East-West Church & Ministry Report
Vol. 1, No. 4, Fall 1993, Covering the Former Soviet Union and East Central Europe

Cult Membership Estimates for the Former Soviet Union and East Central Europe

Poland  Former USSR  Romania  Hungary 
Czech Republic 
& Slovakia
Bulgaria  Albania  TOTAL 
Jehovah's Witnesses
(Hare Krishna)
Children of God 
(The Family)
Unification (Moonies)   
Brahma Kumaris15  
EWC&MR staff assisting with cult statistics were Mark Elliott, Mary Gembicki, and Bob Schindler.
  1. Jehovah's Witnesses, Proclaimers of God's Kingdom (New York: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 1993), 505.
  2. The Watchtower, 1 January 1993, 12-15.
  3. Earl A. Pope, "Protestantism in Romania" in Protestantism and Politics in Eastern Europe and Russia: the Communist and Post-Communist Eras (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1992), 208.
  4. Edith Oltay, "Religious Sects at Center of Controversy in Hungary," Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Research Report 2 (16 July 1993), 37-38.
  5. Ondrej Garaj of the Slovak Evangelical Alliance reports 23,000 Jehovah's Witnesses in Slovakia alone, 26 August 1993, interview with EWC&MR.
  6. Phone interview with Paul Carden, Christian Research Institute International, 6 October 1993.
  7. EWC&MR phone interview with Jehovah's Witnesses offices in New York, 2 September 1993.
  8. Hare Krishna claim cited in Isotta Poggi, "American New Religious Movements in Eastern Europe in the 1990s," unpublished paper, 1 March 1993.
  9. Edward Plowman, Reporter's Notebook: The New Soviet Christians (Roanoke, VA: National and International Religion Report, 1991), 4. Oxana Antic, "The Spread of Modern Cults in the USSR" in Religious Policy in the Soviet Union, ed. by Sabrina Petra Ramet (Cambridge: Cambridge U.P., 1993), 267, gives a more conservative figure of 10,000, while the Hare Krishnas have claimed an undoubtedly inflated figure of 700,000 followers in Russia. (The Cult Observer 9 (no. 9, 1992), 8.)
  10. EWC&MR interview with Nick Nedelchev, chairman, Bulgarian Evangelical Alliance, 12 October 1993.
  11. EWC&MR phone interview with Mormon offices, Salt Lake City, 2 September 1993. Membership figures for 1993 are double or triple those for 1991: Deseret News 1993-1994 Church Almanac (Salt Lake City: Desert News, 1992), 198-263. The figure for the former Soviet Union includes 600 members in Moscow and 150 members in the Baltic States. See "Eight new missions announced," Church News, Salt Lake City, 6 March 1993, 3.
  12. All Baha'i figures, except for the former Soviet Union, are based on a Baha'i Office of Public Information fax of 11 October 1993, citing a March 1992 statistical report. Chart figures are minimum estimates based on the fact that they are derived from the number of local Spiritual Assemblies, the smallest unit of Baha'i "administrative order," each of which has a minimum of nine adult members, plus the number of smaller "localities", with one to eight adult Baha'i members. Membership for the former Soviet Union comes from Jennifer Gould, "A Spiritual Leader's Tour of Peace," Moscow Times, 9 July 1993, 16. If the average membership of Baha'i Spiritual Assemblies in Soviet successor republics (51) holds for the other former communist countries surveyed, then the total number of Baha'i in these post-Soviet societies could be as high as 3,060, rather than the minimum figures of the chart, which total 1,431 Baha'i in East Central Europe.
  13. "New Kingdoms for the Cults," Christianity Today 36 (13 January 1992), 38.
  14. "Cults Gaining Ground in E. Europe, Former USSR," Christian Research Institute International mailing, p. 3, scheduled for publication in Christian Research Journal (Winter 1993).
  15. Religion Watch 8 (April 1993), 1.

