In youth ministry, and in church in general there is this terrible attitude that sometimes creeps in and takes over known as the holy huddle. It is group of people who take on the attitude that the church exists for them and they are so inwardly focused they keep everyone else out. It is an attitude that can be cancerous in a ministry.
In my first full time youth position this is exactly what I was met with. I was hired into a church that had a youth group consisting of 6 guys who were so excited to have a full time youth pastor just for them. These guys were the definition of a holy huddle. They literally thought I was hired for them and them only. There were other youth in the church but they didn’t attend youth group. When I talked to a few of them to find out why it was clear, it was those 6 guys. They had taken over the youth group and made it all about them. They were unwelcoming and condescending to anyone who came through the door that wasn’t one of them. Their attitude was 100% “us four and no more”, well “us six” but you get the point. This holy huddle needed to be broken up and hearts and attitudes needed to change in order to reach the potential that God had for us. If our goal is to be like Christ and reach students for Him here are some ways to break up the holy huddle.
STOP Facilitating it!
When it comes to the ministry you lead often times YOU are the one setting the tone. I totally understand that sometimes you are hired into a situation where students have this attitude or you inherit them or whatever but too many times youth pastors and youth leaders are the ones facilitating it. It starts with the mission and vision that YOU have in place. Is your mission and vision one that is outwardly focused? Or does the holy huddle mentality actually fit into your mission? When I was hired into a holy huddle situation it came as no surprise that the youth group had no mission or vision for their direction and that is one of the reasons they ended up where they were. Clearly define the group’s mission as one that is outwardly focused and right away you have set the tone against that type of attitude.
I think every youth worker would agree that the holy huddle mentality is not a good thing but a lot of times their actions in leading the group do not reflect that. STOP using “code words”, church talk, and Christianeese at your youth group. When I asked the students from the church who did not yet attend the youth group why those 6 boys made them feel like they couldn’t attend everyone of them said that one of the reasons was that they were afraid they wouldn’t be able to talk like them and they would be looked down upon. Too often we get into a pattern of using too many “churchy words”, telling too many inside jokes, and in so doing scaring away new students by perpetuating the “club” like attitude. Part of breaking up the holy huddle is to stop facilitating it and set the tone.
Remind students often to be outwardly focused
If you have an outwardly focused mission (which you should and if you haven’t developed a mission yet I would encourage you to download my ebook on mission and vision for free and do it) remind students of that mission often. Make it a part of the DNA of your youth group so that it becomes second nature to them and holy huddles have no place in your group. I remember being in youth group and getting comfortable with the group as it was and not wanting new people to come in and mess up the dynamic. It is so easy for students to just think about what is going on inside the group and forget about the world that needs to hear about Jesus. That is why it is so important to remind students OFTEN to be outwardly focused, to be inviting new people, and to act in a loving way, attracting new people instead of scaring them away. When they are reminded often students are less likely to be looking inwardly long enough to feed into the holy huddle.
Reach new students
I know, way easier said than done! Especially if the existing holy huddle is scaring away any new students you may get. But one of the best ways to break up a holy huddle is to reach new students, it will undoubtably make them upset but it is the price you pay to be healthy. When I took over the youth group of 6 guys who thought I was just there for them I immediately let them know with my actions that I was there for everyone and the youth ministry was going to be a safe environment where everyone was welcome. They didn’t like that and one by one they ended up leaving the youth group as the dynamic changed. I hate to see students leave but in this case the cost for reaching new students was the entrenched holy huddle needed to leave. It can be tough to reach new students in the midst of dealing with the holy huddle mentality but if you can find a way to push through and change the dynamic of the group by adding new students who understand the mission and vision you will be able to break it up and find health.
Breaking up the holy huddle can be very difficult but if you can create a mission, vision, and environment that opposes that attitude and seeks to be outwardly focused you will see success. Remind the students often of the importance of being outwardly focused and began reaching new students who will change the environment of the ministry.