A haunted house
While still not as popular as traditional haunted houses, church-sponsored hell houses grow in popularity each year.

Trinity Church in Cedar Hill, Texas just reopened the world’s most famous ‘Hell House’, a church-hosted mix of interactive theater, slick videos and haunted-house scare tactics designed to frighten the living hell right into thousands of teens every October.

Hell houses are an increasingly common attraction at churches nationwide during Halloween season. Posing as standard haunted house attractions, they are anything but. Inside you won’t find standard haunted house fare – no creepy clowns, werewolves, or zombies. Instead, thousands of enthralled teens will see all of society’s real-life demons – gun violence, drunk driving, sexual abuse, drug addiction – topped off with graphic depictions of sinners burning in hell. All in an effort to scare teens right back into Jesus Christ’s waiting arms.

“There is Something After Our Kids”

“Something is out to destroy our kids,” explains Pastor John Michael Barajas, director of the Trinity’s 28th Hell House iteration. “We want to shed light on what the enemy is trying to do to our children. Whether you believe in God or not, you can’t see the suicide rate, the murder rate, and deny that there is something after our kids.”

Waging this battle against Satan entails herding enthralled and excitable teens through a heart-stopping 45-minute labyrinth, often at the behest of masked men and shouting demons, at $13 a pop.

In a series of dark rooms come interactive scenes of intense and often graphic violence: a demon coercing a mother who forces her young daughter to get an abortion; a daughter talked into killing her mother after she’s been sexually abused by her father, ultimately turning a razorblade on herself; a snide devil whispering racist slurs that are repeated by Trump supporters and Black Lives Matters counter-protestors before a shot is fired.

Hell house designers make the scenes culturally current, so as to hit as close to home as possible. “We used to have a rave scene back in the 90s,” said Barajas. “But that doesn’t resonate with young people today like a girl putting her provocative photos on Tinder does.”

Do Hell Houses Work?

First popularized by Jerry Falwell in the 70s, hell houses gained true notoriety when the Trinity Church recreated the Columbine School shooting only six months after it happened, portraying the killers as Satan’s agents sent to slaughter Christian students.

Promo for the 2017 edition of Trinity Church’s Hell House.

It’s not difficult to see why hell houses have since become the national rage.

And while churches may insist a third of those who go through them get ‘saved’, others, like chairman of the Charles Colson Center for Christian Worldview Timothy George, aren’t convinced. “It may be that some young people will find their way to genuine faith through such ghoulish shenanigans, but their overall import is a distortion of the gospel. Those who indulge in such displays are taking something serious, eternal, and consequential and treating it with a finesse of a butcher doing brain surgery.”

Scaring is Caring

The question is, can you really scare people into salvation?

R. Marie Griffith, director of the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics, seems to think Christian history is at least partially built on that very notion. “Dante wrote about it in The Inferno. And the Puritans had their own way of scaring Christians with the afterlife. But the immersive medium of a hell house is a somewhat new way of scaring people into virtue, and it is terrifying.”

But former hell house actors like Ryan Connell have been so traumatized by participating in these yearly events that they can barely even return to the grounds where they once worshipped. “I haven’t been able to sit through a church service without having a hardcore panic attack,” he insists.

However, for Pastor Barajas, it’s all worth it if he saves some souls. “The point of hell house is to show that there’s a real hell,” he says, “and that the mercy of Jesus is the way to heaven.”

What do you think? Is scaring teens into Jesus’ loving arms part of the Christian tradition, a legitimate way to recruit the faithful? Or do hell houses go above and beyond and cross the line into inappropriate or even traumatizing?

41 comments

  1. Lionheart says:

    They don’t need a “specific” Hell House to scare people into believing in a God, they have hundreds of thousands of them already, and they are tax free.

    🦁♥️

    1. Cynthia Wilson says:

      You are absolutely right.

    2. Bruce Sutka says:

      Right on!

