Is Your Baha’i Community Growing?

bahai community growth

For a very long time the official estimate of the size of the Baha’i worldwide community has been 5-6 million. This is the figure often cited in media, as was the case in the recent CBS religion special: “What They Believe: Hindus, Zoroastrians, Baha’is”.

Reputable sources more recently have cited anywhere between 7.9 and 5.5 million. Unfortunately, official figures are not released by the Baha’i World Center. The various national statistics are aggregated but for reasons unexplained these figures are not shared publicly.

Estimating the size of any religious organization accurately is challenging. The Baha’i Faith is by comparison easier to measure because of the requirement to officially declare membership. As well, Baha’i administrations within every community keep accurate voting records which can be used to approximate community membership very closely.

Perhaps more importantly, the growth rate of the Baha’i Faith is also murky. Several decade old sources put the growth rate at the top of fastest growing religions. However, more recent data seems to show a stagnation or at least a slow down in the growth rate. As well, had this growth rate continued, the 20 year old statistic of “5-6 million” would now be 8 million instead.

The explosive growth that occurred between 1950-1980 seems to have slowed down significantly. The recent attempts at expansion through Ruhi related strategies do not seem to be bearing fruit. One explanation may be that while Ruhi fits with Columbian culture, it does not with North American or Western European cultures. For more see, “Time for Ruhi to Show Us the Money”

The simplest way to measure a community’s growth is to look at a few statistics that are kept by all Local Spiritual Assemblies. Below is the table for these statistics from the largest Baha’i community in Canada:

April 2010April 2011April 2012
Enrollments262617
Deaths9915
Resignations543
Net Growth/Decline+12+13-1
Adult Population152716051663
Rate of Growth+0.79%+0.80%-0.06%

It must be noted that this city not only is home to the largest Baha’i community, it is also a very dynamic and active one with multiple teaching events and campaigns throughout the year, otherwise known as ‘cycles of growth’. The explanation of the growth in the adult population from 1527 in 2010 to 1663 in 2012 is inter-city migration.

As with the average Baha’i community, a significant portion of this Baha’i community’s resources are marshaled towards teaching efforts. Traditionally that fell on the shoulders of the local teaching committee which planned and coordinated various events and programs. But with the advent of new ideas originating from FUNDAEC that role has been supplemented with a whole host of other activities: study circles, Ruhi courses, door-to-door direct teaching, and cycles of growth, IPG, CGC, and an alphabet soup of other acronyms.

What has this frenzy of activity accomplished? Not much.

In the past two years the growth has been anemic and this year, nonexistent. In fact, the growth rate may very well be overestimated by these figures because generally, when people choose to withdraw from a religion they rarely submit a formal resignation. More often they simply withdraw from activities and stop participating within the community. It is impossible to measure the true number of persons who have decided to leave the community for this reason. The most helpful measure to remedy this is to look at active members of the community. But this would severely restrict the number further because active participation in feasts, voting in elections, donations to funds, etc. are between 25-30% on average for communities.

The alarming thing is that the juxtaposition of this frenzy of activity and “busyness” with the lack of results is not mentioned nor discussed within the community. The annual report of the LSA certainly does not make mention of it.

Personally, I do not believe that quantitative growth is as important as improvements in the quality of community life. These are more challenging to measure by their very nature, however they are prerequisites for quantitative growth.

But as long as we are embarking on a massive mobilization of resources to produce a result, don’t you think it might be a good idea to consult about why the result isn’t being achieved?

One of the buzzwords thrown around is “systematization”. What could be more systematic than measuring the effectiveness of your actions and correcting course as deemed necessary?

While one of the fundamental pillars of Baha’i life is consultation. Sadly, when it comes to addressing the ‘elephant in the room’, few Baha’is are informed about the results of their community’s teaching efforts and fewer still are ready to bring it up as a topic of discussion.

If you are interested in discussing this within your community, talk to your local LSA and get some feedback from them on the number of enrollments, resignations, deaths and map out the trend for your locality for the past few years. With this information you can then embark on a more fruitful consultation about the activities within your community that have or have not provided the results that you want.

  • Craig Parke

    From my many years in the Faith I believe people walking around with “Baha’i membership cards” in their wallets are definitely NOT the “Baha’is” on this planet. The sooner people realize this the better.  In fact, the “Baha’i Faith” itself is probably the most restricted community on Earth for actually carrying out the teachings of Baha’u’llah today. What exists now is probably one of the most profound models of totally counter productive effort ever devised in the history of the World.  One step forward, ten thousand steps back. The Institutions of the Faith are massively incompetent and many of the people in the Faith are massively mentally ill.

    From my experience a much happier way to live is to realize that the “Baha’is” are the people ACTUALLY DOING THE WORK  of the World Age whether they have ever heard of Baha’u’llah or not. The true Spiritual Universal House of Justice  is the nine people on Earth on any given day contributing the MOST to the progress of the human race. The true National Spiritual Assembly of the United States are the nine people in the United States on any given day contributing the MOST to the progress of the
    human race in the United States and for every other nation likewise. The true Local Spiritual Assembly of your area  the nine
    people in your city, town, village, or boro on any given day contributing the MOST to
    the progress of the
    human race in your area. Seek out such people and help them. Trying to save Shoghi Effendi’s dysfunctional mental health experiment gone terribly bad is a zero sum game. Once you see the opportunities around you to contribute to true progress with spiritual vision, the whole world opens up to you and it becomes very clear what you should be doing with your time. Seeing this way is a road that leads to great joy and happiness because you will see that real progress is being made on this planet in many areas while the official “Baha’is” are completely dead in the water with their wax museum called the “Administrative Order”.

