Even today, with all the evidence against it, the Church of Scientology claims eight million members! Or sometimes more. Where did that figure come from?
According to an insider, sometime in the 60s or 70s at International Management, top management wanted to issue a press release about Scientology and they wanted to know how many Scientologists there were. Nobody knew. Not only didn't they know, but their records were so messed up there was absolutely no way to find out. What to do?
They just made it up, "Five million Scientologists world wide with more than three million in the U.S." They didn't know, but then, who could prove them wrong?
This fictitious number was picked up by others. For example the The Encyclopedia of American Religions (1991, Vol. 2:312) stated:
No precise [membership] figure... currently exists; however, church statistics of its membership were reported in 1977 to be more than 5 million with more than 3 million of those in U.S. Those figures represent a cumulative number of people who have participated in one or more of the church's programs or availed themselves of the church's services over a period of several years.The next year, management asked the same question, "How many Scientologists now?" The insider tells me that the guys looked around and said "Um... five and a half million!" And so it went on, year after year. Management would come in and ask, "How many now?" and there'd be a small discussion, "How about six million?" "No, we said that last time, it has to be more!" "Then, how about six and a half?" "OK!" Then they'd give top management the answer, "Six and a half million now, sir!" It's based on nothing.
The numbers got pretty crazy at times.
In a reprint of Hubbard's book "Death's Deputy" in 1970, in the front cover it says that Hubbard
...is also renowned as the founder of Scientology and the creator of "Dianetics" with an estimated 15 million adherents around the world.As the numbers became more and more unreal, even mainstream press started questioning them. People wanted to have SOME evidence of that kind of Scientology membership.
While the Church of Scientology can't admit it lied all these years, it realized that it couldn't just keep arbitrarily adding millions to their membership numbers every few months -- so for many years now they've been stuck at "eight million". They can't increase the number, because it has become obvious they don't have those kind of numbers -- but they can't reduce the official numbers either without admitting they lied, or worse, that Scientology is shrinking. So the official pronouncements from the Church of Scientology usually talk about eight million.
Church of Scientology, Office of Special Affairs (OSA) senior official Mike Rinder said the following at a press conference on Dec 1997, in response to accusations made by former Scientologists:
If any of the things these people say are true, there would not be eight million Scientologists in the world today.Actually, that is a very true statement, Mike. You see, the things people are saying about the Church of Scientology are true, and there aren't eight million Scientologists (and never were).
(By the way, Mike Rinder left Scientology recently and now has nothing more to do with the church.)
In 1992, Heber Jentzsch tried to explain how the membership numbers got so badly out of sync with reality. This is from Forrest Sawyer, on ABC Nightline, Feb. 14, 1992 interviewing Heber Jentzsch, President, Church of Scientology:
Sawyer. How do you get to call them members?(By the way, Heber Jentzsch is reportedly now locked up at the International Base in Hemet California, unable to leave, unable to communicate with family and friends, a prisoner of Miscavige.)
Jentzsch: Because they joined and they came in and they studied Scientology.
Sawyer: They took one course, maybe.
Jentzsch: Well, that's how valuable the course is. Eight million people, yes, over a period of the last - since 1954.
So how many Scientologists are there really?
There are many independent and unbiased organizations working to count, classify and understand the various religious affiliations of people. These organizations have found out this exact information.
In 2001, the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) estimated 55,000 Scientologists in the U.S.
Other, more recent, religious surveys are no better for Scientology. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life completed a comprehensive survey based on interviews with more than 35,000 Americans age 18 and older. The findings? Scientology didn't show up in enough numbers to even be mentioned. They noted religious affiliations down to less than 0.3%. This survey found, at the smallest numbers, Wiccan and Pagan -- but below that they stopped specifying.
Since the Church of Scientology has always stated that a majority of it's membership resides in the U.S., this doesn't bode well for totaling eight million world wide.
Indeed, as we look to official census statistics from other parts of the world, the numbers look even worse for Scientology.
The British 2001 Census reported only 1,525 Scientologists in Canada, 282 in New Zealand, and only 1781 in England and Wales.
According to the latest Australian Census, there are only 2508 Scientologists in the whole of Australia.
[EDIT] This just in from Germany: There was a proposal to ban Scientology in Germany. I've always opposed such a ban on the grounds that it gives Miscavige's Church of Scientology too much importance and stature. It turns out the German government thinks the same way. Referring to the prohibition lawsuit, Minister of the Interior Körting said:
The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution has come to the insight that Scientology is anticonstitutional, but since Scientology is a small, insignificant organization, with just few members in Germany, the principle of proportionality must be retained. There would probably be no successful Scientology prohibition lawsuit, but the warnings and monitoring against Scientology will continue.If anyone wants to locate and translate recent religious surveys from other parts of the world, I would appreciate it. However, we can safely assume the results would be quite similar.[Thanks to Simon for translating. Emphasis added by me.]
Once again, the definitive answer to the question "Where are all the Scientologists?" is, "Gone!" David Miscavige is desperately looking for a different answer, but that isn't working. Reality is what is, not what you pretend it to be. Hint for Miscavige: You can't find Scientologists where there aren't any.
While it is undoubtedly true that the Church of Scientology membership numbers never were as high as they claimed, even during better times when L. Ron Hubbard was running the church, the numbers today are far fewer than many thought, and, from all the evidence, the numbers are still dropping. The latest verifiable figures are from 2001 and things have not gone well for the Church of Scientology since then.
For example, the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, used by the Church of Scientology for some of its big events holds over 6,000 people in the main auditorium. Many years ago the events would fill the main room and they had to provide an "overflow room" for those that couldn't get in. Today, the Church of Scientology can't even fill the main auditorium. As another example, in Clearwater, reportedly the second largest concentration of Scientologists in the U.S. after Los Angeles, they hold their "big event" in Ruth Eckerd Hall, which holds only 2,000 people.
The real answer to the question of how many Scientologists seems to garner a lot of denial from Scientologists, but this isn't opinion and it isn't speculation, this is fact from official sources. At a very generous estimate, Scientology's actual membership is considerably less than 1% of their claimed membership.
Fact are facts. Reality is reality. Of course, the Church of Scientology doesn't associate much with reality.