It’s the statements going around in young adult churches lately that break my heart. ‘I’ve tried to make friends, but these people are just so cliquey’, ‘I went there but I didn’t feel welcomed’, ‘I hate it when the church service finishes because I have no one to talk to’.
But what moves me the most, and perhaps the reason why ‘church cliques’ have formed such an epidemic, is how believers get to the point of they no longer try: If only they knew they were just as much the church, as the next person.
If you are a Christian, then you are the church. Church, Greek word ecclesia, meaning: people group or assembly of people. The problem with todays’ churches is we have confused a Sunday Service for ‘church’. Whilst yes, Sunday is a time when believers gather together & have a ‘service’, the community of what happens during the week is also church.
Neighbourhood dinners, life groups, praying with friends, youth groups, bible studies, chats about God in the car with your friends or family…where ever believers are gathered together, we have church. Church is happening everyday all around the world, and it’s not confined to four walls and a stage.
So, if this is the case, how do cliques from within a church? Well, how do cliques form anywhere else? From people hanging out and being together and becoming exclusive. I think we forget that social cliques are commonly spread; high-schools, sporting teams, mums-connect groups... the list goes on. Any place where people are gathered, runs the risk of being cliquey if there is no intentionality of being welcoming. It’s not just in the church.
What does ‘the church’ represent? Jesus Christ. So, if the church is representing Jesus, then it means non-christians should walk into our midst and feel something they have never felt before, the love of Jesus Christ. If we are no different to the rest of the world, and our cliqueness causes others to feel isolated or lonely, why would anyone want to be there? If I wasn’t a Christian, and no one welcomed me or talked to me when I went to church, I doubt I’d go again.
Written in the gospel of Matthew, Jesus challenges our human ideas of love, “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? “If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? “Therefore, you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew chapter five, verse forty-six to forty-eight). We see Jesus’ welcoming nature manifest in the gospels. Jesus sat with the women who had committed adultery, he ate with the ones who ripped people off financially.
He laid his hands on those that were unclean, in the words of Mahatma Ghandi “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” In order to spread the gospel our churches need to look like Jesus. Our churches should be the place for the broken, the confused, and the beaten. And our churches should be full of Christians willing to lay down their lives to serve one another. What is the church, remember? People gathered. You and me, gathered. “Christ in me, the hope of glory.” (Colossians Chapter 1, Verse 27).
Perhaps the teachings of how to step out and actually have a conversation with a stranger, is more necessary in church these days than half the sermons we listen to. Because what I see as a prominent issue in church culture for social cliques, is a generation of Christians who are afraid to step out and talk to one another. ‘I wasn’t invited to the gathering on their Instagram story so I’m not really their close friend anyway.’ And because this person isn’t on the ‘in crowd’ or feeling ‘important’ their highly unlikely to go and welcome a stranger. But notice where the focus of this person lies? On themselves.
As soon as any thought of self is elevated, we have missed the point. Living like Jesus doesn’t usually come naturally, it takes effort to step out of comfort zones and be welcoming. Often times I’ve been at church and have thought ‘I just don’t feel like it tonight’ or ‘I’m tired’.
Soon enough this selfish mindset becomes my mindset for the next Sunday night, and a month later I haven’t met anyone new. That’s not living like Jesus. “After all, you have not yet reached the point of sweating blood in your opposition to sin.” (Hebrews chapter twelve, verse four TPT). Meaning, when I’m beat down and exhausted, I’m still going to try (with his grace) to love like him. I haven’t been put on a cross yet for the sake of Christ.
So, my encouragement to non-christians? You belong. My challenge to the church? Believe you belong. Each time you think, ‘man this church is cliquey’, remember you are the church. Follow Jesus’ example and be the change you wish to see. And, invite your friends to live like him too. A lot of the time people may not even realise they’re being unwelcoming, perhaps they just hadn’t ever had anyone tell them that their influence is powerful too.
“Above all else, put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” (Colossians chapter 3 verse 14).
Shannon Munyard is a Press Service International young writer from Adelaide.
Her archive of articles may be viewed at https://www.pressserviceinternational.org/shannon-munyard.html