Cliques. They’re awful, aren’t they? We love to hate them (probably because we feel like they hate us). They’re easy targets for our criticism, all selfish and exclusive and proud, and who do they think they are treating other people like they don’t matter and barely exist at all? Cliques are bad.
That is, until we’re in them. But the cliques we’re in aren’t cliques at all, because cliques are one of those odd realities that can only be seen and recognised from the outside. From the inside, they look completely different. From the inside, all we can see is camaraderie, companionship, support, and fun jokes that no one else understands. Who calls their closest friend group a “clique”? Maybe it happens, but I’ve never heard anyone use that name for themselves and their own friends. As far as I can tell, the name is always applied to other people in other groups—especially the groups we happen to feel a particular sense of exclusion from.
We all agree that excluding people is bad. But can we really be close friends with everyone, in the same way? No. Of course not. Some friends will be closer than others. Some will get our jokes better than others. Some will end up being the people we trust and lean on in trouble more than others. With shared time and shared interest and especially with shared experience, groups of people can become close to each other in unique ways, and isn’t that a good thing? Of course it is.
Close friendships are a wonderful blessing. But who are they blessing? In a clique, the blessings of friendship stay locked inside a tight circle of friends. The friends themselves tend not to notice, because they are too busy enjoying their own close relationships with each other. But for the people looking in from the outside, the view is not as pretty. They see backs, not faces. They see neglect, not interest. They see people who have plenty of time and care for each other, and no time or care for anyone else. In other words, they see a kind of selfishness—group selfishness—which isn’t any better in its effects than the individual variety. In the end, even the blessings of friendship will stagnate within the tight enclosure of a self-contained clique.
Is it possible to have the benefits of close relationships without becoming a clique with our close friends? It is. And the process is very simple (although like many simple things, it isn’t easy). There is one basic movement that can transform a closed clique into an open and welcoming community:
That’s it. Instead of facing in, focusing only on the good things inside the group, we can face out, focusing on sharing whatever good we have with others. We can unlock the circle, and let it grow. It won’t be as controllable that way, and it may not be as comfortable, either, but I believe Jesus meant it when he said “it is more blessed to give than to receive.”
I’ve seen this in action in our church—a community of people who are facing out together. I was freely welcomed into that circle by those who were there before me, and I’ve experienced the joy of joining them in welcoming others. I’ve seen how a welcoming circle of friends is deepened, not diluted, by including others. It may seem like a paradox, but friendships do not grow the deepest when we face in and focus only on the deepness of our friendships—they deepen most when we face out, together, in a shared mission of giving for the good of others beyond us.
That’s how a clique can turn inside out, and become a thriving, welcoming, community.