top of page

Does Your Church Practice Cult Love-Bombing?

Cult Love-Bombing


What is Cult Love-Bombing?


In the context of Christian church, cult love-bombing is a psychological manipulation tactic used by cults to recruit and retain members. It typically involves an overwhelming display of affection, attention, and approval towards new recruits to create a sense of belonging, foster blind loyalty, and prevent the member from leaving once they inevitably see and experience abuse, corruption, cult-like control. 


Once you understand what love-bombing is and what it looks like, it can make recognizing and leaving an abusive cult or relationship much easier because it’s one of the first red flags you’ll notice before even being recruited or lured into the relationship. It’s also one of the easiest red flags to spot in a Christian church. 


The Origin of the Term "Love-Bomb"


Love-bombing is a term that was coined in the 1970s by members of the Unification Church, commonly known as the Moonies, to describe their method of attracting new members. Although coined by a non-Christian cult, love-bombing has been practiced and used by all sorts of manipulative and abusive groups and individuals, both religious and non-religious, for much longer. As I’ve checked local Christian churches throughout my life and especially in the last five years, I’ve come to believe the leaders of the Christian Church have mastered the art of love-bombing and practice it rampantly in local churches and ministries. 


Love-bombing leverages the psychological need for acceptance, love, and social connection to lure people in and prevent them from leaving. By showering new recruits or potential recruits with positive reinforcement, cults exploit these needs, making recruits feel valued and understood in a way they might not have experienced before.


The Abusive Impact of Cult Love-Bombing


The psychological impact of love-bombing, whether in a religious cult or any other type of relationship, is both profound and destructive. At its core, the love-bombing practiced in Christian cults is emotional manipulation, and its primary goal is to exploit the human need for affection and love under the guise of authentic, Christ-like agape love.    


At first, recruits experience a euphoric sense of belonging, acceptance, and what they are led to believe is Christian love. This is especially powerful for individuals who are vulnerable or going through a difficult period in their lives, and the positive attention can lead to an emotional high, making recruits more susceptible to the cult’s influence and control. 


With the primary effect of love-bombing being emotional manipulation, new members often feel an artificial or what my friend Shawn McCraney has rightly called a “Manufactured” sense of love and security, which can cloud their judgment. This euphoric state makes it easier for cult leaders to lure recruits, indoctrinate them with the group’s beliefs and practices, and keep them from leaving when things inevitably go south.


Over time, recruits become dependent on the constant validation and approval they receive from the cult. But not only that. Love-bombing can include elaborate, over-the-top gifts, favors, and life support that leaves its victim both dependant emotionally and physically. This dependency can lead to a loss of autonomy as recruits start to prioritize the cult's approval over their own needs and desires.


Another dangerous impact of the cult love-bomb is when recruits encounter contradictions or questionable practices within the cult, but their strong emotional ties leads to cognitive dissonance. They might rationalize or ignore clearly abusive or negative practices and teachings to maintain their emotional peace and the sense of belonging they receive from the cult.


Tactics of Love-Bombing in the Christian Church | Does Your Church Practice Love-Bombing?


Cults employ various tactics to effectively love-bomb new recruits. Over the past five years, I’ve found the following love-bombing tactics within a majority of the local Christian churches I’ve checked:


  1. Intensive Interaction: Established existing members are often assigned the task of providing constant attention and praise to new and potential recruits as a means to plant the love bomb. This creates an immersive environment where the recruit feels like the center of attention. Examples of this tactic in a Christian church can include things like texting or calling frequently and inviting the recruit to social activities and events where the recruit then becomes a focus of attention from multiple members of the church.  

  2. Affection and Praise: Recruits and potential recruits are frequently complimented and praised for their qualities and potential contributions to the group. This creates a positive reinforcement loop that encourages deeper involvement in the cult, such as signing up for courses, small groups, Bible studies, volunteering services, and more. Cult members will practice this tactic on recruits and potential recruits during intensive interaction (described above), but also in other less intensive ways. One example that’s become a common practice in more seeker-friendly churches is the signs church greeters will hold outside on Sunday mornings that display love-bombing phrases like: “We’re so glad you made it!” or: “Welcome home.,” or my favorite: “You look amazing today!” 

