The Church of Almighty God has been spreading rapidly since its establishment in 1989, and has survived several attempts to shut it down. The article will study the dissemination channels that have enabled the rapid expansion of the cult.
Channel 1: Distributing publicity materials
Distributing publicity materials is a basic way that the Church of Almighty God has adopted to attract followers. The cult delivers its publicity materials to the door or mailbox of potential followers or cold calls them. Some people may be led astray after reading the materials out of curiosity. The cult also makes and distributes some exquisite handcraft items to attract people. In 2012, the cult printed and spread beautiful leaflets on which were printed the words “The Last Ticket”, claiming that only those with such tickets would survive doomsday.
The publicity material of the Church of Almighty God
Channel 2: Mobilizing its followers to preach gospels
Obsessed followers are the largest free resource of Zhao Weishan, founder of the cult. Mobilizing disciples to preach gospel is the most fundamental and important way for the cult to expand its presence. To make full use of its human resources, the cult encourages its followers to preach gospel and to work for God by claiming that such work would be very rewarding. To accomplish the sacred mission, many followers have left their families and devoted themselves to preaching gospel. Some of them even died before they returned to their hometowns. Li Changshu was a member of the Church of Almighty God. He lived in XiaoBachang Town, An County, Sichuan Province. He often left home to preach gospel but he died in a traffic accident on his way to do it one day. Without such obsessed followers, it would not have been possible for the cult to achieve today’s “results”. The tragedy that happened on May 28 in Zhaoyuan was a result of a fanatical effort to preach the gospel of the Almighty God cult.
Li Changshu, an obsessed follower of the Church of Almighty God, died on his way to preach gospels
Channel 3: Setting up pyramid scheme
The Church of Almighty God set up a pyramid scheme in order to force the followers to preach gospel and to recruit as many members as possible. First of all, the cult leaders set a quota, requiring each follower to recruit a certain number of new members in a certain period of time; secondly, they produce books such as the Staff Manual or Recruiting Guidelines of Eastern Lightning to encourage the followers to mobilize their relatives or friends to join the cult; finally, they hold meetings on a regular basis to brainwash new members and to set new targets. The pyramid scheme enables the cult to spread quickly. According to a report by Kaiwind.com, a cult member surnamed Zhang living in Jinjiang recruited her daughter who was a senior high school student into the cult. His daughter then recruited nine of her classmates. As a result, three of the children failed to take the college entrance exam, while another one left home and even tried to commit suicide.
Recruiting Guidelines of the Eastern Lightning instructs members of the Church of Almighty God to preach gospels
Channel 4: Recruiting members from Christian churches
The Church of Almighty God adopts a unique method to recruit members from traditional Christian churches. The cult leaders arrange for their followers to join Christian churches and ask them to actively participate in church activities. When the cult followers win the trust of the congregation, they take the opportunity to spread the cult’s teachings. In addition, the cult members bribe or threaten church staff to work for them. As a result, a number of church workers convert to the cult. The cult has undermined the integrity of Christian churches in Taiwan since the end of 2013. To fend off the cult, more than 56 Taiwan-based Christian churches and theological seminaries held a joint meeting, releasing an announcement to criticize and boycott the cult.
Taiwan-based Christian churches and theological seminaries held a meeting to jointly boycott the Church of Almighty God
Channel 5: Making use of modern media
As the Church of Almighty God was gaining power with the help of foreign forces, it began to use modern media to expand its presence. In 2001, Zhao Weishan fled to the US and soon got political asylum. He then set up headquarters in New York and established a website to make his voice heard. When the cult suffered from a major setback in the mainland in 2012, it strengthened its publicity through newspaper and magazines in Taiwan and Hong Kong and in December 2012, the cult set up a newsstand in Hong Kong. Since January 2013, the cult released adverts in newspapers in Taiwan; in February 2013, as part of its response to the joint boycott by Taiwan-based Christian churches, the cult waged war against traditional Christian churches through advertisements. Luo Yesong, a head of a Taiwan-based Christian research institution, estimated that the cult’s annual investment on advertisement in Taiwan exceeded 100 million New Taiwan Dollars (RMB20 million). It is predicted that modern media is playing an increasingly important role in the cult’s publicity campaign.
The Church of Almighty God launched newspaper advertisement campaigns in Hong Kong and Taiwan
The Church of Almighty God adopts various methods to expand its presence. To eradicate the cult, the first step should be to cut off its dissemination channels. The cult’s use of modern media deserves close scrutiny.