The opportunity to review the previous year’s ministry figures is a highlight for Witnesses all over the world. Many publishers are anxious to learn whether the organization is sufficiently expanding as evidence of God’s approval.
Well, the 2013 Yearbook has now been released on JW.org in PDF format, and it reveals that growth in the number of Witnesses is continuing, albeit at a reduced rate from previous years. One notable addition to the new report is a page featuring various graphs and visualizations, the intention of which is apparently to impress on us the fact that the organization is expanding at a phenomenal rate.
Page 179 boldly suggests that there are now enough Witnesses to replace the population of Switzerland, while informing us that 199,486 years have been spent in the preaching work in the 2012 service year alone.
It is understandable why the Society would feel the need to boast of its successes and give us the impression that things are better than ever. But what happens when we drill down and get some perspective on these figures? We find that (1) growth is fluctuating, and currently on a downwards trend, (2) it is taking more ministry hours than ever to produce each new convert, and (3) the internet is apparently continuing to wreak havoc on the Society’s ability to attract new members.
As anyone will tell you, growth is still growth regardless of whether it is large or small, slowing down or speeding up. However, it is important to keep in mind that Jehovah’s Witnesses are supposed to represent the earthly part of Jehovah’s organization. Isaiah 60:22 is often quoted in Society publications in such a way as to suggest that Jehovah is “speeding up the work in its own time” by supporting the preaching efforts of His servants. If the organization is truly enjoying Jehovah’s blessing toward its preaching work and putting in record numbers of hours, surely we should be seeing the growth increasing (or being “speeded up”) rather than decreasing? Instead, what do we find? The following graph shows the growth figures over the past 11 years.
The above graph shows that, not only has the growth rate fluctuated dramatically over an 11-year period – it has been on a downwards trend for the past three years (from 3.2% in 2009 to 1.9% last year). In Christ’s final words to his disciples in the book of Matthew he told his followers, “And, look! I am with YOU all the days until the conclusion of the system of things.” (Matthew 28:20) Thinking Witnesses will struggle to comprehend how Christ has truly been “with them” and supporting the organization’s efforts when growth has been so hit-and-miss in recent times, and currently appears to be on a downwards trajectory.
A “special provision” yields unconvincing results
Of further concern to the Society will be the fact that memorial attendance dipped significantly to 19,013,343 – a drop of 361,394 attendees from the 2011 memorial. This must surely have gone against expectations, considering there was a special drive back in March to help promote the memorial locally. As part of the incentive, brothers were allowed to “auxiliary pioneer” by doing just 30 hours that month as part of a special provision. Notice how one Watchtower article proudly reported on the increased activity back then…
“Reflect back on the joy that so many of God’s people had during the Memorial season this year. During March, a special provision allowed auxiliary pioneers to choose whether they would devote 30 or 50 hours to the field service. (Ps. 110:3) Millions shared in auxiliary pioneer service, and congregations seemed to radiate exceptional excitement and joy. Could you arrange your affairs so as to experience similar joy more often? At the end of each day, it gives a dedicated Christian great satisfaction to be able to say, ‘Jehovah, I did everything I could in your service.'” (The Watchtower, 6/15 2012, page 23)
The interesting thing about the above quote is that the magazine from which it was taken was published in the middle of March 2012 (Watchtower study articles are released three months early), so there is no possible way the writer could have known that “millions” had yet shared in the auxiliary pioneer service, or indeed that there was “exceptional excitement and joy” radiating in the congregations. We can now look back with irony and realise that, not only was the Watchtower hyping up the level of preaching activity for that period (with the writer writing about events that had not yet transpired), but according to these new report figures, the “special provision” failed to attract any more non-Witnesses to the memorial than the previous year.
Hours per baptism
Then there is the number of hours it is taking to produce each baptism. Page 179 of the new Yearbook confidently points out that the equivalent of 199,486 years of ministry time was spent in 2012 to produce baptisms at a rate of 30 new publishers every hour. This sounds extremely impressive at first glance, but actually these are statistics the Society should be ashamed of.
