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Sunday Funnies: Oops, Scientology reveals a key fact about the size of its membership

Nancy_Cartwright2We hope you’re having a great holiday weekend and we’re happy that you could drop in at the Underground Bunker for some Sunday Funnies.

It’s our weekly feature that allows us to show off the best Scientology mailers and fliers that have been forwarded to us by our great tipsters. And we’re going to start off with a slick new ad for the Sea Org that contains an interesting admission.

“Over 6,500 strong, Sea Org members operate on an international level and implement strategies LRH put in place to effectively clear the planet,” says the flier we’re about to show you. At the bottom of it, you can clearly see that this is an official message from the American Saint Hill Organization (ASHO), which is part of the “Big Blue” complex in downtown Los Angeles which was once the Cedars of Lebanon hospital.

Why is this significant? Because Scientology just gave up a key fact about its true overall size. Let us explain.

Scientology has always blatantly lied about how many Scientologists there are in the world. In 1969, its New York org spokesman told the New York Times that Scientology had 15 million members worldwide. Since then, church figureheads like Heber Jentzsch claimed anywhere from 6 million to 12 million. More recently, Scientology mouthpieces like Karin Pouw have been more cautious, saying “millions of members” without naming a number. However, in a 2012 television ad, Scientology claimed to be attracting 4.4 million new members a year, and recently, Kirstie Alley claimed that there were 20 million Scientologists on the planet.

It’s all bunk. Under oath in a deposition in the late 1990s, Jentzsch, the nominal president of the Church of Scientology International, admitted that the numbers they throw around represent every human being who has ever purchased a book or taken a class in Dianetics and Scientology history, which goes back to 1950. Those figures in the millions, in other words, have nothing to do with how many paying, active members the church has now.


In 2011, we gave detailed reasons why we estimated worldwide membership at 40,000. The same experts we relied on then believe the organization has continued to shrink, and we would estimate current active membership at around 30,000, planetwide.

Scientology itself has never admitted to having such modest overall membership. But for some reason it is more open about the size of the Sea Org. The claim of 6,500 in this flier is almost certainly an exaggeration — even Scientology’s own website ( only claims a Sea Org size of 5,000. And our experts concur that the true size of the Sea Org — which contains Scientology’s most hard-core followers, who sign billion-year contracts and work for pennies an hour — is around 5,000.

Which raises the question: If Scientology really has “millions” of members around the world, why is its Sea Org so tiny? Assume, for a moment, that Scientology really has 12 million active members, which it has claimed in the past. At that size, only one in 2,400 Scientologists would be a Sea Org member, which any Scientologist of any experience would tell you is a ludicrous ratio.

Scientologists — particularly the children of church members — are under intense pressure to join the Sea Org, and many of them do join it. But what is the current ratio of public and staff compared to Sea Org?

Former Scientology spokesman Mike Rinder told us a more realistic ratio is about 6 to 1. He estimates 30,000 overall membership, with about 5,000 of those in the Sea Org.

Chris Shelton independently told us the same number — 5,000 Sea Org members, based on actual enrollment data he had access to while he was still inside the Sea Org himself. He also said 5 or 6 to 1 was a more realistic ratio.

So, while ASHO’s claim of 6,500 Sea Org members is almost certainly an exaggeration, it helps solidify once again that our estimates of the overall size of the organization make sense, and is nowhere near the “millions” that church press releases claim.


And just one more note about membership estimates before we go on to our other Sunday Funnies. We see that other members of the press usually cite the American Religion Identification Surveys (ARIS) of 2001 (55,000 members) and 2008 (25,000) in order to make the point that Scientology is shrinking rapidly. We referred to those numbers in our 2011 story, but we also explained that an estimate by Jeff Hawkins — at 40,000 — was the most solid information because he’d had access to actual enrollment data while he was an executive in the church.

The church is shrinking, but the ARIS numbers could have been reversed and it would not have been proof that the church is growing. We know that sounds confusing, but the ARIS study was built to estimate the numbers of much larger religious organizations — those with followers in the tens of millions. It just wasn’t designed to count tiny religions, and Scientology’s entire membership is within the study’s margin of error. An old colleague of ours at the Phoenix New Times asked an ARIS researcher this, and he said anything less than 325,000 is really just a guess. So the next time ARIS produces numbers, in 2015, Scientology’s numbers could go up again — and it wouldn’t mean a thing. Please keep that in mind (but we know our colleagues in the mainstream media won’t).

It’s far better to rely on experts who had access to actual enrollment documents, like Hawkins, as well as on tallies from the Australian or English census, which actually count individuals instead of extrapolating from a tiny sample. Census results in Australia (2,163) and England (1,781) are completely consistent with a worldwide membership of about 30,000.

OK, on to more Funnies.

Gail Carroll is daring to cross the mountains from Pasadena to party with the Valley folk!

autumn gala letter - gail

Hey, @jack, Scientology is now using the fact that you tweeted about them handing out copies of The Way to Happiness in Ferguson, Missouri as a way to raise money. How do you feel about that?


Maybe if we make it look like donating more money for Ideal Orgs is like a game, they’ll give us junior’s college money!

grid iron game launch

The most ethical people in the planet, using little kids to raise money.


Scientology tool of an actor.


Nancy! We sure wish we could have been at your graduation. It was for OT 7, we believe. Someone get us the video!


It’s not often we hear from Perth. Isn’t it funny that they insist on these group photos, which only provides hard evidence that Scientology is made up of only handfuls of people around the world now?


Looks like they’ll be shipping the Rock of Ages theme around and we won’t have only Atlanta to kick around soon. Bleccch.


The Scientology choir? Singing LRH’s greatest hits?

entertainment email4

This is elder abuse.

status upgrade - krackow2

Bob Twaalfhoven is an Ideal Org icon? Can anyone tell us why?


And finally, Denver Ideal Org has increased books sold to raw public by 5 times! Or are they counting parking money for baseball games? We better check with Marc Headley.


Thanks again to our great tipsters!


Posted by Tony Ortega on August 31, 2014 at 07:00

E-mail your tips and story ideas to or follow us on Twitter. We post behind-the-scenes updates at our Facebook author page. Here at the Bunker we try to have a post up every morning at 7 AM Eastern (Noon GMT), and on some days we post an afternoon story at around 2 PM. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.

Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…

BLOGGING DIANETICS (We read Scientology’s founding text) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25

UP THE BRIDGE (Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48

GETTING OUR ETHICS IN (Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14

SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING (Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49

PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | Scientology’s Private Dancer
The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ


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