CESNUR - center for studies on new religions


June 17-20, 2004 - Baylor University, Waco, Texas

SMI : Scientology International Missions, an Immutable Model of Technological Missionary Activity

by Bernadette Rigal-Cellard
A paper presented at CESNUR 2004 international conference, Baylor University, Waco (Texas), June 18-20, 2004 – Preliminary version – do not reproduce or quote without the consent of the author

The following study is part of a larger program of research that looks at the way religions undergo transformations when they migrate from the country they were born in to other cultures.

With all the problems it has engendered in Europe in particular, where it is mostly held as the Trojan Horse of American imperialism, the Church of Scientology offers a perfect case study. Where does it stand in the typology of the transatlantic mutations we have analyzed?[1] How do its missionaries, called mission holders, react to their new environment: do they try to adapt to it, or on the contrary do they seek to adapt it to their own vision of the world?

I will only present here the foundation of SMI; its European missions; its franchise system, and the duty of the mission holders.[2]

The foundation of SMI, Scientology Missions International

Strangely enough, SMI, that is the mission system properly speaking, was only set up in 1981 once the Church had already expanded worldwide. Before this date the term used, instead of mission, was “franchise”. The authorities have explained that the foundation of a specific branch devoted to missions corresponded to a new era, “a new dawn within the Church”. (Qu'est 483) when several administrative changes were operated to put an end to the activities of GO, Guardian Office, created in 1966 to counter attack the criticisms leveled against the Church, and that was found to have grown into an isolated and autonomous branch that did not abide by Hubbard’s rules. (see Gordon Melton (27) (Qu'est 483). It is also at that time that Hubbard retreated somehow from the direction of the Church to dedicate himself to his writing. His successors created CSI, Church of Scientology International to coordinate all the branches of the Church worldwide (these remain administratively independent) and SMI, called the superior ecclesiastical body that supervises all the missions. (Qu'est 483) SMI manages the whole infrastructure and the training of the mission holders, with the guidance of IHELP (International Hubbard Ecclesiastical League of Pastors).

European missions

The number has been increasing tremendously in the last 20 years due to the intensification of the crusade launched by David Muscavige. Europe ranks second after the USA for the number of missions: in 1983, 40 missions, in 2002, 197. Missions can be found in most countries: 4 in Spain, 5 in Denmark, 10 in Germany, 33 in Italy, 33 in Hungary, 80 in Russia and on the fringe of Europe 10 in Kazakhstan. (Internationally in 1997 the total number of missions, churches and associations: 1811, in 133 countries (Qu'est 451)).

In France, 5 missions were operative in 2002: Bordeaux, Toulouse, Marseille, Nice, Cannes and others were ready to open: Vannes, Avignon, Moselle, Côte d'Azur, plus about 10 in the rest of Europe (Personal Correspondence with SMI Officer EU, 25/1/2002)

Figures vary greatly according to sources. 30,000 members in Germany (Associated Press, Dec. 1, 1999). France : the Church says 40,000 whereas observers give much lower estimates: 2000 et 4000.[3]

The European center of SMI is in Copenhagen and it is managed by Sea Org members. Great Britain is not included in the European mission zone, but is in itself an autonomous zone, with its headquarters in Sussex. Whatever the country, missions always operate in the same way.

Administrative functioning of SMI

The missionizing will be spiritual, technical and as always cultural, even if the mission holders do not realize it.[4]

Though it can be called a mission with only 3 members, it is mostly once the mission holder has converted about twenty people that his mission is formally established. It may then either grow into a church or remain a mission. The largest in the world is the one in St Petersburg, which even though it has a staff of over 150, remains “a mission”. (SMI Officer EU, 25/1/2002)

Missions function as franchises, even though the term is no longer used, whose official program was set up in 1959. They operate as commercial companies, of the associative type, have their own administration board that is responsible for the financial management.

Minute accounting is extremely important. Traditional Christian missionaries had to report on the progress they made to their authorities and their bankers but never with the same accuracy. In a society obsessed with figures, digits, feasibility, projects, results, and with the instantaneous transmission of orders from the hierarchy and from its accountants, the Scientologist mission holder cannot improvise nor remain vague on his or her daily activities. Goals are set and constantly repeated to keep up the stamina of the missionary.

It is this intense financial management that has led critics to see in Scientology a major transnational firm, more interested in its bank accounts than in true spiritual teachings, unlike the major traditional evangelizing Churches (see for example Stephen A. Kent, 1999.)

What is original is that mission holders embark on this enterprise without any financial or material aid from SMI, somehow like Latter-day saints who must finance all their expenses. Yet these do not choose the location of their mission, they gravitate around fixed LDS centers, or explore new territories under the guidance of the authorities, whereas the Scientologists are completely left free to pick up their territory. They can start a mission at home or nearby, or much further. They can go alone or in a group. Before departing they undergo a specific training in an Org or in an existing mission and they need to run the gamut of all the activities. Once they have successfully achieved all the stages of the list, they are declared operational. (SMI Officer EU, 25/1/2002) Afterwards they are left to fend for themselves.

