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How Christian Cults Work

Updated on April 24, 2020
Say Yes To Life profile image

This hub explains the process Christian cults use to recruit and hold members.


Definition of a CULT:

  1. Organization that claims to be based on the Christian Bible, but deviates from it significantly.

  2. Society that isolates itself and behaves strangely.

  3. Group that employs mind control techniques to attract and hold members.

    All three definitions have validity, but it is the third that is by far the most significant. Since most of the Bible was written over 2000 years ago, in a part of the world where most of its followers have never even visited, let alone lived, you can’t expect any denomination to follow it exactly. Also, all types of clubs isolate themselves and behave strangely; that’s not necessarily harmful. But when someone tries to brainwash you – that’s where things get precarious.

    First, a few facts about cults.

  1. Though many types exist, the vast majority of them are based on religion. (I describe the others in my hub, Types of Cults and How They Attract / Hold People).

  2. While all major world religions have cult spinoffs, Christianity and Islam hold the record for the most. In this hub, I will focus on the Christian-based ones.

  3. Countries with lots of ethnicities living together, such as the United States and Australia, have the most cults. At any given time, there are 5000 in the US. Most you will never hear about, since they seldom reach the extremes of People’s Temple or Branch Dividians.

  4. Cults tend to proliferate during times of turmoil, such as economic downturns and wars.

  5. People who join cults are not crazy or stupid; they are perfectly normal. They just happen to be at a vulnerable point in their lives; for example, newly independent, or a recent major shift in finances, health, or marital status, or even a long distance move. The old ways don’t work anymore, and they’re desperate for concrete answers. Virtually everyone has been in situations like that; the ones who join cults have the misfortune of coming across a particularly alluring recruiter.

  6. Most people who join cults eventually realize what’s up and leave on their own, usually after a year. Rarely do they need to get kidnapped and deprogrammed.

  7. Likewise, most cults are not on isolated compounds with barbwire fences. People are free to leave anytime they want. What keeps them there is the threat of eternal hellfire and damnation, and the loss of community.

    So, how do cults recruit members? After all, if someone came up to you and said, “Hi, wanna join my brainwashing cult so we can rob you of all your money while you work for us for free?” you’d tell them to get lost. Obviously, they have to be a lot more subtle. Here’s how they work.

  1. Love bombing. A recruiter will be really warm, inviting you to a meeting where everyone acts like instant friends. That’s what keeps people coming back.

  2. When they encourage you to join, you will be told they have privileged information, that only their particular clique is going to heaven, and the rest of the world is going to hell. Great emphasis will be placed on the horrific state of the world.

  3. As you get more involved, you will be told to renounce the world, focusing all your energies on the group. They may even go so far as to tell you to exclude your family members.

  4. Finally comes mind control. They use the BITE method: Behavior Control (telling you how to act, dress, think, who to associate with, who to emulate) Information Control (no one is to know the organization is a cult; often when word gets out, they will change their name) Thought Control (pseudonyms are given as definitions to certain ideas and topics, and questions are repressed through thought-stopping processes and shaming people into thinking of questioning in the first place, and Emotion Control; people are told what to feel, and how they should react to certain stories and situations. Shame for non-conformance is a major tactic.

    How can you tell if an organization is a cult? They generally have 3 characteristics:

  1. Exclusive. “We’re the only ones with the Truth; everyone else is misinformed."

  2. Secretive. Few people in the cult know what’s really going on; only the ones in the upper echelons of the society know. Also, they often want members to be unaware of what’s happening in the world, saying it’s none of their concern. Some even dress in outdated fashions, and control what types of music / shows to enjoy.

  3. Authoritarian. You obey the leader without question. The leader could be a living person, or someone who lived a long time ago while the minister serves as a “messenger”. If you see some things that are amiss, you do not point them out. If you do, they will come up with some vague answer; if you do not accept it, you are apostate.

    Now, the most difficult part of all. How do you deal with a loved one who is in a cult?

