Nov 252014
 

Rumors have swirled for awhile about malcontentment and disunity in LCG.

Like Hulme’s cult in recent memory, those rumors may be harbingers to LCG’s latest impending schism. LCG has had multiple splits in its past, but this is gearing up to be more devastating and damaging in the long term.

One of Bob Thiel’s favorite targets of criticism is his old employers at LCG, and if his claims of growth are even half true, he’s drawn some members away from the mother cult.

Members are also reportedly disgruntled over PCG’s projection of fake strength through its purchase of Edstone Hall in England.

Also, Rod McNair recently outlined all the ways to be disfellowshipped and disconnected from LCG, which are very specific, demonstrating that a number of people are already suspended, removed or otherwise on the outs with cult administration. This has resulted in an “inquisition” of sorts against anyone suspected of not agreeing with cult leader Roderick C. Meredith.

And most importantly, Meredith’s health has been waning in recent years and he will undoubtedly die soon.

LCG is a powder keg surrounded by matches. Exactly how dysfunctional are these churches that the death of a leader or the smallest disagreements can burgeon into a full-scale meltdown?

UCG, of course, can’t wait for LCG to fall apart. They were already sizing the drapes in Charlotte a couple years ago and one can bet Victor Kubik sees LCG’s collapse as a potential boon for UCG’s numbers.

Though in reality, LCG might find themselves more in line with COGWA thinking, as nearly two-decades of Meredith and other LCG brass badmouthing UCG will probably be a deterrent to members fleeing for Kubik’s group.

We’ll give LCG anywhere between a few months and two years left to exist in its current form.

Nov 222014
 

fakeprofilesThe COG, unsurprisingly, has struggled to adapt to the digital revolution in effective ways. It’s only been in the last couple years that COG groups have updated their websites to something passable in the 21st Century. Social media, as evidenced by UCG’s recent blunders, has also proven an elusive concept.

To be fair, growing a social media following takes a lot of work and strategy, and even then it’s far from an exact science and is more like an art form. And for niche or fringe entities like the COG (or even this blog), it’s particularly difficult to gain broad traction. The COG is far from the only ones struggling with social media, whether it’s Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or whatever.

But the COG has long been obsessed with a projection of strength, size and wealth to hide how fractured, broke and weakened the cults have become. PCG’s foolish campus purchase in the UK is just one recent example.

Curiously, UCG especially seems to have had an unnatural amount of growth on Facebook and Twitter, attracting more social media followers than they have total members — not to mention members that actually use social media due to the median age of the COG.

A few weeks ago, we received a spammy direct message on Twitter from an unexpected source:

lol2

The link, when we clicked it, led to a site selling Twitter followers.

Sure, the most likely way to have those messages get sent is to use or access a fake follower site. But there are other ways to have one’s account breached anyone could be the victim of that scam by clicking on an errant link.

But it led us to researching the percentage of fake followers COG social media accounts have among their actual audience. Just how inflated are those numbers?

It should be noted that anyone can gain fake followers. We have them. Every Twitter account has them. But a high concentration of them often signals something fishier. Either you’ve got a really crappy account that draws in bots, or you’ve done something to artificially inflate follower counts. Neither possibility smacks of competence.

And bogus accounts are only those verified as fake. Many inactive Twitter accounts are also likely to be fake, or might as well be since nobody is using them anymore.

Fake accounts happen. In fact, research shows about 10 percent of all Twitter accounts are fake. So it’s not unexpected that the numbers of fake followers on any given account should hover around that percentage. A following of 100 and a following of 10,000 should have similar percentages of fake followers, assuming their social media strategy isn’t attracting them.

First, for comparison and transparency, here’s our fake Twitter followers, via Status People:

ours

We only have about 100 followers, because nobody really cares much about cults outside of survivors. So our 8 percent of fake followers amounts to a whopping 8 fake followers. The 52 percent of inactives is pretty easy to explain since many of our early followers in 2011 were hacktivists who have since gone dormant as the FBI started striking back.

Ideally, a social media following should be proportional to these ballpark breakdowns regardless of size. Let’s take The New York Times and its 14 million followers as an example:

The fake accounts hover right around 10 percent, where we expect them to be.

But what about UCG? Well, of @ucgia’s 8,544 or so followers, about 1,200 of them are fake and 4,500 are either fake or simply abandoned, according to Status People. There are number of obvious porn bots listed there. About 68 percent of UCG’s Twitter following is dead weight, and it’s percentage of verified fake accounts is about double what ours is. One has to wonder how it got like that?

ucg_fake

And on Twitter Audit, the numbers are even worse, showing 30 percent of UCG’s Twitter followers are verified as fake, triple what we would expect them to be. That’s not just a few fake spam accounts. That’s a relative pilgrimage of bots being attracted to UCG’s account. Why? The accounts of famous people have those percentages or higher of robot followers. But why a fringe, obscure religious sect?

What about UCG’s Facebook page? There’s unfortunately not a one-click tool we can use to determine how many fake Likes the cult has, but with about 9,700, you can bet it’s a lot if Twitter is any indicator. UCG doesn’t even have 9,700 members anymore. But we can calculate some simple probability. Basically, a high number of followers should result in a larger amount of user engagement. A 9,000+ page should have at least 10 percent of its users engaged at any given time, which is still pretty low.

Let’s analyze UCG’s main and Beyond Today pages:

fake

As we can see, UCG has around 1 percent of its followers engaging with the site and Beyond Today has about 3.8 percent. The Likes for both are unfortunately hidden, so we can’t do a manual inspection for suspicious accounts, but that’s at least horrible social media use, if not outright fakery.

There are some other possible explanations, like members being unwilling or embarrassed to publicly share or like UCG’s Facebook content in front of their secular family members. But from our personal experience, UCG members are very vocal and active about their views on Facebook and engage with their church’s page and tend to have primarily other brethren on their friends list.

Plus, while there has been a surge of older people using Facebook over the last couple years, social media is still primarily a playground for Generation X and Millennials. Considering that UCG has maybe around 8,000 members of all ages and baptisimal status left after the COGWA split, nearly 10,000 natural, real Facebook Likes seems completely absurd, especially since it wasn’t that many months ago that UCG had only half its current number of followers.

In short, it seems highly likely UCG has been artificially boosting its social media following, which isn’t surprising considering how fraudulent they are in most other walks of life.

And they aren’t the only ones. Let’s look at RCG’s David C. Pack, COGWA’s tiny little 500-follower account and LCG’s following to see the same trends of more than triple the percentage of fake followers we would expect from the average Twitter account:

lcg_fake

cogwa_fake

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?