If they do not gain any converts, all their investments will be lost. On the other hand, if they gain a lot of converts and need money to expand, they cannot borrow any from the Church. They have to provide everything using their own personal networks.

SMI has prepared a shortlist of requisites to open a mission. The franchised mission holders are considered as pioneers who must display the greatest perfection. (SMI Newsletter 1:13, 2). The term “pioneer” recurs very often in the literature: “ Pioneer New Worlds ” is the title of their application file.

Again, unlike most traditional missionaries who mostly have to work with a few books, Scientologists have to take along masses of cases containing books, the practice of Scientology requiring the exact knowledge of all the books written by Hubbard. They must also carry the tech. None of these books or machines are rented or lent by the Church. The mission holders must buy them with their own money.

The basic Mission Starter Package costs 35,OOO dollars, the Scientology Handbook, 80 dollars and the Volunteer Minister Course Pack, 15 dollars (2001 prices). The Package contains a full bookshop, a video set, Public Film System, films, dissemination brochures, prepared courses, and an e-meter for auditing. The first Package in a foreign language appeared in German in 1981 (SMI Newsletter 1:4, 2).

The pioneers remain in constant contact with the Church. They are given advice, in particular under the form of personal testimonies coming from other missionaries: tips on how to succeed, things to avoid. They must take part in various operations, such as Franchise Promotion Musts. If they are good they can become FSM, Field Staff Members, that is to say members officially recognized and rewarded for their dissemination activities.

For example in 1969, Hubbard spelled out what they had to do monthly :

“Hand out the pertaining FSM policy to the people, and explain the FSM Programme to them. Before you close the meeting, give each person a couple of sheets of paper and envelopes, so they may write out their applications to the nearest Orgs, AO and SH to select people for them. You even mail the letters for them! AT THIS MEETING, EXPLAIN TO THEM THAT THEY MAY SELECT EVERY PERSON THEY BRING INTO SCIENTOLOGY, and that if they have not done so in 2 weeks, the Mission will select them. This chance for them to make some money creates a terrific body and money flow for the Mission.” (LRH PL 11 Nov 69 III, in SMI Newsletter 1:13,2)

Pioneers must also take part in a game, which used to be called "LRH Birthday Game for Missions". It is meant to stimulate competition between missions. They each receive grades according to their statistics.


I was told the birthday present that Hubbard demanded was simply a good rating for proselytist activities.

Here are some of the MUSTS in 14 points as Hubbard defined them for the opening of SMI:

“1. Don't drop out anything that you have been doing that has been successful in raising stats and helping you to expand...

2. Continue to Flourish and Prosper even more.

3. Step up promotion to the public as never before. Get Scientology broadly advertised and make yourselves known and the services you offer made available to your entire community.

4. Start a campaign to get EVERY Scientologist in your area to select and bring in at least one new person per month into the Mission and then make sure that the person is well handled by Div 6 or Div 4 so that he continues up the Bridge.

5. Get Dianetics and Scientology books sold in volume by FSM, students, pcs, staff...and also in all public bookstores and outlets.

6. Contact every Scientologist in your Central Files. Get them revitalized, enthused and excited and made active...

7. Realize the need for trained auditors to handle the flood of new public...

8. Move people up to higher orgs to get the rest of their Bridge.

9. Make every Scientologist in your area into an FSM... Run FSM rallies and training courses...

10. DELIVER; DELIVER; DELIVER 100% STANDARD TECH to FULL EP on every public person so that they rave about the standardness of the results and continue on up BOTH sides of the Bridge. Your best promotion is good word of mouth!

11. Thrust into the society by opening hundreds of DCGs (Dianetics Counselling Groups)... For (them specific) rules apply...

12. Continue to expand with roaring FIELD EXPANSION! Encourage and generate GROUPS, DCGs and FIELD UNITS...that contact the public in droves and who select and send in floods of new people to your Mission and for further services.

13. Set up standard staff training courses and staff co-audits...

14. Remember that the keynote to handling any antagonistic element is to FLOURISH and PROSPER. Realize that there is no more deadly way to get even with a suppressive or antagonistic person or a downgrading society than by FLOURISHING and PROSPERING...



(LRH ED 326-1R INT 1981/82 Birthday Game for Missions. in SMI Newsletter 1:13,3)


The mission holder must recruit people whom he will help in the early stages of their teaching and will later send to more established centers to follow higher classes in order to climb on the Bridge, which, for Scientologists, will take the person onto the path of inner discovery. The missions are seen as the gates to the bridge. They explain to the non Scientologists what the activities of the Church are, what it can achieve. Hubbard defined all the steps to follow, and these could be found in any missionary manual:

“There is no set patter, nor any set words to say to the person";

1. Contact the individual...making a personal contact, whether you approach them or they approach you.

2. Handle: if the person is wide open...this step can be omitted...It is to handle any attacks, antagonism...It implies directing an acquired skill to the accomplishment of immediate ends....then:

3. Salvage...find out what their own personal ruin is...It must be a condition that is real to the individual as an unwanted condition, or one that can be made real to him.

