As a person who works with a counter-cults apologetics ministry in Africa, I meet so many people – both lay and leaders – who ask me a very important strategic question. And that question has to do with outreach to people involved in a cult or false religious group.
How do I carefully, lovingly, yet biblically, help somebody who is trapped in a cult?
My Loved One Is In A Cult
They ask this question out of compassionate concern – especially for their loved ones who are caught up in false religious groups.
They ask this: “How do I help my loved one who is involved in a cultic group? My sister is involved in a group that is telling people that the end of the world is coming. And I do not know how to convince her, or how to debate with her, because she usually wants to debate with me. Especially in light of what her church or her group has taught her. How do I carefully, lovingly, yet biblically, help somebody who is trapped in a cult so that they can come out?”
7 Things To Remember
Now, in regard to this question, there are a number of things that can be said. And there are a number of things especially that need to be remembered as you engage into outreach to cults or to people who are involved in cultic groups.
1. As You Pray For Them, They Pray For You
One of the things that you want to remember is that most people who are involved in a cult are not aware that they are. In most cases they are ignorantly or sincerely involved. They think they have found truth but actually they haven’t. They do not know that they are lost and in most cases they think that you are the one who is lost.
In most cases they think that you are the one who is lost.
So, while you are praying for them, or looking for ways to help them come out, they are also praying and looking for ways to get you to join them. Remembering that is very important as you engage them.
2. You Aim To Teach Them, They Aim To Teach You
Number two, you need to remember that cults have been taught not to listen to you. Especially if you’re not a member. Cultic groups will always teach their members that they are the only ones that have the truth and anyone outside the group is misled, misguided or even lost.
Cultic groups will always teach their members that they are the only ones that have the truth.
So, as you engage them, they are already looking at you as somebody who has nothing important to teach them or to share with them. They’ve been taught to come and teach you. Not to come and learn from you. And because they are not good listeners, you’re going to have to find ways in which you can create motivation for listening in order for them to listen to what it is you have to say.
3. You Share Your Materials, They Share Theirs
Number three. Most people in a cult have been told not to accept information outside the group. While most of these people are eager to give you their materials or publications or books to read – like the Jehovah’s witnesses – they have been taught never to receive material from you. Chances are, they won’t want to read your tract or want to read the Bible with you. But they will be eager to give you materials that their organisation has given them to pass on.
Chances are, they won’t want to read your tract or the Bible.
So, if these people are not accessing outside information from their group, chances are, they are not even aware they are lost. They are not aware that there is alternative information or truth claims that they could listen to. And so you want to approach them sensitively and compassionately. Knowing that they have not been given options in regard to what they should believe or not.
4. You Might Know Things They Don’t
You must also remember, number four, that most people in a cult have not been told the whole information about their group. They have been told good things that characterise the group. But they do not know some of those skeletons in the group’s wardrobe. So, when you share with them, chances are that they will be eager to tell you how wonderful and how great the group is. But they don’t know some of those bad aspects of the group.
They might not know some of those bad aspects of the group.
You pointing out some of those things will not only shock them into listening to what you have to say, but may actually reveal some of those things they didn’t know existed and therefore help them to want to come out of that group.
5. Ask Questions, Don’t Assume Their Beliefs
But number five, you must also remember that most followers in a cult do not believe the same things. Some have been there for a long time. Some have just joined and therefore do not understand the doctrines of this group.
So, when you engage them, do not engage them by generalising what you think they should believe or already believe. But seek to ask strategic questions to find out at what stage they are in the doctrines of that group. So that you can engage them at the level where they are, rather than assuming that they believe certain things, which actually they may not be believing.
6. It Can Be Very Costly To Leave A Cult
Another important thing that you need to know as you engage people who in a cult, is that for most of them it is very costly for them to leave the group. Some of them have been there all their life and they do not know anything else to believe. Or anything better to follow. So, you can understand why they are stuck in such a cultic group.
To consider leaving might mean endangering their lives.
Some of them have been in groups that are aggressive and dangerous. That to consider leaving might mean endangering their lives. And indeed, some cultic groups can even kill followers who have deserted them.
Some of these people, when they leave these cultic groups, have nowhere else to go. Some of them may be disinherited by their loved ones.
7. Have a Plan For After They Leave
So, you have to be thinking, “When I convince this person to leave the group, what next? Where are they going?” If they are hunted or haunted by their family members who are unhappy about their leaving, how are you going to help them to transition from error to truth? From the danger they are in to security that is found in the Christian faith?
Some of these people have paid a huge price to be part of this group. And by leaving they will be saying bye-bye to a big part of their life and their identity that they have known for years. You can understand why they are not eager to leave as quickly as possible.
