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Expert Clique-Busting Strategies
group magazine: December, 1992

From: December 1992/January 1993 JR. High Ministry Magazine
Keyword: Cliques Unity Communication
Expert Clique-Busting Strategies
7 ways you can build unity among cliques in your group.
Paula slumped beside me in a Dairy Queen booth, frowning over her Coke. She glanced at the girls sitting behind us at the next table.
"Tammy and her crowd are stuck up," she muttered. "They treat me like dirt. I can't stand them."
When we got up to leave, Paula turned and called Tammy a PG-13 name. Then she walked out.
"Did you hear what Paula called me?" asked Tammy. "I don't even know her. How can she be so mean?"
Paula had started coming to our church just a few months earlier. But Tammy and her friends hadn't given her much of a welcome. They were too shy to reach out, so they withdrew into the comfort of their group. Paula brought friends from school and formed a group of her own. Now, the animosity between the two cliques was volcanic.
I wondered, "Is there any way to bring these two groups together?"
Clique-Busting Strategies
Junior highers find security in small groups. And they keep the groups small by excluding-sometimes arbitrarily-other kids. As a result, misunderstandings and hurts can thrive in the group.
Yet, there are ways to weaken iron-curtain cliques. Though junior highers may have their favorite friends, they can learn to include rather than exclude others. Here are some methods I've discovered for helping cliquers reach out beyond their comfort zones.
1. Build communication. As I listened to Paula and Tammy, I realized they had made quick judgments about each other. They had labeled each other, and now they were unable to see past those labels.
For example, when Tammy's attendance in the junior high group dropped off, she felt that Paula, who came regularly, was more a part of the class than she was. Tammy gathered her old friends around her to help her fit in again. Meanwhile, Paula, who was new, hesitated to meet people. She figured Tammy didn't like her. She sought refuge in her own little bundle of friends. Finally, in frustration, she lashed out at Tammy. What the two needed most was to talk.
I met with the girls and asked them to discuss their feelings. As they talked, they started to understand how they'd gotten off to a horrible start. They could see the other's point of view. They agreed to pray together, and tears came to cleanse the bitterness between them.
2. Emphasize new friendships. To foster cross-clique relationships, I planned several meetings around the "friendship" theme. The kids plunged headlong into the activities. We talked about why cliques and gangs form. We did role-plays. Paula even wrote a skit about cliques.
We played games with randomly selected teams of two-anything from three-legged races to making airplanes with their wrists tied together. We taped a Bible character's name to each junior higher's back, and they had to ask questions of others to guess the character. And when I discovered how few could remember each other's names, we played games to help them remember.
Another tried-and-true idea for building friendships is "Secret Pals." A secret pal gives little gifts and notes to the person whose name he or she has drawn. When the secret pal's identity is finally revealed, both giver and receiver have a head start on a meaningful friendship. The classic "box social" uses the same secrecy. Half the kids bring a lunch or dessert for two. The remaining kids pick the fare they want. Then kids pair off, sharing friendship as well as food.
3. Develop leaders. Clique leaders usually have natural gifts that can benefit the entire group. Encourage and appreciate their talents by recruiting them to help you. They can make phone calls, take offerings, give announcements and organize some aspects of your meeting. When you ask them to help, they gain self-respect. And this cuts into their need to lead a clique.
After a while, these leaders are usually willing to do what it takes to bring everyone together. For instance, when I discovered Paula's skit-writing ability, I asked her to create more skits involving kids outside her familiar circle. Paula couldn't wait. "You bet," she said. Her next play was a smash, and it involved kids from every clique in the group.
4. Draw out shy followers. Cliques are led by strong leaders, but they're made up of mostly quiet followers. The followers reap security in belonging to the group. It takes too much effort for them to break in elsewhere, and they may be too afraid to try. To draw out these followers, build their security by increasing their self-confidence.
Make special efforts to talk to them before and after your meetings. Compliment them openly. Ask them to take roll or do other tasks as honored assistants. Often, these followers are creative introverts with artistic or musical talents. Find niches for those talents.
5. Practice greeting visitors. How will your junior highers act the next time a new kid comes to class? Help them beat the fear that holds them back. Show them by example how to greet new people in church and in class. Then have them practice by taking turns saying "hi" to someone you designate as the "new kid," then starting a conversation. The next time they're facing a real visitor, they'll be more relaxed.
6. Reward kids who reach out. Openly appreciate those who don't get caught in the web of cliques. Make the most of their thoughtful examples. One of our kids, Noel, gravitates to new people. He gets their phone numbers, invites them to activities and sits by them in the group. "I appreciate Noel," a newcomer once said. "He makes you feel like you belong." I repeated the compliment in class.
Another way to encourage talking to others is to give a prize to those who remember the names of all of last month's visitors. This will show your kids that welcoming visitors is a priority.
7. Pray. Pray for the love referred to in Colossians 3:14: "And beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity" (NAS). Have kids pray together in designated small groups. Pray as a class for God's love and unity to flow. Or, assign prayer buddies to pray for each other throughout the week and call each other up with prayer needs and answers. Facing struggles together is the greatest relationship builder of all.
Bind Us Together
The day Tammy and Paula quarreled, our junior high group talked about the importance of reaching out. The class softly sang, "Bind Us Together."
Afterward, Tammy walked up to me. "Thanks for having me talk to Paula," she said. "I'm glad everything happened the way it did, because now we're friends."
"Yes," I thought with a smile. "Cliques can be busted!" n
Christine Suguitan is a volunteer youth worker in Oregon.
Copyrightę 1992 Group Publishing,Inc. / Jr. High Ministry Magazine

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