Are Small Groups Really Just Cliques?

I'm a firm believer in the potential of small groups. I believe spiritual formation happens best when we are willing to share life with and submit to a small group of people who will lovingly build our character and help us be attentive to the work of the Spirit in our lives. But there are dangers in small groups. I recently came across a blog post which discussed the fine line between healthy small groups and unhealthy "cliques." Below are some excerpted statements from that post. You can read the entire post at The Spiritual Formation Blog.

  • A while back, I blogged that healthy small groups are friends. I’m not sure why, but this has recently become the most popular post on my blog. Debra commented,
  • Small groups often divide the church into cliques. The group forms, bonds, and no new people stand a chance of joining them. The more groups there are, the more segregated the church. New people see this right away, feel like an outsider, which they are, and don’t go back.
  • A healthy community is never a closed clique. It is open, inviting, welcoming, outward-focused, and missional. Healthy community fulfills all of the Great Commandment by loving God, one another, and our neighbors as ourselves.
  • Jesus led a small group and... said about himself, “I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.” (Matthew 9:13 , The Message)
  • I love the way Richard Peace put this in his classic book, Small Group Evangelism:
  • In a successful [healthy] small group, love, acceptance, and fellowship flow in unusual measure. This is the ideal situation in which to hear about the kingdom of God. In this context, the “facts of the gospel” come through not as cold propositions but as living truths visible in the lives of others. In such an atmosphere, a person is irresistibly drawn to Christ by his gracious presence.*
  • Debra described unhealthy small groups as what we might call “holy huddles.” The problem is not in the huddle itself, however. Every successful team needs a safe place to huddle, to put our arms around one another, catch a short breather, and encourage one another before running the next play to accomplish the team’s mission.

What do you think? How can a group avoid becoming inwardly focused? How important is it for a group to be missionally-minded? Should every group be open to newcomers all the time? Where is the balance?