Webster’s defines a clique as “a small group of people who spend time together and who are not friendly to other people.” The first half of that definition describes perfectly normal and acceptable conduct; the second half, not so much. People naturally gravitate toward others who are like them and, sometimes without realizing it, form a clique. When we find someone with the same likes, same sense of humor, and a similar worldview, we want to spend more time with him or her. We enjoy being around people who validate our own perspectives and personality. But the Bible tells us to love everyone as we love ourselves (Galatians 5:14), including those who are different from us.
Cliques are often associated with the immature behavior of children in school, but some churches also have a reputation for being “cliquish.” Certain denominations tend to propagate that culture more than others, and the attitude of the flock is often a reflection of the leadership. A pastor who is open, humble, and eager to connect with everyone often leads a church filled with people of the same attitude. However, pastors who consider themselves above the common worshiper or who isolate themselves within a tight circle of a select few can unknowingly inspire their congregants to do the same. First Peter 5:5 warns us about such attitudes: “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’”
We cannot help but gravitate toward people who make us feel comfortable and accepted. C. S. Lewis famously stated that “friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.’” When we find several people with whom we have that experience, we may prefer their company to those we don’t know well or don’t particularly care to be around. Putting ourselves out there to make new friends can be awkward and uncomfortable. So we naturally seek out those we already know, and that pattern can lead to the creation of a clique. It can become “us four and no more,” as the saying goes. A circle of friends becomes a clique when they lose interest in meeting new people and are not particularly welcoming when someone new tries to fit in.
Within the church, the presence of cliques can be spiritually devastating for new members and especially weaker believers. James 2:1 says, “My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism.” This favoritism may be due to financial standing, popularity, appearance, lifestyle, or personal history. Believers must be aware of the tendency toward favoritism and stamp it out whenever we see it in ourselves. When we acknowledge our prejudices before God, we have taken a step toward overcoming them. We cannot change what we won’t acknowledge.
It has been suggested that Jesus was part of a clique, since He spent much of His time with only Peter, James, and John (Mark 5:37). Jesus had many disciples (John 6:60), but only twelve chosen apostles (Matthew 10:1). It’s true that He shared some of the greatest spiritual experiences with only those closest to Him, but does that constitute a clique?
Healthy people recognize that there are many levels of relationship, and not all people deserve the same level of trust. Jesus’ life demonstrated the perfect balance in relationships. He had a small inner circle of trusted friends, but He did not spend all His free time with them alone. His life was consumed with interacting, blessing, teaching, and serving everyone who came to Him, and He taught His disciples to do the same (Matthew 4:23; 12:15; Luke 20:1). Jesus gave selflessly without allowing others to take what He was not ready to give. Even His very life was not taken from Him, but He gave it willingly (John 10:18). But we cannot spend all our moments giving. Healthy people know the difference between those they serve and those who help them carry the burden of serving, and they spend appropriate amounts of time and energy with each group.
A circle of close friends may not necessarily be a clique. They may be people who have found comrades to help carry their burdens. If they are also invested in serving others, giving selflessly to those who cannot give in return, then they may need that inner circle as a relief from the pressure of constant giving, just as Jesus did. Those in full-time ministry especially need key people they trust with whom they can simply be themselves without the constant demands and pressure to serve. Those not in this circle of friends may view it with jealousy and call it a clique, not realizing that everyone—including ministry leaders—needs a few trusted friends.
While it should be the goal of every Christian to model Christ and develop selfless compassion for everyone, it is also important to cultivate close friendships. However, if this circle of friends becomes a closed unit that intentionally excludes other potential comrades, it may have grown unhealthy. If the exclusivity of a church group is causing hurt or offense within the body of Christ, that group should consider restructuring itself so that it avoids the reputation of being a clique.