Ward Cliques

HawkgrrrlMormon 44 Comments

Does your ward have cliques?  Are cliques a good or bad thing?

Cliques tend to form within the boundaries of a larger group among individuals most likely to interact based on common interests.  While cliques can occur within any group, in our modern society of inclusion and participation awards, the term is often used pejoratively:

  • Exclusivity.  By default cliques exclude those who don’t share those common interests or social opportunities.
  • Self-reinforcing.  Cliques develop a sub-set of standards within the larger organization.  For example, a teenage clique might develop more specific dress standards (e.g. skinny jeans or black tee shirts) that are a sub-set of what is admissible in the high school they attend, but that does not include other admissible attire (e.g. chinos and polo shirts) that pertains to a different clique in the same high school.  Over time, behaviors, values, and so forth are normative within the smaller clique and will differ from the larger group as a whole.
  • “Popular” or “cool” factor.  Those who aspire to inclusion in a clique that does not include them may experience envy or feel spiteful toward those in that clique.  Likewise, those within a clique may look down on those who do not share their clique’s normative values and behaviors.

Surely this doesn’t happen among adults in the church.  Or does it?

A psychometric test called the FIRO-B attempts to gauge one’s interest in being included.  It covers the following personal characteristics:

  • Inclusion.  Those with high inclusion scores want to belong.  If they feel they don’t belong, they may become offended.  Ask yourselfDo I want to be included or would I rather be left alone?
    • High Inclusion:  Am I missing out on something that everyone else is doing?  Am I in the “in” crowd?
    • Low Inclusion:  Maybe if I unplug the phone and don’t answer the door, they will go away!
  • Control.  Control relates to one’s desire to direct the activities of others.  Ask yourself:  How much say do I want to have in what the group is doing?
    • High Control:  I know the best way to do this, if they would just let me do it.
    • Low Control:  Why do I always have to do everything?
  • Affection.  This relates to one’s desire for warmth in relationships.  Ask yourselfDo I want my relationships to be close and personal or to maintain distance and independence?
    • High Affection:  I just love people.  I’m a hugger.
    • Low Affection:  Don’t touch me.  Have we even been properly introduced?

The instrument measures two other aspects as well:

  • Expressed behavior.  This relates to one’s own actions in relation to the social group.  Ask yourselfHow much do I take initiative to meet my needs for affection, control, and inclusion?
    • High Expressed Behavior:  I take the initiative to set the terms of my relationships.
    • Low Expressed Behavior:  I’m not likely to be the one to call you or invite you
  • Wanted behavior.  This relates to how you would like others to act in relation to your needs.  Ask yourselfHow much do you want others to initiate actions to meet your needs for affection, control and inclusion?
    • High Wanted Behavior:  If I have to ask you for what I need, then that’s not much of a relationship.  You should know what I  need.
    • Low Wanted Behavior:  I don’t rely on others to get what I need.

So, cliques happen.  That much is a natural byproduct of social groups.  What cliquish behavior occurs in church?

  • Extending callings based on personal friendship.  Or conversely, those called to serve together closely may form a clique that outlasts callings.
  • “Lunch Bunch” or book club groups.  Focus groups in Relief Society are in essence a form of clique – a smaller group that forms within a larger group based on a common interest.
  • Families with same age kids tend to group together.
  • Priesthood grouping by age can foster cliques.
  • Less active members or converts may find it difficult to break into established groups of people.

The church also has some clique-busters built in:

  • Rotating visiting & home teaching assignments.
  • Callings that rotate and mix groups of different interests, age groups, and socio-economic status into presidencies and quorums.
  • A spirit of inclusion; activities are to be open access to all ward members and at no cost to participants.
  • Fellowshipping for converts and ward missionary programs.

In my experience, most claims of cliquishness relate to people whose needs aren’t being met.  What do you think?  Is your ward cliquish?  What types of cliques have you observed?  How do you get past cliques?  Does this model (FIRO-B) help explain how people relate to groups?  Discuss.

Comments 44

  1. My current ward is not very clique oriented. On the other hand, there are some people who are very much trying to create a clique. They get funny sometimes, such as when you are talking with someone who they want to talk with, but they aren’t interested in you. So they will try to just cut into an ongoing conversation as if one party was not there. Kind of a crew of losers, all in all. But the high priests’ group is warm, inclusive and welcoming. A great bunch.

