Buzzfeed recently published an in-depth study of scientology’s self destruction. Even though Scientology donors are richer than ever, the church is about to implode because the membership simply is not there.
The Church of Scientology (CSI) has centralized its money and bureaucracy since founder L. Ron Hubbard’s death in 1986. The original, successful model was built around license products and services for a small fee to local franchises, and only occasionally called for large cash donations to the central organization for special projects. Although it has always been a church based on paid membership, local organizers were relatively free to purchase and maintain church property, market services, and raise funds.
Today, the organization has raised a billion dollar war-chest and built several extravagant campuses. Several high-ranking members have defected since 2005 after being duped into donating huge amounts of money — entire retirement plans or mortgages — that simply went to the central agency.
What’s more, the CSI uses high-profile, expensive building projects to mask extremely inflated numbers and raise more funds. The CSI headquarters in Los Angeles claims that 60 such “cathedrals” are underway for the “millions” of scientologists, making 2013 a “banner year” for the church. But according to an independent survey, there are only 25,000 self-identifying scientologists in the U.S. (the same survey counted 340,000 wiccans).
The outlandish basis of scientology and its cultic, secretive hierarchy mixed with a decade of bad press would be enough to destroy more stable organizations. But scientology has traded the stability of middle-class members for less stable million-dollar donors, who are nearly tapped out. We should expect to see that war-chest exhausted in the next few years propping up a dead shell.