HAVE JWS STARTED TO DECLINE?

(Investigator 197, 2021 March)



A JOYFUL REPORT

Some commentators on YouTube reported joyfully that Jehovah's Witnesses declined in 2020.

One popular YouTube personality, Lloyd Evans, even got up from his computer desk and danced after he announced the news.

Another, Winston Gilling of Jamaica, stated: "The Watchtower is in decline. The handwriting is on the wall."

The "average publishers" did indeed decrease in 2020, possibly for the first time at the worldwide level in more than 40 years!


WHAT ARE "PUBLISHERS"?

JWs call their people who preach door-to-door or by other means, "publishers".

The main dictionary definition of "publisher" is: "One who publishes; especially one whose business is publishing books, etc." 

And "publish" means: "To print and issue (a book, magazine, map, etc.) to the public." 

The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society which is the legal organization behind the sect is a publisher in this dictionary sense — but ordinary JWs are not. However Funk & Wagnalls Dictionary supplies a secondary definition — "To make known or announce publicly; promulgate; proclaim."

The sect leadership introduced the term "publisher" around 1935 in this secondary sense to denote all who offer sect literature to the public, usually door to door. 


THE 2020 DECREASE — REAL OR NOT?

YouTube commentators attribute the 2020 JW decrease to more people accessing the Internet and discovering:

•    The scandalous history of the sect;
•    The many false predictions;
•    The flip-flopping doctrines, where what is false one year may become "Bible truth" the next and vice versa.

Is the joy on YouTube valid or is it premature?

The recent global statistics are summarized in Table 1:

Table 1

Year
Average Publishers % Increase
Peak Publishers
Memorial Attendance
2016
8,132,000 1.8% 8,341,000 20,085,000
2017
8,249,000 1.4% 8,457,000 20,175,000
2018
c.8,362,000 
1.4% 8,580,000 20,329,000
2019
8,471,000 1.3% 8,683,000 20,919,000
2020
8,424,000 - 0.6% 8,696,000 17,845,000


Publishers who go "publishing" (or "witnessing") during any month report their "ministry". This means that every year there is a peak or best month in the number of publishers as well as an average for the 12 months. Observe that the decrease in average publishers in 2020 was only 0.6%.

The "Memorial Attendance" is the once-yearly remembrance of Christ's death to which everyone — publishers and the interested public — is invited. Notice the hefty decrease, more than 3 million (14.7%) in 2020. The global Memorial attendance normally declines only rarely and then only slightly.

JWs also count the hours they put into their preaching and the number of baptisms. Table 2 shows the recent yearly totals:

       Table 2

Year
Hours
(Millions)
Baptisms
2015
1,933 260,000
2016
1,984 265,000
2017
2,046 284,000
2018
2,075 282,000
2019
2,089 304,000
2020
1,670 242,000


EXPLANATION

To interpret the 2020 global statistics for JWs we need to note that the JW "service year" runs from September to August (not July to June like the business year).

Secondly, starting in March 2020 the Covid-19 pandemic led to travel restrictions, "lockdowns", bans on public meetings, and curfews all over the world.

Note in Table 1 that the "Peak publishers" in 2020 exceeded, although only slightly, the previous year. Normally one would expect the peak month to occur late in the service year, thus benefitting from almost a year of preaching activity. But in 2020 the peak month would have been in March or earlier, i.e. only half way through the service year due to the virus-containment restrictions that governments imposed after that. To achieve a new peak so early in the year suggests that JWs were heading for a good year, for record global results, until Covid-19 intervened.

The 0.6% decline in "Average Publishers" can likewise be attributed to the pandemic. The smallness of the decline indicates that participation in preaching was going well in the first half of the service year but suffered because of events in the second half.

The JW Memorial coincides approximately with Easter — usually in April. Therefore the decreased attendance can be attributed to restrictions on travel, limitations on crowding, and to evening curfews — the Memorial is held after sunset. This conclusion is supported because many countries reported a huge decrease in Memorial attendance but only small changes in publisher numbers. "Publishing" is less affected by curfews after sunset.  For example consider Haiti:

Table 3   Haiti

Peak Publishers
Memorial Attendance
2018
19,951
82,900
2019
20,433
87,300
2020
20,254
41,600


The drastic reduction in worldwide hours (Table 2) in 2020 is likewise due to pandemic-associated restrictions, rather than to any sudden world-wide recognition among publishers of how bad their religion actually is.


INDIVIDUAL COUNTRIES
 
The 2020 Covid-19 impact on JW statistics for individual countries is quite variable. Some countries experienced percentage downturns in average publishers much more drastic than the 0.6% global decrease. A few countries showed no Covid-19 influence and their statistical trends continued as in recent years.

Interesting is Poland. In many Western/affluent countries JWs have for the past 20 years experienced stagnation or slow decline even as rapid increases continued in Africa and South America. Consider Poland:

   Table 4 Poland


Peak
Publishers
Ratio
1 to
Memorial
Attendance
Ratio
1 to
1995
123,900
311
240,400
160
2000
125,300
309
235,200
165
2005
128,500
297
224,400
171
2010
126,500
301
212,000
180
2015
122,000
315
191,500
201
2016
119,900
320
190,600
201
2017
118,000
326
185,200
207
2018
116,300
330
180,600
213
2019
115,200
332
177,400
214
2020
114,000
337
170,000
226


"Ratio" in Table 4 is the fraction of Poland's total population who preached for JWs. In 2000 CE 1/309th of Poland's population (i.e. 1 person out of 309) were JW publishers and 1/165th of the population attended the Memorial. The decline in 2020 looks like the continuation of a trend that started 20 years ago, influenced only slightly influenced by the pandemic.


We see with Poland that the peak-publishers and memorial-attendance ratios steadily got worse between 2005 and 2019. Despite all their preaching, propaganda, and warnings by their Governing Body to shun critics, especially "despicable" apostates, JWs declined in absolute numbers and as a proportion of the total population. They would have done better statistically by substituting some of their doorknocking time with more time in bed (to produce more children)!


WORLDWIDE

What about 200 other countries for which JWs publish statistics?

A quick, provisional investigation produced the following findings:

•    In 50 countries both the peak-publisher and memorial-attendance ratios were worse in 2019 than in 2005;

•    In another 19 countries only the memorial ratio was worse;

•    In another 10 countries only the publisher ratio was worse.

By comparing 2005 with 2019 instead of with 2020 these findings are not obfuscated by the pandemic. What we find is that In about 79 countries 14 years of preaching produced smaller percentage increases than natural population growth! In some countries such as Poland there wasn't even an increase however small; 14 years of preaching produced decrease!

In a huge, global, propaganda-controlled, authoritarian organization where any dissent is punished and people are ordered not to listen to critics, disconfirming information seeps in and permeates very slowly. The declining proportion or ratio of JWs compared to the population in more and more countries indicates it's happening — information, probably from the Internet, is penetrating and opening closed minds!


THE FUTURE

When pandemic-associated restrictions end, and public life returns to normal, what then?

Pandemics are to JWs one of the "signs" that Armageddon is imminent. Therefore increases in publishers worldwide might, due to renewed anticipation, return and accelerate again.

Alternatively, many JWs who suspended or decreased their preaching activities due to Covid-19 might now adopt this posture as a habit, thus exacerbating the malaise and slow decline already seen in many countries.
(BS)


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