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Breakup Youth Group Cliques
Rumors and gossip will spread in your youth group unless you take an active stand against them. Popular culture and social behavior has become so dominant, and some church culture is so conformist, that your youth group may simply be a reflection of “the world” without much godly effort on your part. Nowhere is this more evident than in the way students interact with each other. With all the news about bullying happening, we should take stock of what “bullying” is going on in our youth group.
No bullying in your youth group…right? Maybe no punching, hitting, or outright name-calling, but, if you don’t work to prevent it, Christian teenagers will transfer their public school social hierarchy to the youth group setting. The “in” group in the school will be the “in” group in the youth group. The popular kids and athletes at school will dominate all your “games” and activities. They will do this easily.
“Bullying” in Christian youth groups is limited to gossip, gossip, and exclusion. Exclusion is the most subtle, the hardest to detect, and perhaps the most annoying. When teens practice exclusion, they physically, verbally, and emotionally “block out” kids they don’t find acceptable. It’s not that they hit them or verbally abuse them… they just ignore them. And, most don’t even know they’re doing it.
At your next activity, keep an eye on your teen. Really look at them. Is it the same group of girls who get stuck in the corner? Is there a group of “alpha males” who dominate all interactions and activities? Have a group of teenagers who sit quietly, don’t talk, huddle together by default? Does your group “separate itself” along socioeconomic or racial lines? Do you get complaints about gossiping? Is there a young person who just wanders from group to group, not really engaging in conversation or interaction? Are any teenagers standing or sitting alone? If you answered yes to any of the above, you have a “clunky” youth group that won’t grow. Why should a guest feel comfortable when teenagers who have been coming for years don’t feel comfortable and are not included?
The first thing you need to do is address the oral problem. will do Use scripture to support what you are doing. My favorites are Mt: 7.3 and 1st Sam 16:7. However, leading a Bible study or simply preaching a sermon will not end gang behavior. I have several ideas that will help you create a more loving and accepting youth group. Try it first and then it will become the culture of your youth group. Don’t just verbally address groups: break them up. I break groups when I sit or form groups. You can do this anytime you’re going to do an activity that requires any kind of social grouping: eating a meal, riding in a van, doing a craft, or playing a game.
Just “break up” before settling into an activity or getting on the bus. I move on and say something like, “You always hang out together, let’s make some new friends”, and then I point out who’s going where. “Time to get out of our comfort zone,” I declare and move on. Or I make an announcement that leads to a “clique breakup,” “everyone sits with someone from a different school/grade level/neighborhood.” If you don’t, they will group themselves into the same social hierarchy again and again. This approach looks rather forced in print, but teenagers will “reconstruct” according to your direction. They know their small groups are boring, repetitive and ungodly, they can’t stop themselves. They need your help.
I always break up the group the morning after I present my program; “Redneck was right.” The show is about acceptance, reaching out and making new friends, and God’s will that we not judge each other by looks, speech or financial status. When performed exclusively for youth, I use it to combat youth gangs, gossip, racism and prejudice. I love doing this show on the first day of camp because it clears the air and starts camp off on a positive note. I meet teenagers as they exit the chow line at breakfast the morning after the show. “You’ll be sitting with someone you don’t normally sit with,” I proclaim. I then make sure it happens. I would guide a big football player and ask him to sit with a clarinet player. I would guide one of the “in” girls and set her up with the “perfect girls”. I would mix and match, putting teenagers outside their comfort zone. This will upset some young people, but they will talk to each other. (They are teenagers) It’s a beautiful thing; Teens who have been in groups for years and never talked will find they have something in common… all because you took a role and pushed them out of their comfort zone.
what about you Do you encourage cliques with your own behavior? Do you choose the same teenagers to lead prayer, the same group activities? Are the same kids hanging out in your office before the “group”? Do you greet some teenagers more enthusiastically than others? In my years as a counselor, public school teacher, and touring youth speaker/comedian, I’ve learned that while teenagers see us, we’re not strong enough to actually see… Teens scrutinize us. Everything we do is up for grabs. Teenagers also have an internal timer that always goes on when you interact with them. How long to talk to them? Who did you sit with on the way back and how long did you sit with them? Who did you sit with on the way home? (Hint: it’s better to be different). If you’re playing favorites, why not?
It’s not just about who you spend time with in a group; How do you spend time? How do you greet children and how do you interact with them? If you have the most youth group, you probably have some very pushy, needy, and dysfunctional individuals in your group. You greet and interact with the “in” kids as enthusiastically and frequently as you do. Teenagers watching you, what are they watching? If you practice “exclusion” why not?
You can have the accepting and inclusive youth group you’ve always wanted, where you know visitors from any socioeconomic background will be welcome. Efforts should be made to create a group that practices personal outreach and shuns mundane social behavior. But it can be done if you actively break up the group and model the behavior you don’t expect.
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