Cults are growing around the world and especially in the United States. While it is hard to determine an exact number, it is estimated that 20-30 million Americans participate in a cult or some type of occult. Many factors attribute to the growth of cults. Ron Rhodes has attributed this growth to the failure of the church, dysfunctional families, secular humanism, invasion of eastern philosophy, increase in relativism, self-emphasis, emphasis on feelings, etc. The attribute that stands out is the failure of the church (not church specifically, just in general).
The claim that should catch the attention of any Christian, especially those in leadership, is that the church is actually contributing to the growth of cults in America. It should be even more shocking to understand that cults are manipulating Christian teaching in many cases. This is harder to understand when you realize that many followers of cults once attended traditional evangelical churches. The failures are broken down to: failure to make a real moral difference in the lives of church members, failure to provide a sense of belonging, failure to meet people’s deepest needs, and a failure to make Bible doctrine a high priority.
Failure to Make a Real Moral Difference
Studies done by the Roper organization and a Gallup poll cited by Chuck Colson claims that born-again Christians show little change or difference in moral values from when they were non-believers or from other non-believers. This should not be a surprise. The divorce rates are nearly identical to around 50% for Christian believers and non-believers. If the church was making a real moral difference, the numbers would be vastly separated. The proponents for same sex marriage actually use this fact against conservatives that claim they want to see to sanctity of marriage protected. How can the church claim the “sanctity” of marriage when we fail in upholding the Biblical plan at a nearly identical rate of those who hold no value for the Bible? People want to be a part of something that can make a difference in their life and they are seeking cults to find it.
Failure to Provide a Sense of Belonging
People seek acceptance, love, and fellowship to fill the emptiness of loneliness, and alienation. Big churches are failing to provide this with impersonal programs and small churches are failing with “country club” attitudes. Jesus set the example by making everybody that genuinely wanted to be around Him feel welcome. It is sad to realize people are finding their way into cults because they cannot find that in the local church. Cults actually rally around newcomers and make them feel wanted and even give them opportunities to contribute to the group. Again, this is a concept that Jesus taught.
Failure to Meet People’s Deepest Needs
People do not join a cult because they have done extensive research on the theological teachings of the group or by studying various worldviews. They stumble into them and stay when they hear answers (or at least theories) to life’s deepest questions. People want to know where did I come from, why am I here, what is life all about, what happens when my life is over? Christians have answers to these questions, but for whatever reason fail to share them. It is because of these questions that a group like Ratio Christi even exists. The church needs to get back to a place of answering life’s deepest questions.
Failure to Make Doctrine a High Priority
Church members end up in cults at times because they fail to realize the teaching goes against the Bible. Biblical illiteracy is a major problem in our church culture today. In a time of rapid cult growth, many church leaders are spending time on marketing, activity development, and development of worship “experience”. All of this energy keeps the Pastor from his study and bold preaching. Churches tend to be more focused on entertaining and drawing more in, with less focus on what people are being drawn into. This leads to “watered-down, please just feel comfortable” church environments. Let’s say you own a restaurant, you spend thousands on a prime location, advertising, and decorations/ atmosphere. Would you make a person with little experience, no formal training, but a desire to cook to be your chef? No, what brings you back is great food. People are hungry for spiritual truth, the church needs to feed them with it.
The church can do its part to stop the growth of cults with making a moral difference in the lives of people, providing a sense of belonging, meeting people’s deepest needs, and making doctrine a high priority. We need to claim the words of Paul in 1 Timothy 3:15 (GNT): “…know how we should conduct ourselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.”