The Growth of Scientology
and the Stark Model of
James R. Lewis
While it is impossible to predict the fate of Scientology as a par-
ticular religious organization, we must suspect that some religion
very much like Scientology will be a major force in the future of our
—William Sims Bainbridge (1987: 75)
As a specialist in the field of new religious movements, I regularly encounter claims that such-and-such a religion is the world’s fastest growing. Paganism (in the sense of contemporary Neo-Paganism) is a case in point; a number of different Pagan spokespeople have asserted that Paganism is the fastest growing religion in the world. Upon examination of the data, it turns out that Paganism actually did enjoy spectacular growth in the late 1990s and in the first few years of the twenty-first century. I have examined this “Pagan explosion” in a number of publications (e.g., Lewis 2002, 2007), but more recent data I have seen (e.g., Jung 2006) indicate a slowing—if not an actual leveling off—of this movement’s rate of expansion since about 2003.
A front-page story about the Mormons in Time magazine in 1997 highlighted the claim that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) was the world’s fastest-growing religion (Van Biema 1997). This claim was based on the work of Rodney Stark, an influential sociologist of religion who predicted the LDS would become a “major world faith” by the year 2080 (1987: 11). It is difficult not to be impressed by the statistics marshaled in support of this analysis. However, Stark depends heavily on the Church’s own statistics, and LDS statistics appear to have been misleading, as we shall see.