Millions of members?

Quick reality check for journalists

If a CoS spokesperson says "millions of members" to you, ask to see his IAS membership card. Membership of the International Association of Scientologists is required for services to be taken in the CoS. It costs $450 a year or $3,000 for Lifetime membership, the card is issued to Lifetime members but it would be surprising if a spokesperson was not one.

The rightmost eight digits are a cumulative member number (see picture below). That number will not be more than 150,000. People who have died or left the CoS since 1984 are still part of that total, so the actual number of Lifetime members must be smaller.

Now rephrase that question. "How many IAS members are there?"

Spokespersons for the Church of Scientology often repeat this phrase. One reason for doing so has been openly stated:

"If any of the things these people say are true, there would not be 8 million Scientologists in the world today"
  -- CoS Office of Special Affairs (OSA) senior official Mike Rinder commenting on accusations made by former scientologists at a press conference, Dec 1997.

Precisely what is meant by 'member' seems to depend on circumstances.

"To the eight million parishioners of the Church of Scientology, Scientology is their religion"
-- (c) 1997 claim.

'Parishioner' is a christian term, referring originally to a 'member or inhabitant of a parish', the smallest administrative division in the Church of England. In the USA however the term seems to be used as a religious synonym for 'member'.
A parishioner is someone who actively supports and attends activities at his local place of worship. Judging by the above quote the CoS extends this to anyone who says they are a member of a religion. I say 'extend' because in my country (Britain) there are many people who describe themselves as Christians but only attend church for weddings and funerals.

The following oft-quoted exchange comes from the ABC 'Nightline' radio show, 14 February 1992. Forrest Sawyer is interviewing CoS President Heber Jentzsch.

Sawyer:   "How do you get to call them members?"
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."

A frequent joke amongst critics is that the Church counts as a member anyone who bought a book by Hubbard. In the 1978 edition of What is Scientology? this is specifically refuted:

Membership is defined as being persons with a current membership who usually, but not always, have enrolled upon a course of counceling or ministerial training. It does not for purposes of this survey include buyers of Scientology books or postal correspondents.
Figures for 1954-1959 are estimated. [...] In 1968 a survey of all founding members was undertaken which provided accurate data on which an analysis could be based.

Here's a short recording of Jentzsch saying much the same to 'Warrior' (see his take on demography below) on another radio chat show.

Another definition comes from an article in a Dutch newspaper (Het Parool, 13 january 2000 by Marcel van Engelen):

Scientology says in The Netherlands, where Amsterdam is their only seat, it counts nine thousand members. Those are people who are on the mailing list or 'feel themselves involved'. In practice two to three hundred followers visited the church weekly, that counts seventy employees.

Similarly the Belgian newspaper Het Belang van Limburg, 15 april 1998 quotes CoS spokesperson Marc Bromberg:

"Scientology has 8 to 9,000 members, of which a few hundred belong to the hard core."

And in the South African Mail & Guardian 10 June 2007 Ryan Hogarth, president of the Church of Scientology in South Africa, said:

The South African arm has 15,000 active members and "60,000 people of whom we have record that have had services with the church that may or may not be practising Scientologists".

Faiths 'that don't fit' educate journalists, Deseret Morning News (Utah, USA), 10 September 2006 by Carrie A Moore, quoted Bob Adams of the Church of Scientology speaking at the annual conference of the Religion Newswriters Association. The CoS Press Office also covered this story. He claimed over 10 million members and said that...

...membership numbers come from those "on a current mailing list and who participate in various events through the year. They don't participate necessarily on a daily basis. I think the statistics are consistent with how other faiths monitor their membership, and if anything they may be a little low."

Interesting quotes as they seem to indicate that by 'member' the CoS does not mean what religions usually mean, people who regularly attend church services. Instead, anyone on the mailing list is a 'member'.

This is not actually a unique viewpoint. The Roman Catholic Church claims as 'Catholic' anyone baptised into the Church. There is a procedure for renouncing membership, but it is little known and rarely used. Like Rev Jentzsch's definition this is however a theological one, not one that relates to the real world. In the real world 'membership' requires mutual acknowledgement: I am a member of the Tolkien Society only if both I and the Society say I am.

The cover of the SF pulp magazine that launched 'Dianetics'


Staff are divided between 'tech' and 'admin'. According to HCO PL 27 Jan 1970 the tech admin ratio should be 2:1 for an org of 27 staff, for 45 staff around 26:19, and when an org reaches 76 staff the ratio should be 1:1.

Here are some statistics on a CoS 'Org', Santa Barbara in California, that appeared on ARS in August 1988. Santa Barbara is a small, wealthy community about 90 minutes up the coast from Los Angeles.

