What do you think of when you hear the word “clique?” Many people immediately have a negative view which includes the idea of small, intimate, unfriendly social groups. Rather than use the word clique, I prefer the term “affinity group.” Affinity groups can be good or bad. They are a negative thing when a person’s affinity group defines him or her and a person is unable to move from within that particular group. However, affinity groups are how we operate as human beings from birth to death. We all find smaller groups of like-minded people with whom we relate well.
What do cliques or affinity groups mean for middle and high school students? Typically, by the time a student is in high school (especially 11th and 12th grade), he or she has self-chosen the affinity groups with which he or she associates. However, for the younger students, the parents still play a large role in determining the cliques or affinity groups for students.
In today’s culture, especially here in upper-middle class suburbia, I have noticed a disturbing trend for the church. It seems as though parents tend to put the affinity groups that deal with the eternal things of life on the backseat. At the same, many families within the church will spend all their energy, time, and money to make sure children are a member of the “right” athletic team or dance program or social club. I write this article not only as a youth pastor, but also as a high school lacrosse coach and as an athlete who participated in sports for most of my life, including high school and college.
Athletic teams and other affinity groups outside the church are not bad or wrong. Actually, these areas of influence can provide a great place for Christ-followers to reach the unchurched through relational evangelism. However, we are teaching our students the wrong value system when the church is put on the back-burner for the sake of athletics and other social cliques that we tend to use to make sure our children are accepted within the mainstream culture. There are many references in Scripture (which we still use as our standard in the church) that call us to rise above the current culture, rather than spend our energy and resources trying to “fit in” with the culture. Jesus tells us to be the “salt and the light,” but how can we accomplish this if we don’t take the time to withdraw from the culture on a regular basis to regain and remember our saltiness and our light? My favorite reference is when Paul writes to the Romans saying, “do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” What does your pattern look like?
Cliques, or affinity groups, can be beneficial for the faith development of our students; assuming that our energy and attention is focused on encouraging our children into the right cliques.