Leaving Church Because of Cliques

Cliques. We’ve all experienced them, whether in school, work, or unfortunately, even church. Exclusive groups that make others feel left out and unwanted. As Christians, we’re called to unity, acceptance, and love. But when cliques take over a church, it can cause people to leave the fellowship and body of Christ altogether.


Cliques typically form when a small group bonds around a common interest or personality trait, usually to the exclusion of others. While bonding over shared interests isn’t wrong in itself, problems arise when:

  • The group becomes exclusive and unwilling to let others join.
  • Members display superiority, looking down on those not part of the clique.
  • Cliques lead to favoritism, politics, and divisions within the church.

These relational barriers go against Jesus’ prayer for unity among believers (John 17:20-23). When cliques divide a congregation, people end up leaving the church, disillusioned by the lack of openness and acceptance.

As Christians, we must be aware of how cliques affect our churches. Through prayer, humility, and intentional inclusivity, we can tear down relational walls and build genuine community. This post will explore:

  • Signs that cliques are present
  • Why people leave churches because of cliques
  • How to combat cliques and cultivate unity
  • When it may be appropriate to leave a clique-ridden church
  • How to find a new church after leaving

Let’s delve into these topics to gain understanding of this common issue facing churches today.

Leaving Church Because of Cliques

Signs of Cliques in a Church

While cliques can be subtle, there are usually telltale signs that exclusive groups exist in a congregation:

Closed Conversations

Clique members tend to engage in private conversations, suddenly quieting or changing the topic when someone outside the group approaches. Their guarded, closed-off nature communicates insularity and exclusion.


Those belonging to a clique receive undue favor and influence. The pastor and leaders give them privileged positions, power, and platforms out of proportion to their abilities and character.


Decisions follow the agenda of the ruling clique rather than prayerful consideration of what’s best for the church. Cliques maneuver their preferences into place through lobbying and congregational politics.

Segregated Seating

Cliques stake out “their” pews or sections of chairs, sitting together each week. Visitors and others feel unwelcome invading these “reserved” spots. Cliques may go out for meals together but exclude anyone not part of their inner circle.

Gossip Mill

Cliques breed gossip, which spreads easily within the group. Those on the outside may feel the clique is talking about them or question why certain people seem privy to the “inside scoop.”

Judgmental Attitudes

A holier-than-thou air pervades the clique. They look down on other members who don’t meet their standards, offer veiled criticisms, and promote their own superiority.

Pressure To Conform

The clique maintains ultimate control through pressure to conform. Members must adhere to unwritten rules and standards to retain their position and status within the group. The fear of being ostracized keeps people silent.

This exclusionary behavior tears at the fabric of the church. When people encounter cold shoulders, closed guest lists, and congregational caste systems, they eventually head for the doors. Let’s look at why cliques drive people away.

Why Cliques Drive People Away from Churches

  1. They feel unwanted. Cliques communicate that some people matter more than others in the church community. Being excluded is deeply hurtful and makes people feel inferior, unimportant, and rejected.
  2. They don’t fit in. Trying to break into a tight-knit, closed group is intimidating. People gravitate to places where they feel comfortable and accepted for who they are. Cliques pressure people to conform to gain entrance.
  3. Leaders play favorites. When pastors and leaders give clique members privileged status and positions, it signals that only the elite “in crowd” are valued. Other gifted people end up sidelined and underutilized.
  4. Things feel political. Decisions follow the whims of those with relational power rather than what God wants. People leave when the church feels like a social club rather than Christ’s body.
  5. Communication lacks transparency. Gossip, rumors, secrecy, and insider information flow through clique channels. Things feel politically charged rather than open and above board.
  6. It breeds hypocrisy. Cliques act one way on Sundays but live by a different standard the rest of the week. The disconnect between their words and lives is repellent to authentic Christians.
  7. Judgment and criticism abound. Cliques promote themselves by tearing down those on the outside. Their judgmental attitudes toward “others” contradict the grace that should mark believers.
  8. The focus shifts. Cliques functionally become little social clubs, more concerned with power dynamics than the Kingdom. The church’s true mission fades from view.
  9. Opposing a clique brings retribution. Those who challenge clique agendas face gossip, sabotage, and isolation. Rather than fighting, people find it easier to leave.
  10. Healthy community erodes. Cliques show partiality, breed division, and destroy true fellowship between believers. People long for churches where authentic community flourishes.

The cumulative effect of these dynamics is that cliques choke out vibrant spiritual community. Rather than stay and fight a losing battle, people pack up and move on to healthier churches. Let’s explore how to counter cliques before they do lasting damage.

