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
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.
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.
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.