Staff:      14 (3 auditors, 11 admin)
Volunteers:   3-4
Members:   150-200

The low proportion of auditors is surprising. What are the rest doing? They can't all be Ethics Officers...

"Western Front Online", the newspaper published by Western Washington University in Bellingham, WA., ran an article on local scientology groups May 18, 2004:

The Bellingham mission has approximately 20 active members, and [mission holder] Hudson said she hopes the church will continue to grow.
Mission Holder Diane Gagon oversees two missions in the Northwest. [...] She said the Northwest region, which includes Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska, comprises approximately 500 members.

NW USA has 2 orgs, 7 missions and 1 Celebrity Center, so that could be 170 at each org and 20 per mission. Based on that there should be, hm, around 30,000 CoS members.

The St. Petersburg Times reported (July 6, 2003) that

The church estimates it has 12,000 members in the Tampa Bay area; 5,000 in Tampa. Fuller said about 800 of the Tampa parishioners are active members, who are taking courses or participating in church services.

There were 93 church employees At Tampa

The Sunday Inquirer (Philadelphia) 1 July 2007 reported Bruce Thompson, local Org public-affairs director, as saying that there were "hundreds" of Scientologists across the region and more than 10,000 people on the local mailing list. This was in connection with the purchase of larger premises for the Org which Thompson claimed would result in a tripling of staff from the present 35.

Here's a worldwide snapshot of the state of the Orgs in 2002:

I know as of Nov 2002 when I left (as you know, I was in Data at Management level). The PAC orgs were doing all right. ASHOs had expanded and had beautiful new premises and so did AOLA. Those orgs all had new uniforms as well. The food had been a bit upgraded. Generally speaking, the scene in PAC was better than at the HGB. People looked pretty happy. The other SO orgs were doing pretty well. All of the SO orgs had been declared Saint Hill Size by that point and were close to those stats but not over. CC Int was over consistently and was the only org that had been declared in the past who had continued to expand and maintain those stat levels. But the SO orgs, in my observation, were strangled by the lack of expansion at org and mission levels. That scene was going nowhere but down fast. Orgs would be declared "Saint Hill Size", yeah -- but in the main, most orgs were small or VERY small. There was not enough feeding to the higher orgs.

  1. The best org in ANZO (11 orgs) was TOKYO. The other orgs were small and/or struggling.
  2. Africa (9 orgs) was just a no-man's land. Not much happening there and no big orgs or action.
  3. EU (34 orgs) was expanding mostly in Eastern Europe -- CIS and Hungary. Italy was doing OK too. The EU orgs were divided a lot amongst those that were big and happening (Saint Petersberg, Moscow, Hamburg, Munich, Milano) and those that were really not going anywhere.
  4. EUS (21 orgs) had no really big, busy orgs and was struggling. Apparently NY orgs were recently declared Saint Hill Size. ?? But there were no Saint Hill size orgs in that cont.
  5. Canada (11 orgs) was not a "happening" place at all. The biggest orgs being the Torontos and the other orgs being mostly tiny. There were no SH Size orgs in that cont either -- past or present.
  6. UK - (9 orgs) the main thing there was Saint Hill and that was about it. But the orgs were not booming or close to being Saint Hill Size.
  7. WUS (31 orgs) was big by number of orgs, but the most action was in the SO orgs. Most of the orgs were small and not doing well. Even the orgs that had been declared Saint Hill Size in the past were not still big except for OC which was doing pretty well. They were better off before John was taken to be the ED LA Day (which he never wanted to do).
  8. Latin America -- this seemed to be a pretty happening scene with the most expanding orgs being Valencia Venezuela and Caracas and some of the Mexico City orgs. They were certainly an enthusiastic bunch. ITD and ODD were doing well. I think one or both of them were recently declared SH Size.
  9. CC Orgs - (like 9 or 10 orgs) were not really expanding except for CC Paris, who was not doing too badly by stats (but there was a lot of noise coming out of the area). CC Int was doing well, as stated above.
- Ann Marie [Woodward] [ex-middle management Scientology movement lifetime staffer who worked over a decade in the statistics collection unit in LA]

Independent Surveys

A useful paper (PDF format) is New Religion Adherents: An Overview of Anglophone Census and Survey Data, James R. Lewis, Marburg Journal of Religion: Volume 9, No. 1 (September 2004).

Church of Scientology1,4882,032

The 1996, 2001 and 2006 Australian censuses included an optional question on religious affiliation. Results suggest that the Australian ASHO owes its existence more to Australia's geographical isolation than from any concentration of members. The 2006 census recorded 2507 Scientologists.