  3. Gift-Giving: Small (or even big) gifts or acts of kindness are common in the initial stages of the love-bomb. These gestures create a sense of obligation and gratitude in the recruit, so walking away becomes much more difficult once the initial honeymoon phase of joining a cult fades and the reality of the corruption, abuse, and oppression in the group becomes evident. Examples of gift-giving can include things like promises of a job, a special position in the church, or a platform for your own ministry. While many cults will follow through with these gifts as long as you remain loyal and obedient to the church leaders, many victims will find this tactic ultimately deceptive and empty. Allicia Young, a former member of Solid Rock at Market Common in Myrtle Beach, SC spoke of this as a prominent experience during her time in the church (see video above).  

  4. Mirroring and Active Listening: Something I’ve learned about from studying body language and human behavior from experts like Chase Hughes, Greg Hartley, Scott Rouse, Mark Bowden, and Joe Navarro is the manipulative practice of mirroring. Cult members will often mirror the recruit’s behavior and actively listen to their concerns and aspirations as means to manipulate them into compliance. This creates an illusion of deep understanding and empathy, but it also opens the recruit up to undue influence and manipulation.  

  5. Euphoric Worship Experience: Another love-bombing tactic commonly practiced in local Christian churches today is abusing the practice of worship to create a euphoric and emotional experience to love-bomb its members. This emotionally manipulative tactic is manufactured to overwhelm the recruit with feelings of love and affection, both from and to God, which ‌leads the recruit to conflate their positive emotional experience during worship with the church/cult itself. While the victim may authentically love God and mean to worship Him in spirit and in truth, the cult’s intentions are to intensify emotions and create a state of euphoria in members to make them more open and susceptible to undue influence.   


A Brief History of Cult Love-Bombing 


There are several examples from history that illustrate the effectiveness and dangers of love-bombing in cult recruitment:


  1. The Peoples Temple: Led by Jim Jones, the Peoples Temple used love-bombing extensively to attract members. New recruits were welcomed with open arms, praised, and given important roles within the community. This tactic played a crucial role in the mass recruitment that ultimately led to the tragic Jonestown massacre in 1978.

  2. Heaven’s Gate: This UFO religious cult, led by Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles, employed love-bombing to make recruits feel special and chosen. The sense of belonging and purpose was so strong that members willingly participated in a mass suicide in 1997, believing they would ascend to a higher existence.

  3. The Children of God: Also known as The Family International, this cult used love-bombing as a core recruitment strategy. New members were showered with affection and integrated into the community, making it difficult for them to leave despite the controversial and abusive practices within the group.


Love-bombing in these more prominently known cults led to horrendous death and destruction, but the love-bombing in Christian cult churches shouldn’t be dismissed or downplayed simply because they proclaim the Gospel of Christ. Countless documentaries and whistleblowers have come forward over the past few decades within the Christian Church to expose the abuses being practiced against God’s people. Slapping Jesus’ name on a church doesn’t make it free of abuse, darkness, and scandalous corruption. 


Conclusion


Whether the love bomb leads to mass death and destruction or not, it’s a manipulative and abusive tactic that only a wolf in sheep’s clothing will practice. It gives a deceptive appearance of love, acceptance, and praise, but its practitioners conceal sinister intentions of exploitation and abuse for selfish gain. This is the nature of the wolf in sheep’s clothing, and it all starts with the deceptive and manipulative tactic of love-bombing. 


Cult love-bombing is a powerful psychological manipulation technique that exploits basic human needs for love, acceptance, and belonging, but its sole purpose is to manipulate, exploit, and oppress its victims. By overwhelming new recruits with positive reinforcement, false empathy, and manufactured love, cults can create strong emotional bonds that enables the other, much more evident abusive practices of the cult, such as isolation, indoctrination, and control. 


If you understand the tactics and destructive impact of cult love-bombing, you can recognize and resist this manipulative behavior before you find yourself trapped in a wolf's den. Check your church for these red flags in the initial stages of attending a church or even after you’ve been a member for years. You can still notice these behaviors when observing how the church treats its newer members. 


Until next time, beware the cult love-bomb, church checkers. It’s rampant in the Christian Church today and its impact is devastating. Use discernment, examine everything, protect the sheep, and as always, please do not feed the wolves.   



2 Comments


Yep. Like you say, it's practiced in a majority of the churches I have attended over the years. Members don't even realize what they're doing; it's just part of the environment, part of the culture of the places. It's acceptable behavior and deemed polite. I really don't think most of those people have a clue what they're doing. I remember so well realizing the place is incredibly warped and I had to get out, but having been love-bombed and accepted for so many years, that made it very difficult to cut the ties. Such deception.

Like
Replying to

Yes! It is definitely a part of the culture, unfortunately. I don't think most of the people practicing it have a clue what they're doing either. Just doing as they're told and as they've been assimilated into the culture.

Like
bottom of page