Combating Cliques and Cultivating Unity

Cliques develop because human nature tends toward exclusivity. We must recognize this tendency in ourselves and actively work against it. Here are some ways to tear down divisive relational barriers in your church:

  1. Pray. Only through the Holy Spirit’s work can pride and prejudice be rooted out to make space for unity. Pray for openness, oneness, repentance, and reconciliation.
  2. Preach on unity. Have pastors frequently highlight Scriptures emphasizing Christ’s passion for oneness among believers. Keep true biblical unity front and center.
  3. Dismantle the inner circle. Pastors must show no favoritism, opening leadership to all gifted people. Cliques thrive when leaders have an obvious “inner circle.”
  4. Call out gossip. Refuse to listen to slander about others. Nip gossip in the bud by steering conversations to positive topics that build people up.
  5. Welcome newcomers. Make visitors and new members feel valued. Introduce them to others and invite them to join community gatherings. Break the “closed group” dynamic.
  6. Plan inclusive events. Hold all-church activities focused on meeting new people. Draw cliques out of isolation into wider fellowship. Picnics, service projects, seminars, retreats etc. can all be relationship catalysts.
  7. Find common vision. As God’s people unite around Kingdom purposes, selfish turf wars diminish. Cast vision to ignite people’s passion for things that transcend divisions.
  8. Model openness. Make the first move to talk to those outside your social circle. Self-segregation feeds exclusivity. Reach out rather than wait for others to come to you.
  9. Value diversity. Welcome and celebrate people’s differences in personality, interests, background, and culture. Show that all believers have a cherished place in Christ’s body.
  10. Practice humility. Esteem others above yourself (Phil. 2:3). Approach relationships with a learner’s posture, seeking to understand before being understood.

As we actively tear down relational walls, Jesus can build His kingdom of love and community within our churches. But what do you do when cliques seem irreparable and leaving appears your only recourse? Let’s explore this question.

When Is It Time to Leave a Clique-Ridden Church?

Leaving a church is a weighty decision not to be made lightly. It should only happen after much prayer and as a last resort. When a church is deeply entrenched in unhealthy relationship patterns, these steps may help discern if it’s time to leave:

  1. Take it to God. Bring your concerns and hurts to the Lord. Ask Him for wisdom, perspective, and guidance. Be open to how He may want you to be part of the solution.
  2. Sow unity. Make every effort to increase understanding, tear down barriers, invite people into fellowship, and look out for those on the margins.
  3. Share concerns with leaders. Calmly approach pastors/elders about the relational divisions and favoritism affecting the church. Offer to help build unity.
  4. Allow time for change. Shifting ingrained church culture is challenging. Be patient and extend grace during the process. Look for small indicators of progress.
  5. Evaluate your motives. Examine your heart for selfishness, offendedness, or desire to find perfect community. Are you contributing to unhealthy patterns?
  6. Discern the root issues. Often surface problems like cliques reflect deeper spiritual problems in a church. Through prayer, understand the real foundational issues.
  7. Assess the trajectory. If divisiveness increases without repentance or leadership’s will to change, the church may be on an unhealthy slide requiring you to leave.
  8. When it impedes spiritual growth. If you try everything but the church’s sickness hinders your walk with God, leaving may be the only way forward.
  9. When your family suffers. If your spouse and kids are being negatively impacted, you may need to leave for their spiritual welfare even if you could gut it out.
  10. When you are drained. If you’ve poured yourself out serving but the constant relational turmoil leaves you depleted and exhausted, departure may be best.

Leaving should not be a knee-jerk reaction but a move of last resort after attempting change. Let’s explore how to find a healthy church community after leaving a toxic one.

How to Find a New Church after Leaving Because of Cliques

After leaving an unhealthy church, don’t stop meeting with other believers (Heb. 10:25). Joining another congregation requires discernment. Here are some tips:

  1. Take time to heal. Don’t immediately church shop. Give yourself space to process, grieve, heal, and identify lessons learned from your prior experience.
  2. Pray. Ask God to lead you to a church where you can thrive and serve. Be open to possibilities outside your normal comfort zone.
  3. Define essentials. Know your must-haves (Bible-based, service opportunities, denomination, etc.) versus negotiables. This allows for wise discernment.
  4. Consult others. Ask mature Christian friends for church recommendations, but ultimately let the Holy Spirit guide you.
  5. Visit multiple times. Don’t join after one Sunday. Discern the spirit of the church after several visits. Watch for consistency.
  6. Look beneath the surface. Go beyond nice worship sets and slick children’s programs. Assess the core health of the ministry.
  7. Talk to leaders. Schedule a chat with the pastor. Ask about vision, community, and opportunities to use your gifts. Take note of how they respond.
  8. Review social media. Check what the church and pastor promote online. Does their digital footprint align with the on-site experience?
  9. Watch for openness. See if new people and families are warmly welcomed and quickly integrated. Avoid insular churches.
  10. Pay attention to diversity. A church serious about biblical unity will reflect that value in the makeup of its community.

The goal is finding a healthy church you can wholly invest in and freely build relationships. With prayer and patience, God will lead you to the right congregation.

Key Takeaways

  • Cliques form when small groups become exclusive, creating barriers against outsiders. This goes against Jesus’ heart for unity among believers.
  • People leave clique-ridden churches because they feel unwelcome, unable to fit in, play favoritism games, etc. Cliques destroy genuine biblical community.
  • We must pray and work to build inclusive fellowship and Godly unity in our congregations, tearing down dividing walls between groups.
  • Leaving a divisive church should be a last resort after you’ve contributed to the solutions and allowed time for change.
  • When evaluating a new church home, look beyond the surface to discern core health and openness of community. Finding the right fit allows you to dive back into fruitful ministry.

The temptation toward tribalism infects churches just like any human organization. But we serve a God who fills diverse people with a common Spirit, uniting us as one body in Christ. May our churches reflect this incredible Kingdom truth.

About The Author

Scroll to Top