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5 Red Flags That Show You Might Be In a Toxic Church

December 2, 2021

In this age where deconstruction is becoming more and more popular, I’ve realized that many of the people currently struggling with their faith are victims of toxic churches and/or cults. They found themselves fully invested, even defending their churches for a long time until one day, they realized that the church they’re in may not be teaching Biblical values.

How can we tell the difference between a church that challenges us, and a church that is actively hurting us?

What are the standards we need to self-reflect on and hold our churches to?

Here are some of the biggest red flags that show you may be a part of a toxic church and/or cult:

  1. Criticism for Asking Questions

Churches are meant to be a place to find guidance, and find answers. While looking at a new church, one of the best things you can do for yourself is ask to meet with the pastor ahead of time. If the pastor seems resistant to questions, or talks down to you for doing so, that might be a big red flag.

Similarly, if you’re at a moment of your life where you’re questioning God and go to church leadership seeking answers, they should 100% be willing to come alongside you and help you find answers. If their response is animosity, dismissal, or being offended, take that as a big red flag.

2. Difficulty Accessing Church Budget

Many churches are very public about their budgets and what they spend their money on. Others will send you the information upon request. If any church is being resistant to allowing you access to this information, it is a big red flag.

Whenever we tithe or donate our money to an organization, we have a right to see where that money is going. I was personally raised in a church where budget meetings were frequent, open, and honest, allowing church members to voice their opinions.

If the church is using their money to further the love of Christ, then what would they need to hide?

3. Lack of Accountability for Leadership

Whether it’s a pastor, childrens director, or anyone in church leadership, it’s important that there are checks and balances set up to protect themselves, the church, and the community from any wrongdoing. Being humans, we all make mistakes. Sometimes pastors do things that hurt others, sometimes intentionally, other times accidentally. If one of these things were to happen, are you confident in how your church structures it’s leadership that it would be handled effectively?

If your church does not have any sort of accountability system set up, or has a pastor who makes and enforces all the rules him or herself, thats a big red flag.

4. “Us vs. Them” Mentality

I’m going to tread lightly in how I word this one, because there is a lot of nuance here:

While it’s important to recognize as Christians that one of our goals is to show Christ’s love to the world, it should never be presented in a way that makes you feel like other churches, denominations or anyone else is purposely attacking your church specifically. Many cults use this tactic to make their members feel safe within the walls of their building and leader so they never leave.

I do understand that there is spiritual warfare, and we need to be cautious in the world, it should never be treated that your specific church under this specific leader is your only hope for salvation. If you believe you need to find a new church to be able to grow spiritually, it’s OK for a church to feel sad to see you go, but if they feel threatened or angry, thats a big red flag.

Our salvation is found in Jesus, not in a church leader.

5. Lack of Care/Protection of Volunteers

If you love your church and it’s mission, I’d encourage you to dive in a find a great way to volunteer in ways that use the gifts God gave you.

However, you should never feel pressured, forced or manipulated into volunteering or volunteering too much. A healthy church knows that volunteers are just that, volunteers. People who *choose* to spend their free time giving their skills to help the church advance it’s mission.

If you need a break and are feeling burnt out, your church should 100% come alongside you and help you get to a healthy place so you can continue volunteering if you choose. This could mean long breaks, apologizing for overworking you, or finding resources to help you grow.

If your church doesn’t give you a choice, or listen when you share that you’re feeling burnt out, thats a big red flag.

In addition, it’s important for every church to screen and background check any volunteer who may be working with children or youth. If your church is unable or unwilling to do so, encourage them to think about the safety of the congregation.

As you read these, I want you to look for the opposite “green flags” in churches as well. The churches who do these things really well. You may notice a common thread as you differentiate good churches from bad churches.

Bad churches don’t have any impact in the community other than for show. Bad churches hurt and control those within their walls, and do nothing for those outside it.

Good churches cause communities to thrive and grow. Good churches have a positive impact on those inside AND outside it’s walls.

If you realize that you are in a toxic church or cult, I promise you: healthy church communities do exist. You’re worth being invested in. Your faith is worth growing, not being taken advantage of.

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