    3. Rocco Delia says:

      I am a minister and I believe that the message about Christ should NOT BE taken lightly however the rules and laws concerning a Christians behavior is not to be ignored at all. HELL is a real place. THERE ARE NO AUTOMATIC PASSES TO HEAVEN. ON YOUR KNEES FOOL! YES FOOLS.

      UNIVERSAL CHURCH OF CHRIST THE WARRIOR KING.

      ROCCO DELIA, MINISTER.

      1. Lionheart says:

        With the greatest respect Rocco, you have absolutely NO demonstrable evidence at all that Hell is a real place. It’s people like yourself that screws up the pure innocent minds of children with your hell and damnation religious rhetoric.

        I’ll even go one step further Rocco, you have NO demonstrable evidence that your very sick and evil brutal deity, that you call god, actually exists. Hell to me would be living with that monstrous egotistical deity.

        Your imaginary man made god is a pathetic evil monster that preys on, not only adults, but little children. May your god be cast into the depths of an eternal black hole, followed by all of his followers that preach such religious blackmailing rubbish.

        Thank you for letting me rant. I feel much better now having got that off my chest 🤪. Time for a glass of Merlot and raise a toast to the goddess Isis. She was a much better deity. She loved Osiris so much she brought him back from the dead, and she didn’t kill little children, or promote stoning people to death. Your Jesus guy should have taken a leaf out of her book

        Having said that Rocco, she’s still as mythical as your pathetic god. Have a good day!

        🦁♥️

      2. jamie Fitzgerald harbert says:

        Christ is the said to be the prince of peace, the Shepherd of shepherds and the great healer . The only book where he is described as a battling king to claim his thrown from the evil army is in the book of Revelations true or false? Can you beyond the shadow of doubt prove these are the days of Revelations. I think not Rocco I rebuke you as a fear monger and a threat to the general mental health of the people the Universal Church. By law we can not revoke your ordination but that doesn’t mean I can’t call others to rebuke you and warm others about your propagandizing things you can’t prove. Jesus put the ear back on the solider that a sword of anger struck off that night he was betrayed Yes or No. Peace Peace and love not this hate please please pray for that God our Father who art thou in Heaven turn you hard heart back into a warm beating heart of love and joy Please Please give up this hard hard line.

    4. jamie Fitzgerald harbert says:

      I’ll simply put it this way did Jesus walk and talk Gospel truth of his Father in Heaven’s love for us by
      shouting and scaring children into having faith in God? Of course not cause to do so would only make people choose God the Father out of fear of going to Hell. Heavenly Father wants us to choose to love him for making us special and value us as a person of his creation, why then would he try to use fear and hatred of a horrible ever lasting pain and stuff like that to win over people’s hearts. These people who are trying to scare kids into submission should really be brought up on charges of child abuse for this causes emotional and mental anxiety that is not God’s way nor Jesus’s way. I rebuke them that do this and call out everyone whom is human christian or other we need to put a halt to this practices as soon as possible.

  2. JORGE TERAN says:

    Do they show how ministers take the money from their followers?

    1. Cynthia Wilson says:

      👌🏻

    2. Paul Jaramillo says:

      That’s a ridiculous comment!! God doesn’t need your money and for that matter neither do the thousands of genuinely bible preachers men of God. God takes care of us.

  3. Stephanie Willey says:

    Christianity has been trying to scare folk into it waiting arms since the first Pope. Not abusing and harming others AND yourself because you’re afraid of hell is NOT the right thing. Not abusing and harming others AND your self, just because it IS the right thing to do …. Besides, I don’t believe in hell.

    1. Paul Jaramillo says:

      That’s funny!!

  4. Carrie says:

    I would just call the whole thing a creep show!

