By Rebecca Hanson

No church is completely healthy nor totally unhealthy, but most lie somewhere along a continuum. Some churches lie very close to the cult end while others are somewhere in between. The way to tell if a church is healthy or unhealthy is to examine the INTERPERSONAL relationships that are actually occurring. Most issues involving interpersonal relationships fall into one or two of the following categories: COMMUNICATION, CARE and/or CONTROL.

Here is a "thumbnail" comparison of ten Healthy vs Unhealthy practices which will help you identify the "3 C's"--Communication, Care and Control:


1.Group identity and true motives are revealed.--communication--open and honest, nothing to hide.

2. Visitors are genuinely made to feel welcome and included--caring, supportive, inclusive.

3. Potential members are free to decide which meetings and activities to attend--(Non)controlling, allows differences of priorities.

4. Communication is reciprocal--communication--open and equal.

5. Leaders and members are easily available and candid when YOU want to talk.--(non)controlling, considerate of others, values your time more than his.

6. You have a sense of "freedom" and "affirmation" when you leave the meetings.--(non)controlling, enhancing others, releases others to be themselves.

7. Your personal boundaries are important and respected--caring, respectful.

8. You have the right to question beliefs, practices and motives.--communication is encouraged, not threatened, willing to admit faults or wrongs,(non)controlling.

9. You have a right to ask MORE questions if not satisfied with initial answers.--nothing to hide, willing to be closely examined, high integrity, (non)controlling.

10.. You have complete freedom to EXIT the church if you are not satisfied.--(non)controlling, doesn't "use" or need to "hang on" to people.


1. Members are told to withhold certain information from outsiders--communication is blocked, hidden agenda, secret, controlling, deceptive.

2. Newcomers are made to feel so special that they don't dare go elsewhere (without seeming ungrateful).-- overzealous to recruit, prey on vulnerable people, manipulation. Or they are ignored and have to figure out how to be included--exclusiveness.

3. The leaders encourage you to put their meetings and activities before all other commitments. Family, friends and even jobs are expected to be secondary.--control, use of shame or guilt, badgering, ridicule, manipulation.

4. Communication is mostly one-way. (i.e., If you don't initiate it, it doesn't happen.--(non)caring, controlling, wanting to be served rather than serving.

5. The "higher" the positioned leader, the less accessible--doesn't return phone messages promptly, keeps conversation to a minimum. --control, (non)caring, self-seeking.

6. You have a sense of "fear" or "condemnation"or "shame" or "guilt" when you leave the meetings --control, judgementalism, legalism.

7. "Boundaries" are unheard of and you often feel "violated"--(non)caring, abusive, controlling.

8. They insist on total, unquestioning obedience and submission to the leadership. --control level is more extreme, very dangerous sign.

9. You are singled out or shunned if you persist in "questioning their authority. --control level is very dangerous, get out right away.

10. You fear leaving, because there will be a "price to pay"--labelling, slander, or some form of intimidation.--control level is that of a cult. You will probably need help to get away from them.


NONE of these Unhealthy practices should be ignored. No matter how "good" their facility or program nor how famous the leader in the church, if ANY unhealthy practices are occurring, or look as if they are occurring on a regular or ongoing basis, then one needs to pull back and get an more objective view of that church.

What do people look for in a church? Some people are looking for a place to meet people and make friends with others who have similar religious beliefs. Some people are looking for a "family setting", a place where they can safely set down roots and "belong". Some people are looking for a church with a certain set of doctrines, form of worship or expression of faith that they can feel comfortable with. Some people are looking for God or having found Him want to deepen their experience of God.

When looking for a church it is important to consider how HEALTHY the church is. A healthy church is one that tells you a lot about it's practices. You shouldn't have to guess about who they are; what they stand for or what they expect from you. Information should be readily available, and PEOPLE should be readily available to answer all your questions about the church. You should look for an appreciation of diversity and an openness to criticism and doubt before you make up your mind to join a church. Find out how easy it is to enter, and more importantly, how easy or difficult it is to EXIT the church.

For the personal story of how a committed Christian became involved in a "church cult" read Learning the Hard Way.

For a four part article, Reclaiming the Church:

Download all four parts in one zip file: Reclaim.zip

1. Rediscovering and reclaiming God's original intention for the church [Click Here]

2. True Leadership vs "Inverted" Leadership [Click Here]

3. Gift of Pastor [Click Here]

4. Gift of Apostles [Click Here]

Ask for help from the AliveCoach expert by email

Personal Page, Rebecca Hanson

Ten Ways to get Past the Hurt of the Past

A Healing Letter to a Y.W.A.M. Friend

A good link for survivors of child abuse

The Road to Revival

See Rebecca's Well for a list of other articles

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