The church’s president in Basel, Patrick Schnidrig, confirmed to Der Sonntag that the organisation is planning to build a new church, although the final location will not be decided until the end of November.
However, the newspaper reported on Sunday that Schnidrig bought a plot of land in the Hegenheimer district in April, along with Zurich-based member Henry Renggli. The space comprises two adjacent office buildings on Burgfelderstrasse 211 and Kyasersberg 3 that currently house a petrol station, a workshop and an electrical substation.
The potential location lies close to the French border, a fact that has led some to speculate the organisation is seeking to attract new members from France, a country where the church has often been at odds with the authorities.
A new temple in Basel would form part of the sect’s worldwide growth plans. The Church of Scientology recently announced at a fund-raising event in the United States that it planned to build 70 new churches, including the one in Basel.
But one expert on religious sects, Georg Otto Schmid, dismissed the move as a marketing ploy aimed at regaining some of the members lost in recent year. Even though the organisation claims to have 1,200 members in the region of Basel alone, Schmid instead believes the figure to be “around 200”.
“The church wants to give the impression that it is in full bloom,” he said, noting that membership has in fact been in continuous decline since the 1990s.
In a report that appeared in the SonntagsZeitung newspaper in July, Schmid said that the sect might “no longer exist in Switzerland in a few years.”
According to Schmid, the organisation currently has 1,000 active members across Switzerland, a steady decline compared to the 3,000 registered in 1990.
Another Swiss sect expert Dieter Sträuli from Infosekta, has claimed the Church of Scientology is running out of money, the paper said.
However, Church of Scientology spokeswoman Annette Klug rejected the experts’ analysis, which she dubbed “completely absurd”.
Spokespeople from the Church of Scientology have argued that the group founded by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard still has 5,000 “passive and active members in Switzerland.”