How to Tell if a Church is a Cult

Churches, temples and such can be wonderful places to learn teachings of your faith, for worship and prayer, and to meet and fellowship with others who share the beliefs of your faith. However, cults have belief systems that are off the path, on a tangent -- rather than following the teachings of your faith. Here are some tips on how to recognize and avoid cults.


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    Know how to recognize a cult. Try to understand the beliefs, attitudes, and actions of your church to compare to these questioned groups, and use discernment to see whether there are teachings that are really offbeat. Cult-like churches may express almost universality/inclusiveness, or conversely very narrow/exclusionary views.
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    Notice the people's isolation from or closed attitudes towards non-members. Some churches will shun non-members, either in small or larger ways. When you are there, observe whether they are welcoming to you before you are converted, or if you have real questions. Do they only welcome you when you totally agree with their teachings -- but ostracize you if you don't? That is a definite sign of a cult, so keep an eye out for severe discrimination and isolation.
    • This "church family" may be ones only acceptable family. Your biological family would no longer be allowed to take a place in or occupy any part of your new-life, even for visits, special occasions or general pleasantries. A definite red flag. They might totally withdraw fellowship of people who do not fully accept their interpretations.
    • These churches may discourage outside interaction or have extremely large parts of sermons directed for members only. While some religions do state that small parts of the sermon are for members of the church's religion or denomination only, this does not make that church a cult; however, if, virtually, the entirety of the time spent at the church is for indoctrinated regulars, the church may be a cult.
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    Recognize habits and manners of controlling of new attendees in various ways. Members of cult churches will often be pressured and expected to say, do certain things, act, dress and style only as the group does. The leaders might state that you are not following/understanding, or something of that variety, until you do a certain thing, even if that thing is not stated in the holy book such as The Bible, as necessary for God's purposes, reward or salvation.
    • They would also forbid exploration of different religious systems almost entirely. They do not encourage you to independently educate yourself on beliefs. Some cult-like churches will focus on the vulnerable, more needy, less-intelligent, uninformed people who may be easier to persuade and control.
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    Watch for extreme repetition (brainwashing) in what seems to be the main thread of belief/the agenda of that groups leaders. Doctrinal ideas will be repeated, such as almost chanting certain phrases in sermons or lessons so as to manipulate a group mindset on the given points. These phrases may have been taken out of context from a religion's book, such as The Bible or slightly twisted to give a different meaning -- or simply taking off from and made up as if it's a new branch of the religion.
    • Some churches will inflate self-righteousness and self-assertiveness of members to give an "I'm right", judgmental feeling, causing members to only want to associate with those with the same religious beliefs.
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    Observe personality changes as in yourself or in other members. Some churches will manipulate members without the people realizing the drift, or pressure members to do something through bullying. This constant manipulation can cause a member's personality to significantly alter, which is a signal to show that the church is dangerous. For example, a person might have more of an inability to say no to others after being in this church a long time. Churches may reject questioning of their given messages, rather than calmly guiding them to their "principles".
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    Notice how members act over time or directly after going to church. While it's normal for churches to suggest reading the religion's book and praying frequently, cult-like churches will have extreme standards. Members may be expected to pray for hours every day or read the religion's book for long periods of time as well, and putting down those who don't. Certain members will be "raised" above others quite significantly and have respect and rights more than other members. They may have to do certain things to save new members -- or else that the ceremony, prayer, etc. will be in vain (but realize that an anointing, a blessing to share with others or correctness of doctrine sought by anyone is fine, not a problem). Because of these pressures to be like the higher ranked ones and meet extreme standards, members tend to have a constant stress to get everything done. The group might also constantly demand very large amounts of money for a tithe -- while requesting a tithe is not cult-like, consistently demanding a very large one is cult-like -- especially to receive praise or to be promoted in status, above the other members for making donations and doing certain works.
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    Check to see whether the church's messages are not consistent and rational. Are they one-sided, primarily to set an agenda, presenting facts very selectively (lying by omission or dividing and narrowing the message) to form a particular viewpoint or doctrine, or to use emotional propaganda? This is often by using loaded messages to produce a gut/visceral impact rather than a logical, balanced response to the broader scope of that faith. The church may be making constant outputs around the area to spread misinformation, frequently by advertising, or going door-to-door to push their specific slice of the broader faith.
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    Compare the broad messages of your religion to the suspicious materials and messages of this group. If the messages given in the church are very different/contradict what you have been previously taught, that's a red flag.
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    Decide whether to leave. If so, do it peacefully. Do not abuse the members of this belief or act unkindly toward them. If someone questions your decision, simply thank them and state that it was not to your tastes. Be reserved. Do not bother to present an argument which will open you up to being refuted, with possible harassment or abuse.


  • Be very cautious to not dispute with a member of a church you find suspicious.
  • Always stay educated, in your religion's teachings and in general, so that you will not be easily taken in by a cult-like church's teachings.


  • Keep your guard up when talking to a member of a suspicious church. This person may attempt to "sell" you on assuming the same beliefs and become indignant/angry when you don't. Be patient and calm with this person.

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Categories: Philosophy and Religion