As I mentioned in a previous article, in 2011 the average amount of ministry time required to lead someone from doorstep to baptism pool broke the nine-month barrier at a whopping 6,488 hours. In 2012 that number increased still further to 6,506 hours (1,748,697,447 hours to achieve 268,777 baptisms). This means that it takes more first call, return visit and bible study time to convince someone to get baptized (if it were non-stop, 24-hours a day) than it takes for a baby to gestate in the womb! The following graph on jwfacts.com demonstrates that the hours-per-baptism ratio has actually been on the rise for some time…
Have you ever felt that each year the ministry is getting harder and harder, with householders growing less and less responsive? Well, the above graph proves that your instincts are correct. Preaching is getting progressively more difficult and time-consuming almost with each passing year. This becomes even more apparent when we compare the number of bible studies with the number of baptisms over the last few decades. When we check this statistic with some perspective on JWfacts.com this is what we find…
When you listen to service meeting items and their constant reminders to improve in our number of bible studies, you would be forgiven for thinking that if we could just start a bible study with someone they would become a Witness. The above graph convincingly shows that we would be very mistaken in thinking that way.
If you apply the statistics from the latest 2012 report, it seems only 1 in every 32 bible studies is actually advancing on to baptism (8,759,988 average studies per month divided by 268,777 baptisms). Obviously, it is impossible to say with certainty how many bible studies get baptized, because the studying time varies for each person. However, the 8.7 million figure quoted in the report is the closest thing we have to an indication of how many people study with the Witnesses each year, and 1 baptism in 32 studies is an embarrassing ratio. Imagine conducting bible studies with 32 people over the course of a year, but only one of them deciding to get baptized! You would probably feel so frustrated! Yet, that is effectively what is happening on a global scale.
But if the truth is so simple and easy to understand, then why is it becoming so complicated to convince someone to accept it – despite the Society continually bringing out new and improved teaching aids designed to convey the truth more effectively? Surely with all this new information being constantly provided, the disciple-making work should be speeding up – not slowing down? So why do we see the opposite? Those are questions we must answer individually, but there is one factor that is having a huge impact on the witnessing work, and it is sitting right in front of you as you read this article.
The internet continues to take its toll
When Charles Taze Russell first founded Zion’s Watch Tower Tract Society, he did so in an era where the printed word was the only effective method of conveying information. If you wanted to take issue with something written by him in the Society’s literature, you needed to physically travel to the Society’s headquarters and cause a scene in front of a small crowd of his supporters, who would doubtless eject you onto the sidewalk in no time.
Now all of that has changed. The internet has revolutionized the way information is conveyed, and the printed page is now forced to play second fiddle to the web browser in terms of speed and efficiency.
You see, the Society’s DNA simply does not allow it to thrive in an environment where websites are able to dismantle flawed Watchtower logic with ease to a broad audience numbering many thousands each month. The Society was designed to operate in a world where nobody could question its conclusions without launching their own publishing company, but the world has moved on since then. The internet is here to stay, and Society is floundering under its intense scrutiny. To see what I mean, look at the graph below…
To view the information used to make this graph, please click here.
The above graph shows clearly that the Society has almost no growth in lands where the internet is widespread, while it enjoys substantial growth in lands where the internet is virtually unavailable. Obviously, the fact that there is a clear correlation does not mean that the internet is the ONLY factor making life difficult for the Society in wealthy/developed countries. However, when you think about it carefully, it certainly can’t be helping matters. The internet is strewn with information that discredits, embarrasses and refutes the Watch Tower Society and its teachings. This surely cannot go unnoticed by interested ones.
To illustrate, imagine you are called upon by Witnesses who leave a Bible Teach book with you and offer to call again. You are excited by the title and read through the book quickly in just one evening. You can’t believe that the Bible has just been explained so clearly when you thought it was complicated to understand. Still, you are wary that people are often trying to trick one another, and you feel it would be worth “googling” Jehovah’s Witnesses to see what people have to say about them. After all, if something seems too good to be true, it usually is.