  2. Interestingly, the ward I am in right now has no cliques at all. And of the 15 or so wards I have been in, I feel the most lonely here. There just aren’t people doing things in small groups around common interests. And it seems that most of our members are finding their close friendships outside of the ward. I think these groups can be a measure of the healthiness of a ward, as long as these groups are accepting to new people who want to join in, which I find is standard among LDS.

  3. My experience is that my closest friendships in a ward are around those with whom I serve, while we serve together. When the presidency ends, very often the relationship does, too. Sad for me.

  4. Being at the extreme low end of all the FIRO-B measures (except, perhaps, control), I have no idea whether there are cliques in my ward.

  5. The unique social intrusiveness of LDS Church culture is what leads to the possibility of such cliques even forming in the first place. Church is so often approached as a social outlet rather than a celebration of the spiritual. I know that there will be those of a contrary opinion but having your social network within the church leads to a distorted view of reality and leads to taking offense at social offenses to the detriment of building a spiritual foundation for Zion.

    It also leads to the ostracizing of those misfits that are on the fringes of the acceptable social order.

    Church is for worship and celebration of our Saviour. Family is for support and love. Social networks are for expanding your horizons, not validation of your paradigm.

  6. The ward I just moved out of recently was very clique-ish…it’s a “newly wed/nearly dead” ward in a university town, and the majority of the ward moved here from the same small, highly conservative area to complete their degrees (mostly in medicine and dentistry). I didn’t find it too hard to socialize in RS, but my convert, blue collar husband had a lot of difficulty fitting in with the men. The fact that many of these transplants grew up together and are completing the same degrees, coupled with a median age of about 24, practically guaranteed cliques.

    We’ve only been to our new ward once, but my husband said the feeling in this elder’s quorum was SO different. The guys actually took notice of him, and asked intelligent questions about himself and his chosen profession (rather than demonstrate indifference and vague pity over “only” being a tradesperson).

  7. There is nothing positive about the word clique. It’s like trying to find something positive about constructive criticism. There is no such thing. Cliques usually make people feel alianated and alone. Yet you can’t stop from one forming.

  8. I don’t feel that my ward has cliques as much as it is totally dysfunctional. Members in my ward are completely territorial. I have never experienced anything like it before, this may also be because I am older now and can clearly see how people act and react to different things

  9. On occasion, especially when I see certain people act in a particular way and nothing gets said, but then others will say something and they are brought in to talk to the BP, I get very angry.

    My branch is very asian in its’ make up, rest is African American, mostly families very few older single adults and the only single adult ward is for the younger university set. In my old ward in DC it was not like that at all. And we had a singles ward which included young single adults and older single adults, I think this was fueled by the fact that we had so many government workers.

  10. Just so that we are clear, I am glad my branch is culturally diverse. I learn a lot of things and our branch potlucks are the best hands down. The thing that concerns me is the fact that my branch does not work well together.

  11. Asians, African Americans, and Caucasians really do speak different “cultural languages” that are as incomprehensible as a tower of Babel situation. For example, my wife has many cultures in her piano studio. When Asians call, especially if they have only been in the country for a few years, they ask to speak to her, find out she’s unavailable, and then hang up before identifying themselves or asking to leave a message. There’s apparently something cultural that makes it impolite to pass the responsibility for contact to a teacher. American professionals expect to play telephone tag. I have no idea why.

  12. We have to have cliques in our ward really. There are good reasons why. There are a large number of people there, and a high turnover, so if you don’t have a clique, you just end up lost in the mass.

  13. I have lived in several wards in the southern area of the Salt Lake valley for 40 years. There definitely are cliques in the wards in which I have lived. Those with higher incomes seem to stick together, go boating, vacationing, partying. There is definitely a class distinction between rich and poor. Women who place a high priority on fashion and beauty tend to form cliques and exclude those who cannot or choose not to dress in expensive, high-fashion clothing. I could write as essay on cliques in the wards I have lived in. Since my husband and I have both served in leadership positions, we have worked hard to create a feeling of inclusivity in the organizations and wards we had lead, but it is very difficult. It seems that when an area is fairly homogeneous, (white, conservative, middle or upper income levels, LDS), there may be a greater the tendency to create cliques although cliques seem to be a social phenomenon in most large groups.

