Nov 182014
 

For the longest time growing up in UCG, the loss of youth in the church was blamed squarely upon the youth themselves for giving into the Satanic views of “the world.” Sometimes parents would share in the blame for perhaps being too “liberal.”

But never, ever was the onus for keeping youth engaged and attending church thrust upon ministerial shoulders. Ministers were there to judge and discipline to insure teens and young adults were outwardly behaving and generally considered “good” within the confines of church socializing, without any thought being given to what was going on in their heads, the crises they faced and the tumultuous challenges one faces growing up, not to mention growing up in a psychotic doomsday cult.

Victor Kubik, since taking UCG’s reins, has acknowledged its stark lack of growth and gradual shrinkage due to schism, age and departure, establishing Operation Broken Rung and attempting with flying failure to draw new people into the fold with laughable stunts like the Why Were You Born? seminar.

Growing the church is one thing. Retaining its future is quite another and UCG has launched a more proactive (and some would say creepy) attempt to engage youth from early on. Apparently blue muppets are not viewed as a potent enough draw.

Basically, responsibility, at least in part, for retaining youth in the church has landed on ministers. So, something must be terribly wrong for a COG group to have its ministers assume personal responsibility for something. Ministers wouldn’t even take responsibility for the UCG/COGWA split, which was squarely their fault, so the COG’s demographic circumstances must be dire. But how dire are they?

Running Some Numbers

To find out how long a population with a low or negative growth rate can last, we ran some scenarios through a population calculator.

This is our formula:

P(t) = P0ert

where:

P(t) = the amount of some quantity at time t
P0 = initial amount at time t = 0
r = the growth rate
t = time (number of periods)

We’re figure the initial growth rate (r) by adding these two values:

Attrition: deaths and departures (a baseline of -10, because humans are mortal and the COG is old)
Induction: births and arrivals (a baseline of +10, because religious people make babies)

And then dividing by the population.

NOTE: The following are ballpark figures not meant to be taken literally.

Using a very generous UCG member guesstimate of 8000, counting baptized and non-baptized (we’re being nice by factor in minors), we came up with these numbers over a 20-year period:

An attrition value of 30 in the first year and an induction value of 10 in the first year gives us a rate of -0.0025, which if constant would leave UCG with 7609 members by 2034.

An attrition value of 50 in the first year and an induction value of 20 in the first year gives us a rate of -0.00375, which if constant would leave UCG with 7421 members by 2034.

But those are steady rates. There are two deadly demographic trends to the COG both coming to a head in the next couple decades:

a.) The mass die-off of the Greatest and Baby Boomer generations.

b.) The mass exodus of Millennials (already underway) and the Homeland Generation.

Increased Bleeding

The previous simulations are very low estimates since it’s far more likely UCG will lose an increasing number per year as congregations age instead of a steady percentage of their current population, which is a raw number that shrinks with each cycle, which would actually be a slowing decay in terms of actual numbers, even though the rate is steady.

To get a more accurate scenario, we have to recalculate the rate each year to account for increasing attrition over the next 20 years, which is all the oldest generations of the COG have left.

So guessing the COG will net 70 fewer members each year due to death give us a membership around 6400 after 20 years. And that’s only accounting for deaths.

Accounting for the upcoming Homeland Generation being mostly gone within those 20 years, we can guesstimate UCG could net 170 lost warm bodies per year. That would leave UCG with around 4600 members left by 2034, due entirely to attrition and departure, numbers that don’t even factor more potential schisms that could result in the loss of hundreds more members.

Plus these numbers are ultra conservative. We could very reasonably estimate that UCG could net losses upward to 250 more people per year based entirely on death and departure, leaving the cult with around 3,000 by 2034.

And if these are the numbers for the largest remaining COG group in existence, imagine applying these same rates to smaller Armstrongist groups and watch them burnout fast.

For instance, let’s take COGWA with its estimate 5,000 members, because it’s culturally and demographically similar to UCG and is in the top five COG cults for size. Using that 170 losses per year would shrink COGWA down to around 1,600 in the next couple decades. Worldwide. Ouch. If that 250 number is applied, COGWA very nearly ceases to exist by 2034.

These calculations, of course, only depict possible loss of human resources for COG groups. Each of these lost members also represent lost income for the cult, which is the real blow to the organization. With less money comes fewer staff, more infighting, decreased media and marketing capacity and other hallmarks of a decaying corporate entity. The cults will probably collapse financially before they even suffer the worst human losses.

THIS is why UCG is scared and implementing programs to connect with its youth. It sees the Homeland Generation as likely following Generation X and the Millennials out the door upon coming of age and they see the massive hemorrhaging of human capital on the horizon when that loss is combined with the waves upon waves of age and disease-related deaths already slamming the COG’s demographics.

Making Babies

The COG, in the name of its own survival, has to figure out what other religious bodies already figured out long ago: make babies to survive.