The Brisbane Times reported (Frank Walker, May 6, 2007):

The church claims to have 250,000 followers in Australia, even though in the 2001 census only 2000 gave their religion as Scientology.
"Many people come in and do Scientology courses and still think of themselves as Christians," Ms Dunstan [president CoS Australia] said.

A Christian Web site has extracted the 'what religion' answers from New Zealand censuses. There were 213 professed CoS members there as of 1996, with 1 Org and 1 Mission. There were 41,169 Mormons, 19,530 Jehovah's Witnesses and 3,104 Baha'i. The 2001 Census has 282 scientologists.

The 2001 Canadian Census found 1,525 Scientologists.

USA (ARIS)199020012008
Jehovah's Witness1,381,0001,331,0001,914,000
The American Religious Identification Survey in 2001 repeated a survey they had conducted in 1990 of religious identification in the USA. The main question asked was 'What is your religion, if any?'
The figures for religions considered here are in the table. Unfortunately the report limits other interesting data to the top 19 religions, of which scientology was not one.
As the authors point out these are figures for adherents, not members. Only 75% of Mormons for example considered themselves to be Church members.

The third ARIS in 2008 excluded Scientology from the report as the result obtained had fallen below the number required for an acceptable error rate. However the US Census Bureau published the Scientology figure [in Excel format]. All the Scientology figures have a very high error spread, for 25,000 it was at 95% (0, 50,600). All we can say really is that there is only a 1 in 20 chance that the number of Scientologists 18+ in the USA in 2008 was greater than 50,689.

The otherwise compulsory 2001 UK census had a voluntary question "What is your religion?" with boxes to tick (Christian, Muslim, etc) plus a write in option. This was the first time a religious affiliation question had been asked. The data for Scotland was analysed seperately from England and Wales; I've added the two together.
56,825,858 responses were received and 1,839 people identified themselves as being Scientologists.
The CoS has chosen to ignore this, since in the The London 'Observer' May 16, 2004 we have:

The church says it has nine million followers in 156 countries. It has 3,700 churches, missions and groups, administered by more than 16,000 staff worldwide. It claims it has 118,000 Scientologists in the UK alone.

which is apparently a quote from Janet Laveau, head of the UK Office of Special Affairs. Five years later in the Plymouth Herald November 12, 2009, spokeswoman Marianne Rowell is quoted as saying that the number of scientologists in the UK is approximately 102,000. In The Independent March 13, 2013 Graeme Wilson, UK public affairs director, said the Church currently had 118,000 members in the UK, 15,000 of whom were active participants.


Dianetics is the flagship Scientology book, the bestseller that started it all. Sales figures can be found on a CoS webpage, but the graph there is for cumulative sales. Resetting to show average sales per year shows a peak around 1990.

The Book Standard website reports that "According to Nielsen BookScan, Dianetics has sold 52,000 units [in the USA] since BookScan began collecting data in 2001".
Hugh Wilhere, spokesperson for Author Services, went on to say:

"L. Ron Hubbard's books are bestsellers in many countries and the demand for them keeps growing as word of mouth continues to spread from reader to reader"

Yet according to the Church demand for Dianetics is falling, not rising. And if only 10,000 copies are being sold annually in the USA, how can the CoS have 5 million members in the USA and also be expanding fast?

Inside Information - 1983

I was Address Officer/Computer I/C at ASHO during 1983. At that time I worked on the project to computerize *every* known name of *every* known person who had *ever* done a service (introductory, basic or "grade chart" auditing or training) or bought a book in the Western Hemisphere. ASHO and AOLA participated in joint tours to *every* outer org and mission during that time. One of the "targets" (things to accomplish) for these tours was the Tours Registrars were under orders (per Base Order 2 written by Hubbard) to obtain the mailing list of each and every org and mission in the Western Hemisphere. These lists were turned over to me to add the names and addresses into the computerized mailing list. In addition, the list was "tabbed" as to the type of "public" each person was. For example, book buyers were tabbed "BB", basic course completions were tabbed "BAS", clears were tabbed "CLR", etc. This was done so as to enable us to select appropriate categories of "publics" for particular promotional mailings. At the completion of this computerization project, which took place in an office located in AOLA, the entire mailing list consisted of 250 thousand names. 180,000 of these were individuals who had either bought a book, or who had done a "basic" or "introductory" course.

Approximately 40-45,000 were "trained and processed" ("T&P"). These were people who had completed a "major service", -- "grades", "levels", "major courses", but *not* basic or introductory or Division 6 courses or services.

