oops - should be a menu here


Fastest growing religion?

The Church of Scientology's claim to have 'millions of members' is often ridiculed by critics. Less often considered is its claim to be the 'world's fastest growing religion'.

This analysis compares CoS demographic data with that provided by other religious movements. Unlike commercial companies, religions are not audited and not legally obliged to be accurate in publishing statistics about themselves. All the data that follows should be treated with caution!

This page is about demography. Inclusion of religions here is not meant to imply that they have anything in common theologically.
The term 'unit' is used here to cover the various terms used for local groups - parish, org, congregation, etc.

Thanks to 'Inducto' for collecting some of the following.
Contributions welcome. I would particularly be interested in data on:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS)

Membership data as of December 31, 1999 is at

Earlier data taken from this Website in previous years.

  1986 1996 1997 1998 1999
Members 6,166,983 9,694,500 10,070,524 10,354,241 10,752,986
Congregations   23,200 24,670 25,551 25,793
Converts 216,214 321,385 not available not available not available

Members USA 1999: 5,113,000

'Baptisms' refers to converts, not children growing up in the faith.

Their best known publication is
The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ
100 million copies published since 1830
Approximately 5.4 million copies distributed in 1999
93 languages in print

The LDS places considerable emphasis on conversion, with young adults serving as missionaries for 1-2 years.

The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (JWs)

Their statistics Webpage is

Like the LDS they have 1999 figures available, data from 1988 was taken from a previous version of their now revamped Web site.

  1988 1987 1998 1999
Members 3,500,000 5,599,931 5,888,650 5,912,492
Baptisms 239,268 375,923 316,092 323,439
Hours Preaching 785,000,000 1,179,735,841 1,186,666,708 1,144,566,849
Bible Studies 3,250,000 4,552,589 4,302,852 4,433,884
Congregations   85,256 87,644 89,985

Members USA 1999: 980,419.

I assume 'Baptism' includes both converts and children of JWs.
'Bible Studies' refers to the first stage in conversion, where a JW visits the contact's home by invitation.

Dedicated and enthusiastic pairs of doorstepping Jehovah's Witnesses are to be found the world over.

The Baha'i Faith

Though less statistically minded, they estimate a membership of 400,000 in 1963, 3.5 million in 1985, 5 million in 1994.
Source: 'Sects, Cults and Alternative Religions', David V Barrett.

The Baha'i do not advertise or seek converts to any great extent, and remain largely unknown to the general public.

The Church of Scientology (CoS)

1977 - 5,437,000 members.
Source: 1977 edition of What Is Scientology?

1992 - about 7,000,000 members, 144 Class IV Orgs, 228 Missions.
Source: 1992 edition of What Is Scientology?

1998: 143 Class IV Orgs, 230 Missions.
Source: 1998 Edition of What is Scientology?

On their Internet Web Site the CoS have plenty of statistics:
Unfortunately this data is as I write six to eight years out of date, but CoS Public Relations post up to date stats on alt.religion.scientology.

In 1992 there were 1,039 Churches, Missions and Organisations in 74 countries.
Staff in 1990 were 50% in USA, 6.5% in UK, 28.7% rest of Europe.
Surprisingly, no data is given on numbers of members.

  1980 1990 1997
Auditing Hours 794,990 1,502,274  
First Time Buyers 150,924 493,685 642,596
Orgs etc 328 832 1811
Contracted Staff 5,150 10,224 11,310
Service Units not known? 372* 373

'First Time Buyers' (my term) are people purchasing a book, a course or a lecture for the first time.
'Service Units' is the total number of Orgs and Missions.
*1992 data
'Orgs etc' includes Orgs, Missions and 'related organisations' (see below).

  Clear OT6 OT7 SNCC Lís
1987 198 331 205 - 692
1991 276 260 125 - 725
1992 36 132 21 - 480
1993 196 129 31 - 603
1994 141 101 81 - 576
1995 123 112 41 - 591
1996 115 78 16 - 375
1997 78 39 - 503 220
1998 57 86 - 536 159
1999 87 99 - 222 90
2000 49 43 - 56 133

The data for this table was extracted by 'Curiosus' from 'Source', the magazine of Flag Land Base in Florida. There are from 4 to 6 issues a year.
'Clear' is the first major stage that members strive to reach, 'OT' and 'Ls' are later stages that include the secret scriptures. SNCC means Solo NOTs Certainty Course.
For 1987 and 1996 one issue of the magazine has not been checked, so the figures for those years have been extrapolated.
SNCC was deemed a requirement for people who had attested to OT6, yet only 1317 out of 3508 have completed it so far. This suggests that 2/3 of the known top level members are no longer taking courses, 'off-lines'.

L Ron Hubbard's original bestseller:
Dianetics - the Modern Science of Mental Health
15 million copies sold 1950-1992.
Around 826,000 copies sold in 1992 (my calculation from their data).
31 languages in print.