    1. tom b says:

      Carrie…nicely put…they can not burn “heretics” any more, so they pretend there is a hell, so they can continue terror/harassing tactics…Peace…Tom B

  5. Rev. Larry Mager says:

    while Jesus mentioned hell more than Heaven, I don’t believe this is the proper way to go UNLESS, at the end of the “tour”, the “victims” get to see what awaits in Heaven. None of these Hell Houses seem to show that! Why not? Perhaps it is because No One seems to have a vague idea of what Heaven is! Is it literally Lions and Lambs playing in the short clipped meadows, or Families going back to the beginning of time having a fun family reunion, or is it like some of the old Christian Hymns where God demands constant worship ( feeling inadequate are We?) and the rest of us are doing the constant salaam? It seems to me that if the churches want the Hell Houses to work, they might want to add some hope to it, after all that is the bottom line imho of what Jesus preached: the return of humanity to the heart and arms of God! Cheers to all

    1. Dana C. says:

      Excellent point. Amen.

  6. Ben says:

    Hell Houses should be outlawed.

    1. DrF350 says:

      I think it could be a fun glimpse into the Christian mindset, but they should be up front about being operated by a church; I wouldn’t want others tricked into giving money to a church thinking it was a normal haunted house. Come to think of it, since they’re operating a business it would be best if they were not able to claim any tax exemption for it.

  7. Rev. Larry Mager says:

    Hi Ben, I agree!!!! what I find ironic is that the ones who want to punish people the most are the ones who scream the loudest if anyone else dares to try to punish them for trying to punish the rest of us! It’s also PATHETIC!!!!!!!!!! So says one: So say WE ALL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. Rev. Brien says:

    BOOOO! Did I scare you? Ok, good. Now, be a Christian. Hmmmm, what is the word I am looking for…oh yeah…RIDICULOUS. No? How about this one…STUPID.

  9. Rev. Larry Mager says:

    Rev. Brien……AMEN, my Brother! AAAAAMMMMEEENNNN!!!!!!!!!!

  10. Thom Costello says:

    Short answer no it is not ethical. Nit in any way shape or form.

  11. Stoodie Baker says:

    Any group that has to recruit members through fear or coercion is not a group worthy of joining. Fear of Hell/death/punishment and coercion of eternal life and “salvation” no thank you. I’d rather join an organization based it’s mission, principles, and goals, not because some cartoonish boogeyman is going to drag me to a lake of fire for swimming lessons if I don’t step into line and worship the master.

  12. Valeina Taber says:

    I feel like this is more of a money making scam for churches than a conversion tactic. Sure some kids may say they commit their life to Christ after going through one of these ridiculous things, but I do not believe that it is a heartfelt commitment nor one based on their own decision. It is merely a means to get their parents or church elders to get off their backs.
    I don’t personally believe in secular, organized religion. I believe in faith and even the possibility of a higher power, but most of all I do not believe in coercing people to choose a religion. Although many of us grew up in the days when families went to church on Sundays because that is what the norm was. I went to church every Sunday as a child. I attended Vacation Bible School every summer until I was 12, but these were not choices I made. I believe that every person should have the choice to follow any belief system they choose without the fear of family or societal repercussions.

  13. NaShea Ridgeway says:

    I got tricked into one of these way back in the 90s. I stood in line for hours to get into what promised to be the best haunted house in northern Illinois, just to have bad actors trigger my PTSD trauma response with rape scenes and violent fathers. Unethical doesn’t begin to describe it. It’s false advertising, and once you’re in, you’re a captive audience. I’d heard that the group that put it on was closed down for mistreatment of animals, too, because of a snake pit they had. I could see when I crawled over it, those snakes weren’t being properly treated. I can’t confirm that part’s true, though. That haunted house is one of the examples I use to explain why I don’t trust the Christian church.

  14. Heather Hansen says:

    This is simply a way for the church to monetize the holiday. It doesn’t matter what they call it, or the reasons they give, they are no better than anyone else who commercializes horror for financial gain. Hypocrites… The best way to help our kids is leading by example and having open, honest lines of communication.