    About the only thing you can really do is try your best to stay in touch with them, and not allow them to push you away. Do not confront them directly, saying they’re in a cult; they will see that as persecution. Likewise, do not try to forcefully get them to leave, criticize the cult, or pass any sort of judgment. The members need to find out for themselves what’s going on; the best way to do this is to calmly ask them questions about their doctrine, so they can see the errors that they wouldn’t see if you pointed it out to them. Also, when they exit, make sure you’re there for them then! It is a gradual process; they were convinced of a variety of “truths”, and now they need courage to challenge them. There may always be the lingering fear that the cult was right, and their questioning could lead to an eternity in hell.

    I was in a cult once. I wrote about it in the hub, My Experience in a Cult ( It took years for me to realize I was even in one. What happened was, after leaving “Los Angeles County” and moving to Seattle, I wound up in a fabulous church that got me out of several nasty situations. But because I kept attracting bullies in the workplace, I was forced to leave it behind. My brother rescued me and brought me to the Big Island of Hawaii, where I sat helplessly while his daughter dropped out of high school and abandoned a plum job working in a dental office to join a cult, living in their crowded compound and selling Bible-based books for free. For obvious reasons, I didn’t want to attend the same church she did! Why couldn’t Christ fix my problem and allow me to stay in Seattle with that wonderful church? That way, I could have told my brother to send his daughter to me; not only could she have attended my church, but there were plenty of great schools there, too.

    I was questioning the local church. I was supposed to forgive. After all, my niece has faults of her own, right? Aren’t all teenagers willful?

    Wait a minute. What are the characteristics of a cult again?

  1. Exclusive. My niece was “saving” people by spreading the Lord’s message; it was an honor for her to give up her high school education to do so. When my brother tried to interfere, he was “being used by Satan to persecute her”.

  2. Secretive. Why in the world would a pastor hire an assistant who had barely squeaked through high school himself? (The assistant pastor was the one running the cult). Apparently, they like uneducated people – it’s easier to pull a fast one on them!

  3. Authoritarian. Christ is coming soon; we must get the message out there! (Do not mention this has been proclaimed for nearly 2000 years!)

    Many people feel enraged when they leave cults; others feel a massive sense of relief. I felt bewildered more than anything else. Both the cult I and my niece joined were merely churches that belonged to our denomination, Seventh Day Adventist, that we’d been a member of all our lives. I’d attended several churches in several states, and have NEVER come across anything like this. Seventh Day Adventists have the second largest parochial school system in the world, superseded only by the Catholics, who have been around a lot longer. We place tremendous value on education and healthy living. We have a worldwide network of hospitals as well, and excellent summer camps. Even in our ghetto schools, nearly everyone graduates, and about 80% of the students go to college. Whoever heard of an SDA assistant pastor encouraging someone to drop out of high school???

    Yet, that’s not the real issue. The real issue is, why didn’t Christ make me a new creature, so I could rescue my niece?


    The following hub is based a question I asked last year on HubPages, when I finally got the courage to write my Seattle pastor, telling him all about both cults. (I never heard from him again). I got so many answers, HubPages asked me to move it to the Forums; my results were rather discombobulated. So I will post it as a hub, including comments on people’s answers.

To read the next hub, Could Christianity Itself be a Cult?, please visit this link:

© 2013 Yoleen Lucas


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    • The0NatureBoy profile image

      Elijah A Alexander Jr 

      4 years ago from Washington DC


      So long as one believes in "good and evil" and the other "judgmental adjectives" used to describe the opposites in existence man can never shut off their emotions. All of our emotions derive from our ignorance that judging everything cause us to feel.

    • Say Yes To Life profile imageAUTHOR

      Yoleen Lucas 

      4 years ago from Big Island of Hawaii

      Elijah Alfred - excellent points. A cult is basically a mind control machine. They tell believers what to believe and what not to believe, and thus control their thoughts.

