders, we instructed to find someone we didn’t know and talk with them for at least 2 minutes. That sowed friendliness into the DNA of the body and it worked.

    1. Love this, Dorothy. I may suggest this to our leadership. Our church is going through a really rough time right now. Some very “unfriendly” things have been going on and it’s all come to a head. Rebuilding is happening, but slowly. I think this could be a great way to help shift those rusty gears!

  3. My kids have felt this way at the church they grew up in and that we have attended for 20 years. They didn’t have the innate social skills that the popular kids had nor the wardrobes, and they didn’t play the social games. Plus some of the ostracism came from an adult involved in the youth ministry, which in itself is sad. Two of them still are very hurt from it all and the other two have “moved on” but wish things had been different.
    How do you instill these values into the youth of the church? It’s hard enough with the adults.
    Don’t get me wrong; I love my church for any number of reasons. But man I wish this aspect would change in a big way especially with the younger ones.
    Thanks for an excellent and thought-provoking article.

  4. Excellent post and great reminders about being empathetic. I often feel this way at church. My church has a much younger demographic – most of the regulars are my kids’ age. With my gray hair, you can bet I’m ignored – even after attending over 3 years. I know it’s not intentional, but still it kinda hurts.

  5. I value all your comments, friends. It’s funny how some folks have felt defensive or uneasy about the post, and others have recorded an “amen!” For those that feel on the outside, or like they don’t have a group, or that they are outside of the group, it can be a sad turn-off to “church” when they come looking for community and acceptance and don’t find it. Unlike high school, people don’t HAVE to come to church, they choose to come (or not)! And if they feel unwelcomed or ignored, I’m sure there’s more likelihood to quit coming altogether. 🙁

    @Dorothy, I LOVE the 2 minute rule! That’s a great idea!

  6. Hi Karen,
    I got to your blog through Kate (kisses from Katie). The first post I read was this and totally hit me.
    I could hear myself in it and totally related too.
    I translated it to spanish to share it with my friends here in Ecuador. We are a grupo of liders and I hope it will be of blessing for us all. If you have any objection just let me know. Thanks.

  7. Tom Boyd, Presbyterian minister, came and was the highlight of a sleep over for youth fellowship kids a few years ago. His subject was the Breakfast Club. I have used that material several times, not always at youth fellowship, but with kids in literature class and ask the questions: “What happened Monday Morning?”, “Who are you in the Breakfast Club?”, “Who is the Christ figure?” Interesting talking to folks that way.

  8. This is a great post. The church cliques are especially difficult for people who are new to the area and don’t have friends or family near by. Church seems like it should be a place to foster new relationships, but that is sadly not typical. As a pastor’s wife, I have experienced this with our two moves, and I try to explain it to others, but it is hard to see from the inside. I have finally explained to people, “If you don’t think that your church/youth group has cliques, that is because you are IN them!”

  9. I realize this post is older, but I’m going to comment anyway. I’m at a church right now that is cliquish. We are smaller and have small groups and I feel as if having small groups has actually been a detriment. Some of it is ok, but some not so much. Then the elders and deacons seem to be in their own little groups, having get togethers at the pastors house and not inviting anyone but the deacons/elders/pastors. It’s a small church so you know about it. Our church is super friendly when you are new. Become a member, and you are treated second class, almost ignored. As I type this, my husband and I are considering quitting and going some place else. But then I know, won’t I be met with similar problems? Maybe their will be nicer people, but inevitably, maybe I’m just meant to be alone. I’ve talked to the pastors and the onus is always on me. I need to serve. I need to have grace. I need to approach others and care about their needs. But if I’m having a bad day, sitting by myself, feeling insecure or just going through something hard, no one bothers to reciprocate. No one. But the pastors notice when I don’t come because they are attendance Nazi’s. Otherwise they don’t care really. They have new people to attend to who might make their business, oops, I mean church bigger and more successful. There is also this spirit of superiority. We have a lot of homeschoolers in our church and I’m one of them. But the focus is on how academic their kids are. I have kids with special needs so if my child ties her shoes I’m throwing a party over here. So it’s hard for me to feel like I belong when their kids are 16 and doing college level work and can spit out answers about election and baptism like it is no one’s business. In the education hour, it’s a bunch of people trying to sound intelligent. The humility or lack thereof in this case is so obnoxious. But again, I’m told to have grace, to love others, and that I’m the problem. One of the bigger issues is I see my 13 year old being rejected for new people now. She used to be friends with some of them, but a new girl came along and the pastors admitted to me that they told their children to jump on any newcomers and make them feel welcome. So apparently that means reject your other friends for newcomers. I’ve watched my once vibrant girl become very depressed. I know she needs to not care about what people think, but walking away from church every single sunday disheartened is not cool with me. Go where you are celebrated, not merely tolerated. Finding where that place is might prove to be impossible.

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