I've never been a part of a "cult-y" church. I use the term "cult-y" because I don't know enough about that type of thing to feel comfortable labeling something a straight-up cult. And. When I think of cults, I think of David Koresh or Heaven's Gates- and things I know about "cult-y" churches doesn't sound like those extreme examples. I have some friends and family that have been a part of churches like these, and it always make me think critically of church. (When I say church here, I don't mean "the body of believers" as a whole, but rather individual institutions.)
My parents were members of a church when I was really little- like an infant, I don't remember it. And it was a little cult-y. The preacher was having an affair, and everyone knew, but no one was brave enough to challenge him and his authority. When my parents decided to leave, the church acted as if they were going to be sent to Hell if they didn't go to church there. VERY weird.
My friend Scott went to a church here in Metro Atlanta, and it was DEF a little cult-y. The church forced Scott to have an accountability partner with an assigned man from the church. I mean, I'm all for accountability partners, but if it's supposed to be meaningful and USEFUL, then it has to be someone that YOU choose to share your struggles and victories with. NOT someone your church ASSIGNS to you. Much like my parents, when he tried to leave, the church acted as if he was destined for Hell.
I read Elizabeth Esther's blog, and she recently did a series of posts about a "cult-y" church. It was more about what it's like to leave a recover from being a part of that type of church. I have learned from her that being a part of a church like that can have long-term effects on your thought processes and beliefs. Usually the effects aren't things you are even aware of until they're challenged by your life's experiences- or someone looking at you and saying, "WHAT?".
There are always some groups and churches that make me wary. I don't know they're doctrine or anything, but I am always anxious when someone tells me that something MUST be a certain way. Short of commands from scripture, I don't know about directives from people that they claim can make or break your relationship with God.
Have you ever been a part of a cult-y group or church? What made it so? How did you leave? Do you still notice the ramifications of that group?