  14. Cliques are a normal part of human socialization. In spite of the negative connotiation, we form them even in an organization like the Church.
    In over thirty years of Church experience most of the negative experiences have come from individuals, not groups or cliques.
    It’s also been my experience that as members serve more in leadership position and/or get older, the cliqueness tends to abate. You figure out that the value of one’s house or the flashniness of their ride doesn’t have anything to do with how pleasant company they are.

  15. @ doug

    I would have to disagree with you on that, especially when the cliques are culturally based as in my branch. Things in my Branch are the way they are precisely because my BP is Asian and he won’t tell the former BP to back off because he is older than he is. He also lets another Older Woman say outrageous hurtful things to people, again because she is older. He (BP) will not interfere.

    I don’t ever really see my branch becoming a ward precisely because of the dysfunction surrounding the cultural cliques.

  16. I agree with Doug in that the word clique involves a negative connotation. In the wards I have been in there are definitely cliques (negative use here) and cliques (groups of people who are similar, which is normal). We, as human beings, are friends with people who are like us.

    The worst ward ever was the singles ward I attended in the Salt Lake Valley. We were all the same college students but talk about a cliquish ward. I went inactive because it was so bad. Not just because I didn’t have a group, but compounded with other factors it was difficult to stay active.

    The ward I am at now has groups. A person tried creating a clique with my wife and I but I resisted heavily and now we do not talk with that person. I tend to associate with people like me because, for example, when I have a hard week sometimes I need to talk to a person who knows what I am going through, and that means other students and lawyers.

  17. I’m sure my ward has cliques, based on what I see on Sundays. I’m not sure how detrimental the situation is since I don’t really socialize with anyone from the ward.

    The ward with the worst cliques was definitely my undergrad student/singles ward in Boston. Since I’m from an area with a low LDS population, I thought I wanted to “fit in” with the student ward. It didn’t take long to realize that the singles ward situation is toxic for me.

  18. People have a great capacity for kindness and for cruelty. Does anyone remember Abu Ghraib?
    Cliques should be discouraged where possible. Granted, people will form their own groups and either you fit in or you don’t. But the image of cliques is almost always negative.

  19. Post

    The worst clique situation I’ve personally encountered was when we were first married and still lived in an apartment. The ward we were assigned to attend was very negative toward the members who lived in the apartments. They created a separate Sunday School class for those who lived in apartments and did not give callings to you if you were in an apartment because they felt you were only temporary. We were in that ward for a few years, but we didn’t attend more than a few times. It was very easy to find any excuse to avoid going since it was so clear we weren’t wanted.

    Instead of continuing there and just going inactive, we started to attend a married student ward. I didn’t love that either, but at least we weren’t treated like second class citizens. The other wards I have been in have gone out of the way to make sure those in apartments were equally included, but I do think this is one area where there are some rifts in some wards.

  20. Our ward used to have a horrible basketball/volleyball clique. One of the EQ members had a very forceful, dynamic personality and was an uber-jock as well. He more or less ran the men’s activities and was very persuasive in recruiting others to his side; he had no problem with telling people who weren’t up to his competitive standards of athleticism that they weren’t welcome to join in. Thankfully, he and his sycophants have all moved out of the ward, and we have an EQ president who is very inclusive (he was one of the BB/VB “rejects”, and he makes a point of making everybody feel welcome, regardless of ability).

  21. @Hawkgrrrl – Yes, I think certain wards do not like people who live in apartments. My wife and I attended a branch in Salt Lake. The branch was just made up of a large apartment complex near I-15. We actually attended the ward that use to cover the complex before we moved to the complex and it seemed like the same situation, so the stake president probably just created the branch to make it easier on everybody.