"This year, as we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Church of Scientology, our religion spans the globe. Today, nearly 13,000 church staff members minister the religion to some 8 million members, through 2,318 churches, missions and related organizations in 107 countries and in 31 languages. Each year, approximately 500,000 people participate in Scientology services for the first time in one of our churches or missions."
-- Speech by Rev. Heber Jentzsch, CoS International President, 1994.
"Nine million members"
-- Heber Jentzsch, interview on Danish television station Danmarks Radio, Feb 7 1999.

That the CoS is confused about its own statistics is shown by this quote:

"That more people are auditing than ever in history is perhaps best shown by the 1.3 million hours of auditing delivered this past year in Scientology organizations all over the world."
-- From "The Auditor: Special International Edition" 1995

The Church of Scientology uses commercial advertising and high street 'shops' in recruiting.


It is apparent that different definitions of what constitutes a 'member' exist due to the different natures of the organisations concerned.
For JWs it is Baptism that counts. In the LDS members are required to tithe 10% of their income to the Church. The Baha'i faith does apparently have a system for registering members in the UK but it may not be applied world-wide.
The CoS definition of 'member' used above seems to derive from a doctrinal belief that any contact with Scientology such as taking a CoS course causes people to 'become' Scientologists for life in the sense that they have thereby benefited from Scientology.

'Related organisations' includes 'a broad range of services from education and drug rehabilitation to scientology auditing and training'. I guess that means Delphi and Narconon for example. Excluded are reform groups, human rights (eg CCHR) and other community action groups.
This seems an odd way of splitting the data, perhaps there is some internal administrative logic to it. The result for this page is that we can't calculate things like the average number of staff per Org/Mission.

One difference is striking: the average CoS unit has at least 3,500 members, the average LDS unit 405 members, the JW unit only 67 members.
This might also be due to organisational differences. The CoS does not have the Christian requirement to gather together for worship - certainly the average Org could not accomodate thousands of members simultaneously! JWs concentrate on bible studies and missionary work, for which large groups are not required. I am informed by a member that when JW meetings become too large for each member to given personal attention (around 150) they are divided.

One would expect the Book of Mormon to have greater total distribution than Dianetics as it is much older, but the annual distribution figures are surprisingly (six times) higher. This may be because the Book of Mormon is seen by the LDS as a 'loss leader' (it's free) whereas Dianetics is priced commercially. It is also the case that Dianetics is not the only Hubbard book promoted as a 'starter' by the CoS.

The LDS and CoS are still essentially American. The JWs are a 'world religion' in terms of member distribution, however for theological reasons power remains in the hands of elderly Americans. The Baha'i, driven from their original home in Iran, are presently headquartered in Israel; they at least can truely claim to be a world religion.

Comparisons of growth

Growth percentages below are annual percentage rates.

In 1999 JW new (baptised) members were 5.5% of the total.
In 1994 'first time buyers' in the CoS were 6.2% of the membership. First time service users would obviously have been fewer.
In 1996 LDS convert baptisms were around 3.4% of the membership.

Wandering off topic a bit, each JW 'sale' takes over 4,000 hours doorstepping, and the average JW does four hours per week. They have to be dedicated... But wait - here's our Big Table coming up:

Net Annual Growth Rates
LDS 1986-99 4.4%
JWs 1988-99 4.9%
Baha'i 1963-85 10%
Baha'i 1985-94 4%
CoS 1977-94 2.4%
CoS 1994-99 3.7%

And the winners are - the Witnesses!

For the non-CoS organisations increases in other data seem to be in line with the growth in membership.

CoS staff numbers 1980-90 increased by 7%, 1990-97 by 1.5%.
1980-90 auditing hours increased by 7%.
1990-97 first time buyers increased 3.8%.
1990-97 Orgs etc increased by 11.8%.
Two of Heber Jentzsch's 1994 stats (Orgs etc and staff numbers) are higher than those for 1997. This seems unlikely.

World Population is growing at around 2.3%, so to improve 'market share' that percentage must be exceeded.

Some other growth figures from http://www.religioustolerance.org/worldrel.htm:

Islam   2.9%
Protestant Christianity   3.3%
Source quoted: J W Wright, Universal Almanac 1996.

Note: you may be wondering who the 'losers' are - they include Catholic and Orthodox Christianity and the remaining 'primitive' beliefs.


If the claims made by religious organisations about themselves are accurate, then the Church of Scientology is not the world's fastest growing religion, either in terms of new members or net growth.

The CoS seems to have cut down on its bureaucratic growth in the 1990's.

Just to emphasise one point, all the data about the CoS we have used above was published by the CoS itself, not its enemies or critics.

Footnote: statistics

The 'common sense' way of calculating growth per year would be to work out the percentage increase and then divide by the number of years. Thus the 1963-85 Baha'i figure would be 775%/22 = 35%. This is however wrong - the actual formula is more complex:

x = 100((F/S)^(1/y)-1)

where F is the final number, S the start number, y the number of years and x the annual percentage rate (APR). In this extreme example, x = 10%.

[previous] [home]