Church attendance and religious conversion are draining all across the world, yet most COG cults are stuck in a ‘convert or die’ attitude focused on evangelizing rather than promoting internal growth, a strategy many religious entities have either abandoned or no longer lean upon.

The LDS, for instance, has almost no adult converts that aren’t Glenn Beck and owes is size, wealth and influence to generations of big families. The same applies to the Catholic Church, which has prohibited contraception for centuries.

The COG needs to promote larger families in order to survive, which might balance out its attrition rates with possible higher induction rates.

But, unfortunately for the cults, this is not as workable within the COG as it had been elsewhere, and the reason why is directly rooted in Armstrongist doctrine.

How can the cults keep people scared of an impending Apocalypse — which is one of the primary onuses on collecting donations —  while simultaneously telling married couples to buckle down and have more children? Members were being told prior to the 1970’s not to have kids or pursue their dreams because the End Times were nigh. They simply can’t reconcile the message, something already seen with the dichotomy between COG groups engaging in big construction projects and a “sense of urgency” about Christ’s return.

To survive, the COG needs to tone down its apocalyptic notions, which allows them to focus on internal growth of the membership it already has, which gives its future a fighting chance.

Too bad for them, that’s never going to happen. And UCG’s plan to engage youth isn’t going to work in the longterm, because the Homeland Generation will grow up and they will leave, not because of a lack of ministerial involvement in their lives, but because the cultural values of Armstrongism are not the values of the Millennial Generation, and therefore are very unlikely to be the values of the following generation as societal norms shift rapidly toward secularism.

TL;DR: math is not the COG’s friend.

Nov 162014
 

Yet another COG member has been convicted of pedophilia, this time in Aukland, New Zealand. Stephen Gough was reportedly a former WCG member and more recently was a spokesman for Fred Coulter’s Christian Biblical Church of God.

The 79-year-old former woodworking teacher molested children aged between 3 and 16 spanning across 1976 and 1987, during WCG’s heyday. He would rape children while reading them Biblical passages. The judge in the case described Gough’s crimes as “carefully orchestrated” to use children as “sexual toys.”

He molested three girls and one boy over the 11-year period, while also carving out a peep hole beneath a house to watch showering children.

These horrific acts only came to light when his victims came forward last year. One of Gough’s victims said she will never get over the abuse.

His short 3.5 year prison sentence is because he completed three programs to combat his sexual urges by 1993 and due to his age.

Gough has been described as a “committed churchgoer” and by some accounts was involved with the COG for decades. It’s unclear whether CBCOG knew about Gough’s crimes and struggles with pedophilia, but it’s expected there are likely other victims who may come forward, bringing fresh charges against him.

Last year, William Koeneke, the 86-year-old former WCG deacon turned Church of the Eternal God minister, was also convicted on four counts of the crime of child molestation in England.

How many more victims of sexual abuse by COG members and ministers have yet to come forward?

Nov 152014
 

Gerald Flurry’s PCG, after failing to purchase WCG’s old Bricket Wood campus, have pushed forward to obtain Edstone Hall for $4.5 million.

Whereas zoning and financial issues kept them from obtaining land in the more expensive Hanstead Park, they’ve somehow made a successful bid for Edstone Hall despite its current debts.

PCG is projecting an illusion of growth, with its property purchases, fancy new website and expanded online media efforts. It’s reminiscent of other shrinking, financially hurting cults like the Church of Scientology, which has been burning through its fortune snapping up property and constructing compounds all over the world and pouring funds into marketing stunts and advertisements — tactics of desperation for previously enclosed, quiet sects.

Like Scientology’s “Ideal Orgs,” PCG’s grandiose property purchases and building projects are vastly disproportional to the actual number of members they have left. They’re preparing for an influx of new blood that will never materialize.

And like Scientology, PCG are setting themselves up to be pariahs in a secular, left-leaning country that  hate cults and will likely meddle in how this American sect conducts itself in matters of academics and admissions.

In short, this purchase is completely idiotic and delusional.

EDMOND—The Philadelphia Church of God officially purchased a new campus in England on November 12. United Kingdom/Europe Regional Director Brad Macdonald received the keys today from a Sotheby’s real estate agent, marking the official closing of the deal and opening of a new chapter for the Church’s work in Britain and Europe.

The estate will serve as a new location for the Church’s regional office in England. A handful of students from Herbert W. Armstrong College will also travel to England to support the Church’s work in the region.

Edstone Hall, a 24,000-square-foot mansion in the Warwickshire countryside, contains more than 30 rooms. Built in 1939 in the art deco style, the building has an oak double-door entrance into a stained glass vestibule, stone mullion windows, stone fireplaces, balconies, a 5,500-square-foot Georgian cellar, a Cotswold stone roof and a detached garage. The 22-acre campus sits among the meadows about 4 miles north of Stratford-upon-Avon.

The parkland surrounding the hall includes meadows, pastures and woodland including mature oak and beech trees, as well as walking paths, gardens and a cedar of Lebanon; it also overlooks a large pond. The property also includes planning permissions for a 10,000-square-foot additional building, and an indoor swimming pool and a leisure complex.