  22. About eight years ago, they realigned the ward boundaries in our Stake. We have a military base in our stake and due to the high cost of living here, most military members live on base. However, with their extremely high turnover, they were having a hard time functioning as a ward. Our ward, on the other hand, was shrinking away to nothing but retired people. When we moved in, my husband was the third active elder to move in, so he was immediately put in the Elder’s Quorum presidency. Another ward in the stake had a similar problem. So they split the military ward and put part of them in our ward and part in the other ward. My cranky old ladies (who I learned to love when I was RS pres, lol) had a fit. They said they didn’t like military people, complained about how horribly the military children behaved (all while a permanent member’s 12 kids were running around like maniacs in the lobby, lol), etc etc etc. They didn’t like the RS pres because she was a military wife, even though she was an amazing lady. I was one of her counselors, and we spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to make our ward into a single unit instead of two units forced to meet together.

    It was hard, and it took a couple of years, but we finally won over the cranky old ladies. Now, the “permanent people” kind of go out of their way to make the “temporary” people feel welcome and included. We have “groups” in our ward who tend to hang out together, but I’m not sure I’d call them cliques, only because of the negative connotation that has. They don’t exclude others, and I think most people belong to more than one “group”. We are regularly invited to get-togethers by any number of groups. I’ve had several military families tell me that this is one of the best wards they’ve lived in.

    I think cliques and groups in a ward are normal. And as long as they aren’t exclusionary, there’s nothing wrong with people of like interests to decide to spend time together.

    I did have a friend move to Utah and was immediately called as the RS Pres. She told the bishop that she really didn’t know anyone in the ward, and was a little worried about that. He told that that was why he had called her….she hadn’t been there long enough to be in any cliques and he didn’t have to worry about offending one clique or another.

  23. We’ve been in wards where there were definitely cliques–mostly stay-at-home-moms with young kids who got together to talk while the kids played at the park, did carpool together, and even had slumber parties together (which I always thought was super weird). I think those kinds of groups are “cliques,” but I don’t think they are not necessarily exclusive. In one ward, they never knew what to do with me since I worked part-time. I joined them when I could and/or was interested, but mostly didn’t care because I had interests of my own.

    I have no idea whether our current ward has cliques. If they do, I guess I’m not in on any of them! I work full-time and my husband and I are both pretty unorthodox members, so we don’t look to the church as a primary source of social relationships.

  24. It’s unfortunate to hear that members who dwell in apartments or other situations perceived to be “declasse” have been mistreated like the recent posts indicate. This being “lifted up in pride” was a result of being able to afford “costly apparel” as described in the BoM, and the more modern version is the property valuation. Of course, especially here in the Sacramento area (home values have fallen by more than 50% in some locations), there’s been a mighty humbling in that regard! The view is “nice” from the figurative lake bottom (e.g, underwater).
    I have little regard for a bishop or Stake President that knows of these toxic cliques and does nothing to counter them.

  25. can a stake president or bishop really “solve” cliques? do our wards / stakes / members even have consciousness or awareness of economic class and its social ramifications? in many california wards, geographical ward boundaries overlay socioeconomic class boundaries, creating rich wards and poor wards.

    i grew up in a social world totally embedded within LDS circles. my mormon friends were my primary social group throughout high school. our cliques then were but life changed, and as an adult i seem to fall more within the camp of #25 heather and others–unorthodox member in a “part member” family who doesn’t look to the ward as a primary source of relationships.

  26. #27 JB, I agree. I’m sometimes surprised at the expectation of what a bishop is supposed to “fix.” It is nearly impossible to get people to change, certainly impossible if they don’t want to change. At best a bishop can hope to teach correct principles and hope people choose well.

  27. (Posts#27 and #28) – agreed that there are limits to what bishops and SPs can do. No issue with that. However, in somes cases of cliqueness, they’re part of the problem. That’s what I have issue with.
    As the late LAPD Chief Parker (probably one of the best cops America has ever had) said, “our problem is that we have to recruit from the human race”.

  28. Post

    As to what Bishops can do, the only things I can think of are: 1) restrict “official” activities that have a cost associated to participate, 2) encourage open participation for all “official” activities, 3) never deliberately segregate groups in ways that are offensive (socio-economic, tenure as a member, married with kids, race or other cultural background) or exclusive or retaliatory. Beyond that, it’s a bit tough to control I imagine.