The other 25,000 identities were for individuals who:

  1. had died ("dropped their body", tabbed "X"),
  2. had asked off the mailing list (tabbed "ASK"),
  3. had threatened legal action (tabbed "L"),
  4. were labeled "potential trouble sources" (tabbed "PTS"),
  5. were address unknown (tabbed "UNK"),
  6. were "dead-filed" (tabbed "DF"),
  7. declared suppressive persons (tabbed "SP")

Hubbard policy is that the Auditor Magazine is supposed to be mailed every month. One month the "minor issue" is supposed to be sent. The next month a "major issue" is sent. The Auditor Magazine minor issue was sent to the entire list -- book buyers, basic course comple- tions included, which during my time was 225,000 names. The issue sent on the "off month" went to only the "trained and processed" list -- 40-45,000 individuals.

I remember this very well, since for six years (1975 - 1981) I worked in Treasury at ASHO. I'm the guy who wrote all the checks for the promotional pieces, whether it was printing, layout, postage, mailing house costs, or even the little stuff like letterhead and envelopes.

On top of that, I was Financial Planning Chairman for a good part of those years, so I -- not only as the FP Chairman, but also as Treasury Secretary *and* the Director of Disbursements -- had to review all the purchase orders submitted to the Financial Planning Committee.

At its peak in 1979, Scientology topped out at under 100,000 members globally.

- Mark Plummer ("Warrior")

Inside Information - 2005

...this aligns with figures I knew of when I was working in Marketing at the Int Base. IAS Membership internationally was about 40,000. The event attendance internationally was about 30,000 on a decent event, and had gone as low as 20,000 - 25,000. The "Bodies in the Shop" figure (which is supposed to measure the number of people in orgs that week for service, including Div 6 services) was about 16,000 internationally. These figures are four years old. My own estimate of the number of Scientologists internationally, based on these and other figures I knew of at the Int Base, is under 40,000.

- Fishdaddy


The 1998 Edition of What is Scientology? has data on several of the periodicals published by the CoS.

The highest circulating monthly publication listed in the WiS book is The Auditor which had a total annual circulation of
1990 - 460,000
1997 - 2,210,000

Wow! That's a really impressive stat - a 25% annual increase!

Out in the wog world we normally quote circulation on a per issue basis, which dividing by 12, is 184,167.

How about the International Scientology Magazines?
1990 - 3,418,000
1997 - 6,630,000

Unfortunately this lumps the circulation of International Scientology News, Freewinds, and Cause together in one stat. It is also not clear whether these are monthly publications or not. But let's assume they are and give them the same circulation. That means dividing by 36, which gives us 184,167. Hello, haven't we seen that figure before somewhere? How coincidental...

For an organisation that makes considerable efforts to sell its products (courses, books etc) to its members, 2% seems a very low takeup for its best selling magazines.

Robert Dam, a printer for ASHO EU in Denmark, defected from the CoS in 2003 with some interesting stats. In July 2002 for example he was asked for a quotation for printing the Advance and Auditor magazines for AOSH EU in Copenhagen with print runs of 58,000. That fits with the world circulation above, since about a third of CoS members are in Europe.

Inaccurate Information

Critics of the CoS suspect that the Church is much smaller than it claims to be, claiming that the 'X million members' figures have always been entirely bogus.

Should this be the case then the apparent inconsistency between the 'X millions' and the claim to rapid growth becomes a simple failure to appreciate one of the commonest 'common sense' errors made about statistics. '2%' sounds small, 'millions' sounds big, so it is difficult to believe that one can change the other as fast as it does.

Let's assume that 15 staff is a typical figure for a functioning Org. Missions are smaller - let's give them 5 staff. Then using the latest What is Scientology? data (1997) we have 15*143 + 5*230 = 3,295. That looks very low...

Let's assume that the Santa Barbara 200:14 = 14:1 is a typical member:staff ratio. Then the true number of members would be 14*3295 + 11300 = 57,430 including staff.

Another major anomaly is with Auditing hours. In 1980 members received an average of 8 minutes of auditing. By 1990 this had increased to 12 minutes...
So what would be a reasonable figure for Auditing hours that would indicate a parishioner? Let's equate to 'worship' in the Christian sense of going to church on Sunday: 1 hour per week minimum, say 50 hours per year. If half of these hours are Auditing and half Training, divide into the 1990 total hours and we get... 60,000 maximum. Of whom some were staff.

Could Santa Barbara's 3 auditors cope? (200+14)/2 = 107 hours auditing per week, 35 hours each, no problem.