Explanatory Notes for Cult Estimates

The editors request readers' assistance in completing, correcting, and updating estimates given for cult membership.  A number of factors contribute to the tentative nature of the present compilation of cult statistics:

  1. Some groups foster secretiveness, such as The Family.
  2. Some groups exaggerate the size of their following, such as the Hare Krishna claim of 700,000 disciples in Russia.
  3. Some groups may underreport their size, due to past persecution or fear of potential future restrictions.  Either the Moonies fit this description or their extraordinary efforts to date have yielded remarkably modest results in the former Soviet Union.  (See note 15 of the cult chart.)
  4. Accurate, comprehensive statistics are difficult to obtain in the prevailing conditions of political, social, and economic turmoil.
  5. The study of religion and society have only recently escaped from the heavy yoke of communist party ideological controls.  As a result, survey research continues to labor under the lingering suspicions of a wary public.
Despite these reservations, the present cult estimates should serve a useful purpose as a starting point for discussion and as a basis for comparisons of relative strength.  If the data reflect anything approaching a realistic approximation of the current situation, two unexpected findings deserve comment.
  1. The size of non-indigenous cult membership in the former Soviet Union (89,311) appears to be quite small to date, considering a total population of nearly three hundred million.  (No estimates were found for mushrooming indigenous cults, such as the Great White Brotherhood and the Mother of God Center, which deserve greater attention.  See "Religion Returns to Russia With a Vengeance," New York Times, 28 July 1993, A1 and A6; "The Great White Brotherhood," Update and Dialog 2 (February 1993), 16-17); "New Apocalyptic Cults Alarm Parents, Police," Current Digest of the Post-Soviet Press 45 (25 August 1993), 15-20.
  2. More than half of all cult members in former East Bloc countries (258,861) are in Poland.  Consequently, this heavily Catholic country appears also to have by far the highest per capita cult following in the region. 

A Center for Apologetics Research has opened in St. Petersburg, Russia, under the joint sponsorship of Christian Research Institute International, Jesus People USA, Gospel Truths Ministries, Logos Biblical Training International, and Witness, Inc.  The Center's primary goal is "to identify, resist, and evangelize adherents of new and controversial religious movements and practices which oppose or undermine the historic Christian faith."  While the founding agencies are Evangelical Protestant, the Center wishes to "offer its resources to persons of all historic Christian movements -- Protestant, Orthodox, or Roman Catholic."  Contact:
Paul Carden, International Coordinator 
Christian Research Institute International Box 500 
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92693 
Tel:  714-855-4428 
Fax:  714-855-4428, #576
Andrei Furmanov 
Tsentr apologeticheskikh issledovanii 
a/ya 790 
199106 Sankt-Peterburg, Russia 
Tel/fax:  812-217-404 
Christian Resources on Cults Available in Russian:

Martin, Walter.  Tsarstvo kul'tov (The Kingdom of Cults).  600 Rubles as of 10/93, subject to change without notice.  Contact:  Tsentr apologeticheskikh issledovanii (address above).  Also available in the United States for $10 from the Christian Research Institute International (address above).  Boa, Kenneth.  Labirinty very (Cults, World Religions, and the Occult), bound with Put' k istine (Path to the Truth) by Paul Little.  Available in Moscow from: Russian-German-American Slavic Gospel Bibel Mission, Box 65, gorod Mytishchy, Moskovskaya oblast, 141000, Russia, Tel/fax: 582-9091.  Also available in the United States for $4.  Contact: Slavic Gospel Assocaiton, 6151 Commonwealth Dr., Loves Park, IL, 61111 Tel: 815-282-8900; fax: 815-282-8901

"Cult Membership Estimates for the former Soviet Union and East Central Europe," East-West Church & Ministry Report, 1 (Fall 1993), 5-6.

Written permission is required for reprinting or electronic distribution of any portion of the East-West Church & Ministry Report.

1993 East-West Church and Ministry Report
ISSN 1069-5664

East-West Church & Ministry Report | Contents | Search back issues | From Our Readers | Subscribe