    The official “Baha’is” can keep smoking their Ruhi Books to stupor. Everybody else is moving on in real life. there is plenty to do.

    http://www.youtube.com/user/TEDtalksDirector?ob=0&feature=results_main

  • peyamb

    No.

  • http://bahaisonline.net/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=797&Itemid=2 Steve

    Every five years there is an official count of the population and
    dwellings in New Zealand . “The information gathered by the census
    provides a ‘snapshot’ of how many people live in New Zealand and the
    number of dwellings there are in the country, as well as providing a
    range of other useful information.” The last census was held on March 7,
    2006. The data on the self-declared religious
    affiliation of New Zealanders has just been released (see table 28 on the spreadsheet).

    Baha’i Census year 1991 1996 2001 2006 Male 1,368 1,497 1,413   Female 1,497 1,614 1,575   Total 2,865 3,111 2,988 2,772

    In the 15 year period covered by these figures, the Baha’i population
    has fallen by 3%, while New Zealand’s total population has increased by
    19% – from 3,373,926 to 4,027,947. The proportion of people
    self-identifying as Baha’is to the rest of the population has thus
    fallen by 22% in the last 15 years. The decline is accelerating. New
    Zealand’s population rose 7.8% in 2001-2006, so a 15% decline in the
    proportion of people self-dentifying as Baha’is to the rest of the
    population has occurred in just the last 5 years.

    As I indicated, the figures above relate to the self-declared religious affiliation of New Zealanders. These figures can usefully be compared with the number of adherents claimed by religious organisations.

    Source: http://bahaisonline.net/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=797&Itemid=2

    The 2011 census was delayed due to an earthquake, otherwise I might have had some updated figures by now.
     

  • Baquia

    Steve, thanks for the information. You just gave me an interesting idea for a project. We can research other countries’ census data and put together a rough estimate of a world-wide Baha’i population. It won’t be totally accurate but it would be a good approximation.

    IMHO the experience of New Zealand isn’t isolated. Most Western developed countries are not receptive or showing growth. The vast majority of it is coming from third world countries or developing countries. Just look at the list of new temple construction locations: Kenya, Columbia, India, Congo, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and Cambodia (2012 Ridvan message)

  • http://bahaisonline.net/tcb Steve

     That work may already have been done at adherents.com

    http://www.adherents.com/Na/Na_52.html#355

    I see that some of the NZ census information is included.

    Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance has done some guestimates:

    http://www.religioustolerance.org/bahai4.htm

    And here’s some correspondence giving an insight into how membership stats are compiled:

    http://bahai-library.com/essays/membership.stats.html

  • Baquia

    hmmm, yes but most of the data is 12-20+ years old. Usually census are done every 5-6 years.

  • Pingback: Baha’i Population Data for the United States | Baha'i Rants()

  • Amado

    Back to ?so what??
    Suppose we look with charitable, even ?sin-covering? eyes at the Ruhi process, as one big ?each one, teach one?. (The idea of the jingle is that Abdul-Baha said we could be so sweet to one friend, for a year, that this would win their heart over to the Faith.)
    I remember a Counselor admitting that ?we really don’t know how to work with proclamation, yet?. (Proclamation, perhaps taken from a phrase at the beginning of Bah??’u’ll??h’s Tablet of Ahmad – ?proclaiming to the sincere ones the glad tidings of the nearness of God? – means letting people know a little about the Faith, to see if they are interested.)
    These two processes could, of course, be complementary. For instance, if one had a Bahai radio program or poster, to invite interested people, attracted by a little information, to find out more at a Ruhi meeting (study circle, devotional meeting, etc.).
    However, if you will bear with me, I would say that I can also see them as almost contradictory! I personally became a Bahai as the result of proclamation. A Bahai gave a public lecture (not even about the Faith – about archaeology!) and a friend who has never been a Bahai attended and told two of us about it. I was intrigued, and sought out the Bahais. My other friend (and the one who attended the lecture) did not.
    So, should I have badgered the two of them (or, if I was too new at Ruhi badgering, should my more experienced Bahai friends have kept after them?) till they ?cried uncle? and ?declared / enrolled / signed their card? as Bahais? This happens – but should it?
    Suppose I did, and they then did the same, and we ?grew? through that “systematic” pressure – what good would it do us? Did Bah??’u’ll??h live in chains so we could change people’s nominal affiliations?
    How about if we gave up on concerns with quantity altogether, and started worrying about quality: what difference does it make to each Bahai to be a Bahai – and what difference does it make to our community (local / national / international) that we are Bahais?

  • sk

    Im a recent Bahai just 6 months ago and have been with the ruhi institute for a year now. On the contrary we’ve grown so much in the last year we are now looking to have our own feasts rather attending our local feasts. I became a tutor 6 months ago (as a result of the ruhi process) and have come to love this faith along with 32 of my other friends that started together and have become Bahais as well. The Ruhi process is an Arc of salvation for my beloved community that i have lived in my whole life and everyone involved can bear testimony to it. Our community is working with 600+ people now children, parents and Junior Youth, and we are growing, and it all began with 2 tutors in my home city. From 2 people to 32 tutors and growing shows the capacity of the ruhi process. We bow our heads to Bahaullah and the Universal House of Justice for their guidance. Please reconsider your words, because momentum has picked up in my country and the potential is enormous. Peace and Love friends