  Units Members
Austria 4 8,000
Belgium 1 8,000
France 9 45,000
Germany 18 30,000
Italy 65 80,000
Netherlands 1 9,000
Russia 75 500,000
Spain 6 10,000
Sweden 4 3,500
UK 11 118,000

The CoS has given some individual country membership figures as recorded in this table, which covers all European countries with a substantial CoS presence apart from Hungary.

If we give Hungary 50,000, Denmark and Switzerland 10,000 each, throw in 10,000 in other countries that comes to around 900,000. Since Europe is generally supposed to have a third of all CoS members, that figure should be over 3 million.

So where are the missing millions? In America perhaps, the home of the CoS. California? 35 units, 250,000 claimed members. Expected total: 2.4 million. We're still a few million short.

According to this official Web Page the International Association of Scientologists founded in 1984 has an annual convention, a bimonthly magazine (Impact), a membership card and new Scientologists are offered 6 months free introductory membership.

"Membership in the Association is the official membership system adopted by the Church of Scientology and is required for services to be taken at the Church."
-- From 'Source' Issue 78, p.23 in an ad for IAS

Unfortunately the CoS has never published IAS membership figures. But wait - what are those numbers on the card? The top circled sequence is actually a cumulative one, and below it is the date of issue! If we collect membership cards with a good range of dates we get the graph reproduced here which I've borrowed from the False Stats page on the website.

So our ceiling here is 140,000 or so, from which we need to subtract those who have died or left.

From another source I have a breakdown of membership numbers:

IAS membership as of December 1994:
Sea Org members: 3,400 (SO members hold a free membership)
Lifetime members: 34,000
Yearly members: 54,000
To this you have to add the patrons and other honorary status holders.
IAS collects roughly $450,000 a week on membership fees (annual and newlifetime members).

Our graph indicates 80,000 cumulative members for 1994, so 58% of lifetime members had been removed from the mailing list in the first ten years. If this applies today then there should be around 60,000 actual Lifetime members, and the total active IAS membership should be around 150,000.

The Freezone

This is the term used for scientologists who are not CoS members. While 'squirrels' have existed since the CoS began, only recently have they become significant in numbers. For more information and links see the Freezone Wikipedia article.

The CoS does not accept the existence of non-member Scientologists. From the Danish newspaper Avisen 23 April 2007:

Anette Refstrup, information chief from scientology, does not acknowledge that one can be a scientologist outside the Church. "Real scientologists have learned to work for a better world and not just look at what they themselves get out of scientology."

Ron's Orgs is the largest independent group, being unlike the CoS a decentralised association of Orgs. It is expanding geographically and presumably demographically and claims to be active in a dozen countries, notably in Germany where it was founded and in Russia. My impression is that Ron's Orgs are more the size of CoS missions, so a direct 'Org for Org' estimation would not be meaningful.

Beyond that it's impossible to say how many scientologists there are who do not feel they belong to any group. The hostility of the CoS towards its heretics has kept them quiet, some fearful as apostates are of losing contact with family and friends who are still 'in'.


The CoS has never produced a shred of evidence to support its 'millions of members' claim. On the contrary, all other demographic data published by the CoS appears to contradict it.

CoS claims for national membership in European countries indicate a worldwide total of about half a million members. This seems to be a 'second layer' of claims, consistent with each other. It may equate to local mailing lists.

Below this lies a 'third layer' of claims such as staff numbers, magazine circulation figures and auditing hours. These point to a lower figure again.

Finally we have some independent data - national censuses. These also indicate a much lower figure.

An article in the Observer newspaper, October 1, 2006 has:

While it claims to have 10 million members worldwide, independent experts estimate the number as closer to 100,000.

which summed it up nicely. Plus, it's nice to called an independent expert even if I'm not! The ARIS 2008 result, if confirmed by data from other countries, may indicate that the worldwide estimate needs to be revised downwards to more like 50,000, but 'below 100,000' seems a safe bet.

Footnote: statistics

The 95% Confidence Level normally used by opinion polls when giving an 'Error' to the media means that if the poll were repeated there is a 95% chance that the result would be within that range, usually quoted a +/- a percentage.

Here are two well explained Sample Size Calculators. The formula they use approximates at 95% confidence level to:
Confidence Interval CI = 100*(1/S)^0.5
where S is the sample size.

This is actually itself an approximation which breaks down if the number of positive respondents is too small. The full formula should then be used which is
CI = 100*(p*(1-p)/S)^0.5
where p is the proportion of positive responses.


Operation Clambake naturally has something to say about this:
How many Scientologists are there? has a wealth of information on the religions of the world. Unfortunately the Scientology data has not been updated for some years, so I can no longer reccomend it.

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