One common sign of an abusive church is a sense of elitism. Just what IS elitism? It's a feeling that your group is special, better, far superior than other churches or groups. Most churches feel that they are on the right path, that their particular doctrines are right. That's not elitism. It might be a kind of pride to look out for, but it's not elitism to feel that you are doing what you think is right.
Elitism goes beyond just thinking that your doctrines or practices are correct. It's a hyperactive puffing up about it. Your group thinks not only that it is on the right path, but that almost no one else is.
Elitism is a sense of a special mission or a special equipping for a mission. We have better gifts or use our gifts in special ways. We care more about lost souls than others around us. We are more committed to saving souls, or helping the poor, or supporting missions, or being true to scripture, than almost anyone else. We are IT!
Extreme groups begin to think they are the only manifestation of Christ's work on earth, or at least in their area.
There are a couple of ways elitism is expressed. One is that the leaders come right out and say it. The pastor or leaders might preach that the group has a special call or a unique mission. This will be a repeated theme in abusive churches. It tends to isolate. If you are so special, God's own favorite children, why would you even want to hang out with the "unspecial"?
It also takes subtler forms. The pastor might not focus much on your special calling. He might instead spend time cutting down other groups, focusing on their perceived weaknesses and problems. If he does this enough, you get the idea. Church X doesn't really stress scripture (unspoken lesson: WE DO!); Church Y doesn't really preach salvation (unspoken lesson: WE REALLY CARE); Church Z doesn't live out the gospel (unspoken lesson: WE LIVE THE GOSPEL).
What elitism does is unify church members. They get the message. THEY don't want to be like the worldly groups out there that don't care about lost souls or the poor or missions or the scripture. They want to make sure they are among the chosen few. To do this, they will hunker down, they will keep to the group, they will make sure the leadership knows they are loyal and true and not heathen like those other groups outside.
When things get messy and they are tempted to leave, elitism is a powerful handcuff. Members have spent so much time looking down on other groups and playing up their own gifts, that to leave means they have to reverse their thinking, and that's very hard to do. Suddenly, they are thinking about no longer being part of God's special group, and also about joining up with groups they - along with the church leadership - have looked down on for so long. That's a hard reversal to stomach.
Besides bragging about gifts and callings, and besides castigating other "inferior" churches, another sign of elitism is when the pastor or leaders won't meet with other community pastors. They will not join ministerial alliances or Christian groups in a community. They are too good for those lukewarm Christians. They are far above them and will not deign to rub shoulders with them. While many elitist pastors do meet with such groups either just for show or because it lends credibility to the group, the very hard core elitists will not. If your pastor won't meet with other pastors unless they are of the same denomination, it is a big, bright, red flag that he is an elitist and possibly abusive.
Elitism can be blatant or subtle, but it's a common trait of abusive churches.
To see an example of classic elitism, go HERE to see how a Harold Camping defender attacks critics using elitist language.