The 2017 Yearbook is now available on JW.org, and the much-anticipated figures in the “Service Year Report” tell the story of an organization that is haemorrhaging members and barely keeping its head above water.
Even in the United States of America, the organization’s heartland, it seems Watchtower is suffering heavy losses.
Last year saw 28,588 get baptized as Jehovah’s Witnesses in the USA (a similar number to the year before). Despite this, the number of Witnesses in America has grown by only 2,945.
When you compare this figure with the 34,247-publisher increase for 2007, a picture emerges of growth numbers that are steadily meandering their way toward a decrease – as the following graph further highlights.
Over the border in Canada, the situation is even more bleak. The 2016 service year closed with Canada having 169 fewer Jehovah’s Witnesses than it had boasted the previous year.
A similar story emerged in Australia, where the ongoing Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse and its damning verdicts on Jehovah’s Witnesses has surely played at least some role in there being 64 fewer Witnesses in 2016 than in 2015 (despite 1,235 baptisms). In the same branch territory, New Zealand also recorded a decrease (of 34).
Then there is Europe.
When I first started running over the figures, I was curious to discover that Croatia had registered a decrease (of 108) and wondered whether the same could be said of surrounding countries. (I live in Croatia, incase my interest in that particular country confuses you!) Indeed, it emerged that Italy (-28), Slovenia (-22), Hungary (-365), Serbia (-6) and Bosnia and Herzegovina (-24) all registered diminished populations of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Intrigued, I decided to crunch the numbers properly and produce a map of European nations where JWs are in decline. This is what I ended up with:
If you are a Jehovah’s Witness who believes fervently in the “good news” being preached in all nations, and in Armageddon only being held back by God because he wants to bring in more JWs, the above map should be a very depressing spectacle. An alternative map, showing the figures for some of the European countries, can be seen below…
As you can see, even some European countries that are not in decline only squeezed the most modest of increases. Iceland has 1 extra publisher to show for 82,162 hours of preaching, and the United Kingdom with its 1,613 congregations, 2,309 baptisms and 24.8 million hours of preaching mustered only 26 more publishers than the previous year.
These figures are cataclysmic for Watchtower and may explain why there was such a delay in the 2017 Yearbook being made available. A letter to all congregations dated May 21, 2016 promised congregations that the book would be released online “beginning in October” of 2016. It’s anyone’s guess as to why it has now emerged on JW.org around 3 months behind schedule, but I believe the appalling results could be a factor. I could well understand the Governing Body and other Watchtower higher-ups needing time to digest the bad news and decide how it fits in with their theological narrative for when the inevitable letters from worried JWs start coming in.
As for why there are decreases in so many countries, I believe it is safe to suggest that thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses do not appreciate being lied to and are increasingly voting with their feet. Rather than making their teachings more reasonable and loving, the Governing Body has stubbornly held to dictating teachings and policies that are increasingly unrecognizable from most interpretations of Christianity.
The Yearbook itself furnishes a good example of the radical leanings of Watchtower’s modern leadership, with page 26 boasting about a boy in England who has been baptized as young as eight. Of course, many JWs will read this kind of story and be thrilled that the good news is being preached “out of the mouth of babes.” But a growing number are capable of interpreting accounts like this as sickening evidence of a cult that will stop at nothing to further its own interests.
If Watchtower is desperate enough to welcome the inclusion of eight-year-olds in its membership role-call, its outlook must be bleak. Those like myself who yearn to see the organization lose its grip on the minds of loved ones deserve to take a moment to celebrate the emancipation of so many who have found their freedom in recent months. Watchtower is clearly floundering in the information age and news of its diminishing influence in so many countries is a moment to savor.