  15. Penny Prentice-Best says:

    Using fear to coerce individuals to do “the right thing” is counter-productive. Fear is a dense limiting energy. We have already experienced a world where fear underlies many actions and beliefs and it is Not a pretty world. The antidote to Fear is Loving Heart-centered wisdom. Fear closes hearts, shuts down the connections to our higher wisdom, our Source. Jesus did not advocate using Fear to bring people to God. We need to dial back on Fear, Horror, Gruesome violence, and mindless mayhem. We need to turn the dial Up on Joy, Compassion, Tolerance, Inspiration, Hope, Belief, and the magic that we create when we work with each other and with God.

    1. tom b says:

      Penny…I agree…any individual, group or “religion” that things should be done through fear, or that God is to be feared, or that God is ever anything but love, is simply ego manipulation on a large scale…Peace…Tom B

  16. Thomas Heuer says:

    A disclaimer should be posted or announced before entering any church sponsored “haunted house” that has depictions of fantasy evils may or may not be dispelled by fantasy religious characters. However, real evil such as torture, rape, maiming or murder by fellow humans never receives any divine intervention.

    1. Cynthia Wilson says:

      Exactly!!

  17. Alicia says:

    When I was 9, and in Catholic school, I encountered my first nun as a teacher. I’ll never forget the story she told the class:

    There was a little girl in France, who was bad. No matter what her parents tried, the little girl was always disrespectful and doing bad things. The parents told her that Satan would come for her if she didn’t repent. The little girl didn’t listen. One day, the parents woke up and went to the girl’s room. They saw footprints burned into the carpet coming from the front door, up the stairs, to the girl’s room, then back the way they came. The little girl was gone and her blanket was burned where Satan’s hands touched it.

    Did this story scare me into being Christian? Nope! It only made me realize, at that young age, that nuns were cruel. How do you tell a class of 9 year olds a story like this? How ‘bad’ could a little girl be that Satan would come for her?

    So, Christians being this cruel to try to scare kids doesn’t surprise me in the least.

  18. Micki says:

    This is irresponsible and maybe you might consider what your actual beliefs are. What is a “Christian”. Why were you drawn to this belief & faith? I can tell you that no negative activities of peoples – will convince smart, young people “of god that has to have followers scare them into submission”. this pains me to say, but you might want to contact Dr. Phil….

  19. Rev.Jimmy says:

    He’ll is real and if you dont get saved by the grace of God that is going to be you’re home when the rapture takes place. We all need to drop to our knees and pray for each and every one that we come in contact with God is coming back for his sheep the Bible says so. We dont have enough people out there that has the right mindset to comprehend what the word of God says. Remember the Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want. He is here to lead and guide us in the right direction. God is love. The only way to get to heaven is through Jesus Christ our Lord.

    1. Lionheart says:

      Absolute rubbish!

      Your He’ll (sic) is all man made.

      The only real Lord is the Lord of Logic and Reason. May you be blessed by it one day.

      May you get well soon!

      🦁♥️

    2. Lori says:

      Those who close their eyes and minds cannot see the diversity of “God’s”, the Creative Energy’s, kingdom. They cannot experience a consciousness that flows through each and every one of us. Hell house is a desperate grasp to bring in numbers through fear.

      1. tom b says:

        Lori…again; I agree…Tom B

        1. Lori says:

          Thank you and bright blessings Tom.

  20. Bill Fox says:

    Christians try to “scare” God into Christianity and Satan tries to entice children.

    1. Lionheart says:

      “…Satan tries to entice children.”

      As well as Catholic Priests, who are obviously sons of Satan. That’s if Satan really exists!

      🦁♥️

  21. Reb TK says:

    Jewish, so there is no hell nor a “heavenly” aka god-like messiah. We are human. So Tikkun Olam, or hope and healing for the world and the human condition is important. The idea that children should be terrorized by trivial fictional scenarios of “hell” to encourage their conversion to one or another doctrines is not only unethical, it’s emotional child abuse.

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