On the first page of Google, aside from the official Society web pages, you see at least two websites that are critical. You investigate more deeply and soon realise that Jehovah’s Witnesses, however well-intentioned they are, are simply another cult with an array of false teachings and some truly shocking scandals, even involving the mishandling of child abuse. What would you do the next time the Witnesses call? You would likely hand back their book and say that you are not interested before closing the door on them. Does that scenario sound familiar?
Perhaps you have had a bible study or return visit who has quickly and inexplicably gone “cold” on you. This is likely the reason why! Objective information about the Society and its many mistakes and scandals is all over the internet. It takes very little effort to find it. Now we are starting to notice the problem being reflected in the growth statistic at the bottom of each report. If things continue at their current trend, it likely won’t be too long before the growth figure hits 0%, or even falls into the negative.
In fact, when you study the 2012 report closely, you realize that despite the Witnesses’ best efforts more than 45 lands reported an actual reduction in publisher numbers last year. These countries included: Pakistan (-6.1%), Slovakia (-0.8%), Finland (-0.7%), New Zealand (-0.7%), Hungary (-0.6%), Estonia (-0.6%), Uruguay (-0.05), Poland (-0.4%), Netherlands (-0.4%), Japan (-0.3%) and Germany (-0.1%) among others.
It therefore isn’t inconceivable that the first “minus growth” report is just around the corner. However, if the figures were to ever get so bad, I have strong reason to believe that the Society would simply stop printing the full annual report altogether. Why do I say this?
Reasons for scepticism
What’s the best way to check how valuable something is? By looking at it under a magnifying glass. That’s what jewellers will do if you try to sell them an item of great value. They will get out their magnifying glass and check to see whether it is authentic. If you check some of the details on the 2012 Service Year Report with similar scrutiny, you will find that certain parts of it simply don’t add up.
For example, the figures given for population are highly suspect in places. If you check the official census figures for Britain online, you see that there are at least 63,181,755 people living in the UK. The Yearbook gives a drastically reduced figure of 60,704,600. I am British, and I think I would notice if nearly two-and-a-half million people in my country vanished simultaneously, and they haven’t. Whether this mistake is intentional to reduce the publisher ratio from 1 in 465 to 1 in 447 isn’t for me to say. Likely, it is simply lazy researching on the part of whoever compiled the statistics.
But there are anomalies in some of the Society’s own figures too. Take a look at the figures given for Chile. For 2012, the country reported 69,795 peak publishers, and 72,420 average publishers. For reasons that should hopefully be clear, the peak figure should ALWAYS be higher than the average figure, but this is not the case here. It seems that, again, we are likely looking at a simple error in putting figures in the wrong columns. However, with this sort of report where accuracy is key, one wrong number can throw into doubt the accuracy of all the other numbers. The Society had weeks, even months to get this right before publishing the figures, but they somehow failed to spot this and other problems in the report – despite these anomalies being picked up within days of the Yearbook being released on JW.org.
A Strange Ratio
Furthermore, the column “Ratio, 1 publisher to” uses the peak publisher number rather than the average number in calculating that ratio. It seems obvious that, if you want an accurate picture of how many Witnesses were in a country over a given year, and you have an average number available to you, it is always best to take the average number rather than the peak number, which is a one-off figure from one month out of twelve. Otherwise, you are simply exaggerating the ratio of Witnesses you actually had in that country over the year in question.
The fact that the Society has opted to use the peak figure suggests to me that they are not above bending figures if it casts their efforts in a more favorable light. It is for this reason that I doubt they would continue to publish the growth figures at all once these reach a sufficiently embarrassing level of, say, zero growth or below. Only time will tell whether this prediction will come true, but hopefully you can see that, whether through human error or through deliberate falsification, not every detail cited in the annual Service Year Report can be trusted implicitly – much like Watchtower publications in general.