    • The0NatureBoy profile image

      Elijah A Alexander Jr 

      4 years ago from Washington DC

      Very well said although the most important definition of "cult" you did not touch.

      Cult - the means of disallowing certain thoughts and behaviors from being developed by others while allowing others to grow without restraints.

      Cult is the base word for "cultivate" which allows certain plants to grow without any prohibition while completely seeking to prevent others from growing at all. That is the what cults do, teach "right" for they thing they want done without restrictions and "wrong" for stopping other things from being developed by people. [See my hub]

      When the Bible is understood we find there is no "Tree of The Knowledge of Good and Evil" because half of most things considered good by people are considered evil by the other half of people. Example: the raped and anyone who might be a victim of it will call it evil, the rapist and everyone who may do it will call it good, thus, good nor evil has a concrete standard everyone will call either. Thus, that metaphor is the beginning of civilization's cultivating people into accepting some things and being rejective of others.


      The0NatureBoy or Elijah Alfred

    • Say Yes To Life profile imageAUTHOR

      Yoleen Lucas 

      6 years ago from Big Island of Hawaii

      Glad I could be of help. I believe the reason Christianity and Islam are so vulnerable to spawning cults is due to their authoritarian nature. Both believe they have Absolute Truth, while other world religions admit they don’t have all the answers and allow their members to explore other options. Because Christianity and Islam basically forbid it, that makes it easy for any leader to exert mind control.

    • Hannah David Cini profile image

      Hannah David Cini 

      6 years ago from Nottingham

      An interesting article. I think a lot of people stereotype cults and have some abstract view of them which is so dangerous because it makes it hard for them to recognise ones when they start to get dragged in.

      I also think it is easy for churches that originally set out with good intentions to get bad leadership (dominating, demanding and without accountability) who start pushing on their own ideas and cross the cult line. I always wondered where the line was and think that the 3 defining qualities you listed are spot on.

      Great hub, voted up.

    • Say Yes To Life profile imageAUTHOR

      Yoleen Lucas 

      7 years ago from Big Island of Hawaii

      Wow - good question.

      The majority of people who join cults are experiencing a major change in their lives, which is why most of them are in their late teens / early 20s, newly independent. The old ways don't work so well anymore, and they're looking for something solid. Also, they lack discernment, so they're easily hoodwinked. However, people can experience a major life change at any age; marital status, health, finances, or even a long distance move. So anyone is vulnerable.

      As for personal characteristics, usually people who were raised to not question authority are more prone to join a cult. I fell in that category. I was taught from Day One that the Bible is the infallible Word of God, and you didn't dare point out its discrepancies. For someone like that, all that is necessary is for a minister to come along and say they promote what the Bible REALLY teaches, and produce a few examples. So you can see how a lot of Christians are vulnerable, too.

      Regarding people who cut off their emotions - I think you do have a point. It's easy to follow that command if you're already doing it.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I noticed something - it seems cults want you to shut off your emotions, as well as your reasoning.

      Are people who cut off their emotions more prone to join cults?

    • Say Yes To Life profile imageAUTHOR

      Yoleen Lucas 

      7 years ago from Big Island of Hawaii

      That's a common one, isn't it? Sorry - I should have included that! Thanks for bringing it up!

      This is akin to this conversation: "My car won't start." "Did you put the key in the ignition?" LOL!

      I believe the best response to such an inane question is a simple "Yes". No sarcasm or irritation, just a calm response. If they keep insisting, you can either say, "Obviously, God's answer to my prayer is No", or "It seems you don't want to accept the fact that this isn't working. You're essentially calling me a liar on this issue."

      Try it and see how it works!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Interesting article, Say Yes To Life. I'd like to make a comment regarding point #11. When I tell about a chronic problem, church people usually ask, "Did you pray about it?" Well, duh! If I answer, "Of course", they keep asking, "Did you really pray?" What do you think is a good comeback to that one?


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