How did this word get such a bad reputation?

Clique [klik]
a small, exclusive group of people; coterie 

Every time I hear this word in any form or fashion, it's always with distain.

I've often pondered the subject of why.  

I'm a compassionate person by nature and definitely don't harbor the "us four and no more" mentality when it comes to Christianity or church.  I believe it's important for us to welcome people with open arms.

At the same time, my heart tells me that there is sometimes an appropriate setting for a clique of sorts in certain settings of life. 

Are my husband and I not in a clique by literal definition being that we are an exclusive couple, not allowing another woman or man into the inner sanctum of our relationship?

Is my family of five not a "clique" when we go on a sacred family vacation together or have a family meeting, "just us five"?

Last night and for the better part of today my husband and I have been at a denominational leadership team meeting where only the team leaders and their spouses - an exclusive group -  were invited for this special time away together.  We are spending time together away from everyone else, and receiving special appreciation.  Are we a clique? If so, or if not, WHY?

Why do cliques get such a bad rap across the board?
When does an exclusive pairing or group become a bad thing?

In my experience of pastoring all these years something I have noticed is that when someone doesn't get a friendship with a "certain person" they want one with in the church they will make an accusation of cliques.  There may be plenty of inroads to a friendship within the church, just not the "certain one" that person wants.  Or, if someone wants to be "close friends" with the pastors, and it doesn't happen all of a sudden there is an accusation of cliques in the church even though there may many others available for this person, their interest was the pastors, or no one.

The fact that someone accuses of cliques doesn't mean there ARE cliques, however, it just means the person did not experience the mutual receptivity from one or two people they were particularly interested in.

I have also noticed that when a leadership team is really in unity and is moving things forward and others in the church may not like it, the naysayers just accuse the team of being a clique.  This is an easy accusation to throw around and it is easily "proven" by the accuser when others see the team hanging out/working together.

I strongly believe it's important to welcome and include others and at the same time I believe there is  an appropriate place for a close bond between a few friends.  In one dictionary definition I found, the definition of clique was simply this:  "circle."  

When does a circle of friends become something of reproach rather than blessing?

I'm really intrigued by the idea of how the word or idea of a clique became scornful. 

What do you think?