Given that Peoples Temple existed as an institution for almost a quarter century – from 1954 to 1978 – and that at its peak it had three flourishing bases in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Redwood Valley, California, it is virtually impossible to give more than broad estimates of its size.
During its first ten years in Indianapolis, Jim Jones attracted several hundred congregants, a number that dropped precipitously – to the point that the church almost closed – during the Jones’ family two-year sojourn in Brazil in the early 1960s. Even though no membership records are known to have survived, it’s estimated that the Temple had a membership of about two- to three-hundred at the time that it migrated to California. In his book Gone from the Promised Land, John R. Hall puts the numbers as 86 arriving with Jones in Redwood Valley, 136 members in Redwood Valley two years later, and 7500 in several California locations in 1973.
At the other end of the Temple’s history, there were about a thousand people in Guyana on November 18, 1978 – 914 who died (not including the congressman and three newsmen) – and about 87 who are considered as survivors. Temple church services had continued in Los Angeles and San Francisco after Jones’ final departure for Jonestown in the summer of 1977, but attendance was way down, and most former members say there were only a couple of hundred people who were still active in the States when the Temple imploded.
For the years between 1965 and 1977, when the group thrived in California, the numbers to be considered are these: There were upwards of 2000 members (including children) who were committed enough to the cause and who wanted to go to Guyana that they had passport photos and filled out application forms. There were between 4800 and 5000 photos of people (again, including children) who were committed enough that they gave the Temple their vital statistics for membership cards, including such things as pledges for stewardship, home addresses and phone number, etc. And when Jim Jones and other leaders said that between 16,000 to 20,000 people (both numbers are used) passed through the doorway of Peoples Temple at one point or another – even if it was to leave before the first service was over – the range does not seem to be an exaggeration.