4. Bring to understanding: Once the person is aware of the ruin, you bring an understanding that Scientology can handle the condition found in 3...It is the right moment on this step that one hands the person a selection slip, or one's professional card... (LRH HCO PL 23 Oct.65 Dissemination Drill)”


Or also:

“To disseminate successfully you have to have an APPARENT goal that is understandable to the audience or person at his tone level and with which he will agree. Show him that something about himself and the battle is pretty much won. We try too often for a total effect on people and try to tell them everything there is in a single moment. The motto here is: don't try to overwhelm, just penetrate. (LRH HCO B15 Sept 59, Dissemination Tips)”

According to Church stats, ("Comment avez-vous pris contact avec la Scientologie", Étude sociologique des scientologues du monde entier, Qu'est 462), in 52.6% cases, it through friends that the newcomers will be recruited. Publicity, lectures are less efficient : 8,8% of cases.

The personality test, Test Oxford Capacity Analysis, the trademark of Scientology, is said to be in fact not very useful and only 18% of the recruits were brought in this way.

The major particularity of Scientology: The interdiction to modify the tech.

Here we have the major characteristic of Scientology missions. Absolutely no adaptation, cultural or doctrinal, is authorized. Unlike most religions that feel the necessity to adapt and accept to mutate either through the years in the same location or when they export themselves, Scientology imposes itself as an unadulterable compound. Hubbard conceived it as a universal model that would function exactly the same way everywhere in the whole world. To the observers, though, it is not so much a universal system as the global imposition of a marked Western model, or better an American model.

For example when one looks at the 200 questions of the personality test, one could say that it is typically the product of western society. The questions bear on social relations, ways of expressing one’s feelings, one’s emotions. Asian cultures, for example, do not behave socially as we do in the West and in many of their societies people are not meant to show their feelings. Yet if they take the test, they have to answer to the same questions Americans are given.

Hubbard and his successors have always rejected the assumption according to which a given culture impacted on an individual’s symbolic imagination. For Hubbard, all human beings share the same mental make up, whatever their social milieu, their education, their genetic heritage.

Scientologists state that this refusal to adapt to foreign cultures is not the mark of a colonizing spirit but that it simply derives from the conviction that the findings of Hubbard were precise, exact, perfect, and universally efficient. Were they even slighty altered, the whole system would collapse. This is why it must either be accepted in its most minute details and as a whole, or rejected altogether.

As we know, the keeper of this perfect transmission was founded in 1982: RTC Religious Technology Center. All the clergy and all the mission holders depend on it for all their teaching and their own progression. RTC guarantees the purity of the doctrine and the correct standard and immutable use of technology. The recourse to the tech is of course another difference between SMI and other missionary religions but I do not need to speak about this here.


SMI is a fabulous tool that strangely serves two diverging purposes: on the one hand it trains mission holders to develop survival skills in any conditions without relying on the material support of the hierarchy or of the group. It encourages competition in a business like environment and thus prepares its members to succeed within the society at large, which corresponds to the belief of the Church that one should not depend on social aid but triumph through one’s hard labor.

On the other hand, through the interdiction to modify however slightly the doctrine and the tech, SMI imposes a strict discipline all over its international centers that must remain perfectly obedient to RTC and SMI authorities. The center, that is Hubbard’s word and the presidency, firmly holds together the pioneers who are otherwise sent to the wild world to play the game of the survival of the fittest. In the case of SMI, missions do not adapt to their foreign milieu, they force their neophytes to conform to what the pioneers teach. Their current success may be due partly to their riding the wave of globalization that engenders the standardization of behavior on the western model.

SMI offers thus a rare case: for even though it refuses to evolve, which has been found to be one of the major conditions for missionary success, Scientology is still progressing. The near future will tell us whether such unconditional obedience to the founder’s words, such refusal of any possible interpretation or commentary, will remain a viable model of international missionary activity.

[1] See my introduction to Lerat & Rigal-Cellard, Les mutations transatlantiques des religions.

[2] I wish to thank here especially Danièle Gounord, the spokesperson for the Church in France, for her kindness and her help, as well as President Heber Jentzsch who gave me a lot of his time at the headquarters in Hollywood and Leisa Goodman for her kindness there as well. And as usual Massimo Introvigne and Gordon Melton whose names and friendship are a wonderful sesame to open all doors.

[3] Figures given by Jean-Louis Gagnot, Paris, december 2001. In the issue "L'Offensive des religions. Manière de Voir", Le Monde Diplomatique, Novembre, décembre 1999, one finds 4000 in the article written by F. Beaucé (76), and 2000 in the article by F. Lenoir (p.80).

[4] See the advice George J. Jennings gives to missionaries so that they will be conscious of their own inculturation before trying to adapt to their new milieu : Missiology : “ American Missionary Candidates—Out of These Worlds. ”

[5] Prices given in SMI magazine, now called Centre : n°75 (2001). All the issues of SMI Newsletter can now be found in the American Religions Collection, UCSB.

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