Disclaimer: The below information contains many generalisations
and may not apply to any particular cult.
Who joins cults?
"... Nobody joins a cult. You join a self-help group, a religious
movement, a political organization. They change so gradually, by the
time you realize you're entrapped – and almost everybody does – you
can't figure a safe way back out ..."
- Deborah Layton, Survivor of Jim Jones' Peoples Temple.
You don't have to be especially stupid or gullible to join a cult.
There are many very intelligent, educated, and sensible people in
cults. Read more under Why do
people join cults?
With the exception of those born into cults, cult members didn't
start out as "them" – they were once "us" just
like we are. Most simply had the right (or wrong) group approach
them at the right (or wrong) time in their lives.
Yes, Christians are more likely to join cults than non-Christians.
Approximately 80% of the people in cults were once in the Christian
church. This is a sad commentary on the failing of the Christian
church to look after its members.
People who are keen (or even desperate) to know spiritual truth
and to have some sort of higher meaning in their life can often be
less discerning when it comes to being deceived. A cult can offer
easy (but false) answers to their spiritual questions.
Cults like the International Churches of Christ target university
students because they have more energy and are more enthusiast about
evangelising, and they are less experienced in the world.
Some people reaching middle-age find themselves wanting to make
an impact on the world rather than just drifting on with a meaningless
life. Cults can tempt them with the (normally false or misguided)
promise of making that happen.
People who have just moved to a different city
People who have just shifted their home from one city to another
are often faced with no friends or social group. People who have
just moved out of their parents' home to a new city (eg, university
students studying away from home for the first time) are particularly
likely targets. If a person is not fluent in the language spoken in the new location it can be very difficult to make new friends.
People facing upheaval or a life crisis
Emotionally draining experiences like losing a loved one, losing
a job, etc, can all make people more susceptible to cult recruitment.
When people feel that life is out of control they seek for an answer.
People with money and/or prestige
Some cults exist simply to get money from people. People with money
and prestige (such as movie stars) are especially valuable to these
cults because it promotes the cult while getting money for the cult.
Why do people join cults?
The cult does not tell the truth about what it believes and how
it operates. (It lies.) For example, Jehovah's Witnesses believe
it is OK to lie to non-JWs because they do not deserve to know the
The cult does not reveal everything about what it believes and how
it operates. (It lies by omission.)
Not researching a group's beliefs and practices before joining,
and/or simply relying on what the group says about itself, is like
walking blindly in. Those unwilling to ask hard questions of the
group, or accept glib answers, can also be setting themselves up
Of course, this assumes that the answers to the research or questions
asked are more important to the potential recruit than what the cult
may be offering. The nature of the group has to be a priority - the
answers have to matter.
Need for love or a sense of belonging (met by love bombing) or to
meet some other need
The cult appears attractive in the areas that the new member is
needy in. For example, a cult might make a lonely new member feel
really welcome and provide the new member with lots of new friends
with similar interests - especially effective for someone who has
just moved to the city. The cult might provide meals to someone who
has just lost a spouse, or provide a strong and caring male authority
figure for someone who had a distant father. Cults fill needs - emotional,
spiritual, and practical.
Search for truth, exclusivism
The cult claims to have answers for searching individuals. People
are more likely to join religious groups of any sort if they are
searching for answers, and if the Christian church fails to provide
them, they will seek out a group which does claim to. However, these
claims are very likely to be false due to (a) deception used to recruit
new members, and (b) cults do not have the truth, which is only found
in Jesus Christ.
Most of the people in cults are very sincere about their beliefs.
It is sad that they are sincerely wrong.
To join family
Having family members in a cult is a strong lure, especially if
the cult appears to be of benefit to them.
To belong to a group which conforms to pre-existing beliefs
Because of their often small size, cult beliefs and practices can
easily fill niche markets for theological beliefs, meaning someone
can believe what they want to and still have their beliefs catered
for. It becomes an easy religion for them, as the group already teaches
what they believe.
The leaders of many cults are very charismatic, persuasive people.
Others want to be around them and will happily follow their teachings,
even if those teachings are false. (This is also one reason con-artists
are able to trick people.)
Need for victimisation
Some people (not many) actually have a need to be victimised, abused,
or taken advantage of. Sadly, they believe that's all they're worth.
Back to top.