Wherever one moves in American religious circles, one hears the refrain that the lively cults are making tremendous progress at the expense of listless Protestant churches. Hence, the impression has arisen that the cults have greater vitality, are outstripping the regular denominations, and are winning more converts from among the unchurched. There is real need, therefore, to examine the growth of the cults to see whether these generally accepted conclusions are valid.

If one were to rate the cults on the basis of numerical growth over the past decade, one would be entirely incorrect to call them “lively” and the regular churches “listless.” A summary of statistics for the past 10 years will prove enlightening.


Numerically the largest of all the cults is Mormonism which embraces several groups of people under its general label. In 1950 the aggregate church membership figure for all of these segments was 1,184,000. In 1960 the aggregate was 1,550,000 (all figures have been taken from World Almanac). This meant a net increase of 366,000. Percentage-wise the growth during the decade was a little over 30 per cent.

Another cult is Seventh-day Adventism (some will dispute whether this group is truly a cult). In 1950 its membership was given as 225,000. In 1960 it was 305,000. The rate of growth was 36 per cent.

The Church of Christ, Scientist, is probably the second or third largest cult in the United States. It probably has a larger membership than Seventh-day Adventism, although this is not certain. Christian Science membership statistics are not generally made public. However, during World War II the church was required to reveal its membership figures to the Government in order to obtain ...

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