Where prejudice exists it always discolors our thoughts -Mark Twain
The Church of Scientology has long exaggerated its membership numbers. As of March 2006, the "official" estimation is 10 million, according to its Public Affairs office .
How does the Church count members?
From ABC's news show, Nightline of 14 February 1992 (complete transcript available):
… The church says these men and women are only the most dedicated of eight million members worldwide. Church of Scientology president Heber Jentzsch. [interviewing] How do you get to call them members?
Heber Jentzsch, President, Church of Scientology:
Because they joined and they came in and they studied Scientology.
They took one course, maybe.
Well, that's how valuable the course is. Eight million people, yes, over a period of the last— since 1954.
[voice-over] Critics say the actual figure is closer to 100,000 …
The President of the Church of Scientology admits that the 8 million number includes anyone who has ever taken a course (even a single introductory course) in the last 50 years; i.e., the Church counts people who simply expressed curiosity about Scientology, people who are no longer members, and people who are deceased.
A number of individuals have shown that the Church's "millions" is just another fabrication (to borrow a phrase from the South African embassy). It is difficult to estimate the true number of Scientologists, but current membership is probably 100,000 or less, worldwide.
Hartley Patterson has compiled a demographics page, "Does it have millions of members? " to dispute the Church's claim.
Mark Plummer posts to the news group A.R.S. under the pseudonym "Warrior". As the former Address Officer, he states that at no time did the Church distribute its publications to more than 250,000 people, of which only about 45,000 had completed significant Scientology courses.
The American Religious Identification Survey's key findings puts the number of Scientologists in the U.S. at approximately 55,000 in 2001 (up from 45,000 in 1990).