How Scientology generates revenue on multiple fronts

St. Petersburg Times/November 13, 2011

Church revenue sources

The Church of Scientology says it is in the midst of the greatest period of growth in its history, boasting of new properties, book campaigns and humanitarian efforts. But former members say the growth has come at a cost, as church fundraisers have become more heavy-handed. Today's Scientologists are repeatedly pushed to donate money on multiple fronts.

Donations for services

Practicing Scientologists pay for courses, religious counseling and materials such as books and CDs. The cost can range from a few hundred dollars for a course to tens of thousands for counseling sold in 12 ½-hour batches called "intensives." Church registrars try to get parishioners to pay in advance for multiple intensives. One intensive in Clearwater can cost anywhere from $6,500 to $12,500.

Ideal Orgs

In 2004, Scientology launched a program to turn every one of its churches worldwide into an "Ideal Org," with a broader range of services, more space, nicer furnishings and audiovisual displays that seek to explain the church to potential new members. In most cases, local congregations are expected to raise the money to buy the necessary property and pay for renovations. Eighteen Ideal Orgs have opened since 2006, and the church says 51 more are in progress. A sampling of the building costs alone, according to public records: $6 million in Nashville, $3.7 million in Seattle and $7 million in Tampa.

International Association of Scientologists

The IAS is one of Scientology's most formidable entities. It raises money to defend the church against threats and for expansion programs and social betterment campaigns. It is "the glue that holds everything together," says one church publication. Former members say IAS fundraisers, some of whom work on commission, are among the most skilled and hard hitting in Scientology. Donation categories range from $500 for an annual membership to $50,000 for "Patron" to $1 million for "Gold Meritorious" and up.

"Super Power" project

Planning for the Super Power expansion project in Clearwater goes back 20 years. The church broke ground in 1998 on the centerpiece, a massive seven-story building downtown known as the Flag Building or the Flag Mecca. Construction stalled in 1999 and 2003, then started again in 2009, drawing more than $413,500 in city fines. The church says it was trying to get the building just right, likening it to a cathedral. About 1,200 "Cornerstone" donors have given at least $35,000 each. An additional 300 individuals and families have given at least $100,000 each. More than 30 others are down for at least $1 million.

The Basics

This is the name given to a set of 18 books and 280 recorded lectures costing about $3,000 when purchased in full. Released in 2007, the Basics are re-edited and remastered versions of the foundational work of L. Ron Hubbard, and the church wants every Scientologist to have a set. The church promises "life-changing wins" to those who study the works. In one testimonial, a woman says she used a wheelchair when she started studying the Basics, in addition to her church counseling, and now is "leaping up and down the stairs like a gazelle!"

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