  29. @ Army

    “You have to have cliques or you get lost in the mass.” I would totally disagree with you. But then again, I’m guessing that you are a military person, which in and of itself operates as one big clique based on rank, So, I can see why you would truly believe what you stated.


    I think you make an excellent points as to how to avoid cliques from being to outrageous and or oppressive.

  30. When you’re the only married woman in the ward without children, it makes it easy to believe that there are cliques.

  31. #31 (DBlock) – just remember that the “masses tend to be asses”. Don’t follow the herd!
    #32 (T) – I feel bad that you feel excluded due to the kid count being at zero. As if you owed ANYONE any explanation? (And if it’s due to infertility and/or inability to adopt, in spite of desires to have a child in your home, then I feel especially sorry for you, especially if you feel shut out over a situation you didn’t want).
    #33 – I would say to my own, “Physician, heal thyself”. Yet, the shortcomings of bishops and/or other leaders would definitely be fodder for an entire website, let alone a post! But indulge in it and the “Strengthening the Members” committee will surely get wind, and they, you be in “bombad poodoo”!

  32. I am curious what you mean by “In your experience, most “claims” of cliquishness ….relates to people whose needs aren’t being met.” ?? What is your experience? (or maybe it should say perception?) And what needs do you think they want met? Because this comment alone has a tone that the person being excluded has some sort of benefit  from the clique that they can’t get elswhere or has social issues and feels the need to complain for no reason – that it is in their  mind..

    I disagree and think that is a judgement.  I think cliques develop from families judging other  families ( adult to adult ) or (or a child telling adult or friend a rumor) and it goes against the social status at home, then it spills out to the parent showing some un warranted concern about others and then kids unrighteously decide not to be friends with them {the saying tick tock the game is locked} who they will or won’t be be friends with..For example if you’re little, and you meet a new friend at school and you love them and you get along, but your parent doesn’t think they come from a good family or they heard something -then some parents may make it so you can’t have them as a friend.  And this happens in every community etc.. it not just a mormon thing. But it should  be considered not OK or TAboo to be in a clique in our religion becasue we understand and teach about peoples individual worth not coming from the world… Anyway,yYou eventually determine what your parents will allow or not  in friends and then you tend to find friends with their criteria – but what if the parents were wrong about a family or were being just materialistic, judgemental , and selfish? Then the child being excluded or left out did nothing to deserve the rejection. It seems more that kids develop relationshisp that their parents allow or help foster, everyone else is out of luck . {UNLESS YOUR PICKED AS A SPECIAL PROJECT  or The exception by the Clique ~ lucky you!}

     Cliques in the LDS culture could be its greatest weakness but remains it’s most accepted  social practice.  I believe that the people in the cliques have a false sense of worthiness, approval and acceptance because they always feel welcome.  Their opportunities are better, they network more, they ward off rumors and clean up reputations for each other..It’s like the good old boys club… others may not have a large tight knit group or  support system of friends. But it doesn’t mean we dont deserve it, or are unworthy or would  be a bad influence to others. I think  we all should be treated the same, especially in a ward.

    Those who are in the cliques think everyone else wishes to be in it with them ~ (maybe true for some teens finding a place to fit in etc.. ) but for confident teens and adults who are those outside it , just really  wish they could help them seee how judemental they look and that not everyone thinks money and popularity, or what ever the tie is for that clique – are that important. To everyone else in the room with a clique..the clique is just a distraction to the lesson or the fun. And that other types of people matter in the world and  also they wish they could help you see how un christlike it is-there may be a few who just want to be in it, but not the majority.  I think cliquey people really think others are jealous. but only the people in the cliques think that about someone who speaks up against the clique.  People in cliques represent a small portion of the ward or area, yet control a huge part of how people who are not LDS, or who are new to the church or who dont care about being socially apart of a clique view the hypocrosy in  a ward family. Cliques hurt people simply by being apparent in a religion that teaches otherwise, i think a clique is evident when people are being completely ignored or disregarded in a nobvious way by the clique group and no one is allowed to talk to  sit by, or try to be nice to a clique member. So really cliques are  just big social bullies. I dont’ think a claim of cliquishness should be a claim of neediness, but of observation. I think Cliques should be treated like bullying and like passive aggression towards others, because it says something without saying it directly.

    ~ love one another….as I have loved you!!

