Review of Religious Research

, Volume 54, Issue 2, pp 217–238 | Cite as

Youth Group Cliques: How Religious Goals Can Disguise Discriminatory Group Dynamics

  • Patricia Snell HerzogEmail author
  • Robert Wedow
Original Paper


This paper provides an in-depth, qualitative analysis of two Christian youth groups. Researchers conducted personal interviews with participating youth and their youth ministers and collected extensive field notes on participant observations of youth group events. Findings indicate the presence of youth group cliques with clear delineations about which participants are youth group insiders and which are outsiders. Results show that insider participants are typically socioeconomically-advantaged youth, while outsiders are typically youth from disadvantaged backgrounds. Despite the existence of these exclusionary practices within both groups, leaders in the two cases demonstrate differing levels of awareness of and response to these dynamics. This paper explores the specifics of both cases, illuminating who is targeted for exclusion within these groups and how this targeting varies across the two congregational contexts. Implications of these findings are that religious youth groups may perpetuate broader socioeconomic divisions. Specifically, the analysis reveals that rather than forming benign cliques, youth group members may be discriminating against others based on their relative socioeconomic advantage.


Youth groups Socioeconomic status Religious stratification Church cultures 



This research was funded through the generosity of a Lilly Endowment Inc. grant and institutional support from the University of Notre Dame. The authors wish to thank Christian Smith, Hilary Davidson, Katie Spencer, Brad Vermurlen, Brandon Vaidyanathan, Peter Mundey, and Kaitlyn Conway for their valuable feedback and contributions to the project.


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Copyright information

© Religious Research Association, Inc. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Rice UniversityHoustonUSA
  2. 2.University of Notre DameNotre DameUSA

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