Community and the
(Investigator 133, 2010
A major reason why the Watchtower has been able to hold onto many of
their members is community. Community is critically important in the
acceptance of any belief structure and value system. The worldwide
community among Witnesses is a major attraction of the Society.
When I was in Europe as a student on a tour sponsored by my university,
I located the local Kingdom Hall in each city that I visited. Within
minutes after passing the "test" for con artists (a few questions about
doctrine usually suffices), I was usually in the company of helping
friends. Consequently, in virtually every place we visited, a car would
pull up and I was whisked away for a personal tour of the city and
intimate involvement in the local culture. My professor was
This continued for most of my three-month visit to Europe. Our group of
about thirty-five people stuck together with their fellow student
tourists and explored each city that we visited. I soon knew every city
we visited much better than the typical tourist. Within a short time I
formed dozens of friendships with people who were complete strangers
only hours before, and years later I still occasionally correspond with
In belonging to such a worldwide community there are no "foreign"
countries, only friends elsewhere. I felt at home in every country I
visited because the Witness culture in many ways supersedes the native
culture. A person may be a German living in Germany, but is foremost a
Witness, and usually has much more in common with an American Witness
than a native German non-Witness. This "oneness" is capitalized on
during Witnesses international conventions where a fortune is spent to
fly thousands of persons from one country to another to reinforce
Witnesses community. The sessions at the larger conventions in America
are often in English, Spanish, German, and a half-dozen other languages.
After discussing the Witnesses' belief structure with about sixty
Witnesses from over a dozen nations, it is clear to me that it was
remarkably similar. The Witnesses constantly stressed that they are a
worldwide community, fully united towards one goal — serving God.
All of their publications were written in English first, then
faithfully translated into over two hundred languages. Thus, each
Witness the world over reads the same material, often the same
week. Aside from uniform indoctrination, the Witness social
network also served to produce uniformity. One of the few
approved (actually encouraged) rewarding activities among the Witnesses
is socializing with each other. This activity is not only highly valued
within the group, but is felt to be part of their work for God.
The Society has tried to insure group solidarity since at least the
1940s by encouraging Witnesses to talk primarily about "theocratic
topics." Witnesses are trained to use several ingenious and
subtle techniques to achieve this goal. They are instructed at their
meetings to constantly keep in the forefront of their mind their
"hidden agendas," such as "in what way can brother or sister so-and-so
be induced to become more loyal, more active in service or more
committed to serving their brothers?" Any involvement, from giving
talks to visiting the sick, is encouraged. A Witnesses' total social
network is to be with other Witnesses and this serves as a powerful
influence to produce conformity.
As Cooper found, the feelings of community are further strengthened by
the Society's rule that Witnesses may have social friendships only with
other Witnesses. In a real sense the local Witness congregation becomes
a like-minded extended family which is a sustaining and compelling
force to continue in the life style set forth by the Society.
Witnesses were encouraged to come to the meetings a half hour early to "socialize" — and they
about their propensity to linger around after each meeting for this
purpose. During these socializing events Witnesses were encouraged to
discuss "up-building topics" that reinforced the Watchtower's position
on both secular and sacred issues including their belief that the
Watchtower Society is God's earthly organization.
Social Change and the Individual. Manchester, England: Manchester
University Press, 1968.
Rekrutering als raeping: Sociologische Overwegingen met Betrekking tot
het Missionaire Handelen. Meppel, Holland: J.A. Boom en Zoon, 1970
(Title in English Recruiting as a Calling.)
Witnesses: Who They Are, What They Teach, What They Do. New York:
Philosophical Library, London: Watts Co., 1954.
Sprague. Some Problems in the Integration of Social Groups with Special
Reference to Jehovah's Witnesses, Harvard University, Cambridge,
Massachusetts, 1942, (Ph.D. Dissertation.). p. 270.
Cooper. "Publish or
Perish" Negro Jehovah's Witnesses; Adaptation in the Ghetto in
Religious Movements in Contemporary America, Ed. by Irving Zaretsley,
Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press. 1974. p. 709.