“I believe God has long been preparing Edstone for His Church,” Mr. Macdonald said. “Edstone is ideal for the pcg—a perfect combination of majesty and functionality. It’s dignified and impressive, yet practical and sensible.”

Receiving the key to Edstone Hall capped off a two-year quest for a new campus in England. In December 2012, pcg Pastor General Gerald Flurry asked Mr. Macdonald to search the London area for estates that could fulfill the needs of an expanded work in Britain and Europe. Mr. Macdonald soon discovered that the former Ambassador College campus in Bricket Wood was for sale. The college there closed 40 years ago, in 1974.

In March 2013, the Church placed an offer on a portion of the Bricket Wood estate, including its mansion, Hanstead House, and a cottage where Ambassador College founder Herbert W. Armstrong stayed during his visits to the campus. Mr. Flurry announced the offer in July during a sermon at Philadelphia Youth Camp in Edmond. But over the next nine months, the sale decelerated. The owner of the Bricket Wood estate, a London real estate development company, was denied planning permission for its residential neighborhood by the St. Albans Council. This prevented an expedient sale to the pcg.

This April, Evangelist Stephen Flurry and his family flew to Britain, and he and Mr. Macdonald spent several days attempting to reconcile with the developer and the town council. On the final evening of their time together in Britain, the Flurry and Macdonald families gathered to discuss the happenings of the trip. During the course of the evening, Mr. Macdonald searched online to see what the £4.5 million the Church had offered could buy elsewhere, and found several estates of similar grandeur and a lower asking price.

“There was a kind of epiphany,” Mr. Macdonald said. “Why not look elsewhere? we thought. We did a quick Internet search, and within minutes we were oohing and aaahing over at least a dozen other magnificent homes, all of which were less expensive and came with greater acreage and more features.”

Later that week, Mr. Gerald Flurry determined that the door to Bricket Wood was closed and directed Mr. Macdonald to search for other estates. Along with regional office manager David Howard and editorial department writer Richard Palmer, Mr. Macdonald spent two weeks parsing dozens of possibilities and visiting more than 20, the last of which was Edstone on May 5. On May 8, Mr. Flurry and his son flew to England and viewed six estates over the next two days. On May 14, the pcgsubmitted an offer on the estate in Warwickshire, which was quickly accepted and became official in early June.

Mr. Gerald Flurry announced the offer during a Bible study in Edmond on May 16 at the beginning of the AC graduation weekend. After nearly five months of routine inspections, legal paperwork and negotiations, contracts were exchanged and the sale was formalized on September 24. At the Feast of Tabernacles on October 8, pcg members at 16 sites around the globe learned the location, name and details of the estate in a taped opening night presentation by Mr. Stephen Flurry.

Assistant dean of students Eric Burns announced on October 29 that 11 Herbert W. Armstrong College students and graduates from Edmond—Christopher Eames, Jessie Hester, Samuel Livingston, Kiall Lorenz, Brooke Davis, Victoria Lancaster, Nick Irwin, Emmanuel Michels, Kaitlin Eames, Anya Trietsch, Paris Turgeon—will transfer to Edstone to serve in the pcg office for the spring semester.

UK office staff and contractors are currently renovating Edstone Hall, updating fixtures and appliances, and installing new flooring, partition walls, paint and a computer network. pcg chief operations officer Andrew Locher said the technology should increase website performance, create a secure connection to the Church’s headquarters campus, and facilitate broadcast production.

Meanwhile, the Church’s regional office operations will move from a 900-square-foot facility in the Northampton town center to approximately 5,000 square feet in Edstone Hall devoted to office space.

(For more on the dramatic growth of the UK regional office over the past seven years, watch for the next edition of the Philadelphian on December 4.)

“With the greatly expanded office space now available to us, we anticipate expanded regional operations to immediately get underway from Edstone,” Mr. Locher said. “I was excited to see the fine quality of construction that is move-in ready. Of course we will add our personal touch to the property, but for the most part, we can move in and expand our operations from day one. There is much work to do with the details, but with our experienced staff having already developed a campus, we are ready for the challenges and hope previous experience will move the process along rapidly.”

“There is much work to be done between now and mid-January, when 15 students and HQ employees will be moving to Edstone,” Mr. Stephen Flurry said. “With Mr. Macdonald and his family now living at Edstone, renovations can begin right away.”

The renovations and additional room will allow the office to expand its operations, which currently include literature request fulfillment, business, member services and convention planning. Mr. Macdonald says he hopes to move the office into Edstone the last week of December. The first semester of Herbert W. Armstrong College–England commences January 12.

Watch Stephen Flurry’s new Trumpet Daily program, taped on site at Edstone.

Nov 052014
 

Here’s a new, filterable interactive map of COG splinters and their known congregations. If there are any congregations we should add, let us know in the comments. Thanks!