  33. I think this will be an ongoing problem for LDS women… in some instances, there really is something going on. But in my experience, it is usually the woman who feels excluded who continues to exclude herself. It is hard putting yourself out there, because there’s nothing worse than being somewhere you’re unwanted, but I think it’s usually that people are busy and selfish (as opposed to thoughtful). They often don’t think to include someone… not because they are being mean… just because they’re not thinking.

    1. Surely you’ve got to be joking or never been excluded. Wow. “But in my experience, it is usually the woman who feels excluded who continues to exclude herself.” Isn’t that nice you can have that experience.

    2. I’m in the southeastern United States and we have cliques, especially within the women. Cliques don’t belong in church, no matter what their reason for forming. The person new to a ward or having trouble fitting in is not the person that should be the only one responsible for trying harder. Suppose that person is clinging to the very last piece of strength and faith when they enter the ward, only to be rebuffed by their sisters? I am. I’m a widow without family (here) to attend church with me. I’ve sat down in Relief Society next to someone I know and received a “look” so I moved so their clique member could sit in “their” seat. Cliques hurt, exclude and don’t belong in church. I was asked to provide center pieces for a RS dinner. I was so happy to be asked! I communicated regularly with the RS activities sister, letting her know that all was planned and prepared. Two days before the event, she called and told me that one of her clique-sisters had picked up some plants for the tables. Did I mind if they used them? I told her that I did, that my centerpieces were classic and beautiful. I’d spent a lot of time and effort designing them, not to mention all the time shopping for supplies after work. She said the decision was made and hoped I hadn’t been “put out” by this unplanned change. I told her that I was “put out” and had already made beautiful centerpieces – glass cup planters with ribbons contained violets, with glass saucers, set on decorative paper mats and surrounded by decorative accents pieces and candies. I prayed hard about this deliberate exclusion and went to the dinner, head held high. It’s the last ward RS function I’ve attended. The cliques are still there today and they still exclude many, except for a “project” newcomer every once in a while. I am not the problem. I don’t need to try harder, make myself available, choose not to be offended or anything else. I admire that you try to believe that some clique members don’t intend to be mean or unkind. I’m sure there are clique-sisters like that, just not in my ward. I recently retired after working for 30 years with the government, all of it in the Defense Department. My goal is to be more involved in my current ward, or change to a nearby one if the cliques still rule the women. Perhaps you’ll let me know how many times a sister has to be rebuffed before it’s okay to give up?

      1. Wow. I so feel your pain! Your story is my story dear sister. The details are different, but the feelings are the same. I have recently lost my youngest son to a drug overdose. I am in a mostly younger ward (Utah) full of young families who I’m sure think what happened to me could never happen to them. True, I’m not a mind reader so I don’t really know what they think, but I do know what they’ve done. I do know when actions are cruel. I can certainly choose not to be offended, but I, like you, feel like I’m barely hanging on some days and to tell you the truth, though I’m not suicidal this life has lost a lot of its charm and I’m tired. i could use real, true friends. Unfortunately, I have never been able to find any in Utah, but I suppose that’s another discussion. But what I want you to know is there are people like me who understand what you feel, and more importantly, I’m more than positive God understands. They will be held responsible at some point for their careless, thoughtless actions.

  34. And let’s not forget how the word “offended” gets thrown around. If you are accused of having been “offended” by someone or something in the Church, you are immediately classified as the one in the wrong. By saying someone is offended in our Church, you are (IMO) labeling them as weak, not valiant, not strong in the faith. The comment goes directly to your character and your testimony. While I agree that finding offense is or can be corruptive to your state of mind, do you think those who do the offending get off scott free? Is it OK then to be mean and nasty and exclusionary? No, I think not.

    1. So true Jann! I liken church cliques to bullies. How do we stop them? They certainly should be universally discouraged and people in them should be counseled. After all, the missionaries work hard to invite all to adopt our faith. We need to remember to include instead of exclude. However, even the guidance I’ve read from our general authorities put the responsibility on the person that is offended, not addressing the offenders. I’m concerned that offenders take this as validation of their behavior However, I know that I am more faithful, strong and valiant than they are because I follow God’s “greatest commandments.”

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