Friday, July 03, 2009

The Expanding Bubble

Scientology Today recently ran the 2009 expansion figures. Naturally when presented with figures from the organisation that claimed for years it had millions and millions of followers when it was plain judging by census figures and other sources that they did not need to be taken with a grain or two of salt. That said I don't want to discuss the figures themselves too much, merely note what they say about the organisation as it currently stands.

Given that these figures are intended in part to promote the Church, I'm sure they won't mind me pasting them up here.
The Church’s property holdings internationally have more than doubled in the last 5 years. The combined size of Church premises increased from 5.6 million square feet in 2004 to 11 million square feet in 2009.

The Church has acquired 66 buildings since 2004 in major population centers around the world.

The Church has completed 401,003 square feet of construction of new premises in the last 5 months. It currently has under construction another 475,887 square feet, including Churches in Washington D.C., Las Vegas, Quebec, Mexico City, Brussels, Rome and Tel Aviv.
So the leading three statistics are all about their building-buying project. If we assume for a moment that we're placing our most important achievements first, then here we have a reflection of the Church's current priorities which are all about property. If you want to know the marketing vision of David Miscavige it is, more or less, this: "If you build it, they will come."
It's also interesting to note that they're talking up the growth. If 5.6 million square feet has increased to 11 million square feet, it hasn't doubled, it has less than doubled. This is a minor quibble, but it's worth noting, simply because it demonstrates that these statistics are being talked up and massaged. It also speaks of the level of critical thought the Church are expecting these figures to meet with from the blog's target audience, Scientologists.
There are 8,071 Scientology Churches, Missions and groups in 165 nations, double the number five years ago.
I love this one. By lumping together churches with missions and groups, but not really defining what they mean by missions or groups, we end up with a figure that is impossible to extract into anything meaningful. I also suspect that the term "group" subsumes many of the front groups that, at any other time, are separate entities to the Church of Scientology.

80 million L. Ron Hubbard books and lectures on Dianetics and Scientology have been sold in the last decade, compared to 5.6 million in the prior decade, and 60 of that 80 million have been sold in the last two years-more than during the first 50 years of Dianetics and Scientology combined.
This, of course, covers both the "selling to base" of the squirrelled Basics books and the charity drives where books are bought by parishioners and sent unsolicited to libraries. These libraries tend to either return them, junk them, or sell them on ebay. If a public Scientologist is reading this and doubts it to be true, go to some local libraries and try and find copies of Hubbard's texts. The Church will often claim that you can walk into any library and find these books, but in truth, you can't. Added to that is the point that we're talking about books that are only available through Church of Scientology orgs, not mainstream bookshops, which, along with the low ebay prices, demonstrates clearly the market for Hubbard's writing.
The number of individuals completing auditing and training has doubled since 2007.
At last we have a statistic that actually relates to people, rather than property. And how does it differ from the property stats? We're not given any figures. Here we have what ought to be the most meaningful piece of information about the number of active Scientologists in the world today, but it's a piece of information that they just don't want people to know. Also, it's worth noting the use of the word "completing" because its meaning here is unclear. Is this bridge progression? It doesn't appear to be, because it would certainly be phrased as such. In that case it can only mean "getting to the end of the auditing session".
For many years the "practicing Scientologists" figure was based exclusively on the number of people that had had any kind of interaction with the Church. That means it would include people who, after their first auditing session, made up their mind that Scientology wasn't for them and moved swiftly on. Judging by the wording of this stat, their methodology hasn't changed much.
Since the Church undertook to publish and reproduce its scriptural materials in-house in 2007, the average price of Mr. Hubbard’s books and lectures sold has decreased dramatically.
I need to look into this further, but I find the use of the word "average" interesting. This certainly means that the prices haven't fallen across the board, that they are using an average to offset price increases somewhere on the range of Hubbard texts.
There were 12.4 million visitors to the Scientology website in the last year alone coming from 234 countries, with 23 million video views.
Without the actual figures and methodology of the "doubled" auditing figure, this, again, is pretty much meaningless; merely a symptom of their increased advertising spend. It's a shame because if we knew what that spend was, and how many people were now genuine active Scientologists, we'd know how much each of those Scientologists cost. This would tell us a great deal about the reality of the oft-touted "people find it work, people pass it along to others, it grows" mantra. It also would demonstrate how much "people pass it along" requires the assistance of glossily produced TV ads.
4.5 million pages of L. Ron Hubbard’s writings have been translated in the last 10 years alone compared to a total of 359,459 for the prior 50 years, making him the most translated author in history-according to the Guinness Book of World Records.
Leaving aside the inherent problem with taking something so allegedly precise as Hubbard's use of English and translating it into other tongues without any loss of meaning, this is an internal claim. It says no more about the growth of the church than the purchase of largely empty church buildings. It is how many translations they have commissioned.
Today there are 196,000 Scientology Volunteer Ministers worldwide-there were 45,000 in 2004. Volunteer Ministers helped over 1.4 million people in the last year alone, a 300% increase over the 2004 figure of 550,000 people helped.
It would be cheap and easy of me to want to compare the number of Volunteer Ministers to the likely number of active Scientologists worldwide, so I won't. I'll also not point out that three times 550,000 is 1.65 million, not 1.4 million. Again I suspect that anyone who has ever donned a yellow or red t-shirt has been factored into this number for however slight a reason.

I believe that what these figures show, and what they do not show, offers an insight into the current state of the church, that their buying up of buildings, and translations and advertising spots masks a lack of grass roots growth. That fewer and fewer people are crossing the thresholds of the orgs.

1 comment:

  1. I was astonished to learn that L. Ron Hubbard was credited by the Guiness Book of World Records as the most translated author of all time. I wonder what kind of presence Scientology has there? I wrote a little piece on it here if you're interested


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