How To Share The Gospel With Someone In A Cult
So, with this background and with these identifications of who they are and how they respond to us, how do we strategically, yet sensitively, evangelise them?
1. Find Out What They Believe
Number one, I said earlier, that we need to ask strategic questions. When we ask questions, we understand who these people are. We understand where they are in terms of their theological understanding. We also understand whether they are sincerely in error or whether they are the leaders and the manipulators of others.
Are they sincerely in error, or are they the leaders and the manipulators of others?
This information helps us to know how to share the gospel with them, rather than assuming that they all are lost, or they all don’t know, or they are all deliberately in a cult and then missing the point on how to sensitively evangelise them.
2. Focus on Grace
Number two. Among the important things is that in every way possible we must communicate the gospel of God’s grace to people in cultic groups. Most of these groups are legalistic in nature. They have been taught the do’s and don’ts of religion: what you do in order for God to save you, or to love you, or to be happy with you. And most of their lives they have been approaching God through their human effort and works.
It is finished! Christ has paid it all and once for all indeed.
Helping them to see that it is finished, that Christ has paid it all and once for all indeed, will go a long way in helping them to appreciate what God has already done and therefore most likely being eager to receive it.
3. Share Because You Care
Number three. Your message must not only be a message of truth, it must also be a message of love: proclaim the truth in love.
People don’t care how much you know, they want to know how much you care.
Someone has said that people don’t care how much you know, but people want to know how much you care. That when you proclaim the gospel sometimes the temptation is to specialise on sharing the facts and the truth claims of the Christian faith. And you forget that you are talking to people who have emotions, to people who have feelings, to people who have a background where they are coming from.
Treating them as individuals, as respected people, as people created in the image of God, showing them that you preach to them in the first place because you care about them and their eternal destiny, will not only prepare them to eagerly listen to you but they will take whatever you are saying seriously and urgently. Because they recognise that you communicate the truth out of love.
4. Establish Common Ground
You must also remember that when engaging people who are in a cult, usually there is a likelihood that you will be disagreeing with each other and debating with each other. And their goal in most cases is to prove a point that you are wrong and they are right. So, how do you engage in a meaningful winsome conversation? Where defences are pulled down so that people are eager to listen, to engage and to identify with you? You do what we call establishing common ground.
You need to be thinking about some of those things that you can share with people in cultic groups that are identical, or closely, related to what it is that they already believe. That can form the basis of common ground, from which you can now share the truth of the Christian faith.
A Foundation To Build On
Maybe somebody has recently lost a loved one. If you come to share the gospel, you want to talk about what it feels like to lose a loved one.
You want to begin by talking about the process of grieving, or maybe you want even to talk about death. And because they have recently lost a loved one, they will quickly identify with the topic at hand. They will quickly share some of their experiences on how they have addressed death, or how they have gone through the grieving process. And from that foundation you may want to talk about God who lost His son.
Because you’ve been talking about something that they identify with, they are likely going to listen to you.
You open up into now John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…” But because you’ve been talking about something that they identify with, they are likely going to listen to you.
If you just come and start from anywhere and they don’t see anything you have in common with them, they might disregard you. They might dismiss what you are saying as of less importance or urgency. So, establishing common ground is a very important aspect of engaging in dialogue with people in a cult.
5. The Battle Is Spiritual: We Must Pray
But another important point that is worthy of note is the aspect of prayer. That as believers, when we engage in evangelism to people involved in cults, we must remember that this is not just an intellectual engagement.
These people are not just intellectually captive, they are also spiritually bound.
As much as they believe certain things, or are rationally convinced about certain truth claims in that cultic group, the battle against cults and false teaching is ultimately a spiritual one. These people are not just intellectually captive, but they are also spiritually bound. For Satan, who sows seeds of deception and distortion, is at the heart and behind whatever it is they believe.
And therefore, praying for them that God will open their hearts, that God will open their ears and their minds to understand the deception that they are involved in, goes a long way.
Before you tell people about God, you should tell God about those people.
Someone said, that before you tell people about God, you should tell God about those people. That the engagement with people involved in a cult begins on our knees.
Above All, Appeal To God
We pray for them first and foremost and then we go and share the gospel with them. And when we do that, we find – when the Spirit of God has prepared their hearts to listen to what the Spirit of God is saying through the Scriptures, but even more so by praying with and for them – we show that we understand the source of the battle conflict which is ultimately spiritual.
And therefore we appeal to God. He is the only one that is able to overcome and overwhelm the forces of evil and spiritual deception. He is the one who brings people out of this bondage into the glorious truth of the gospel.