Part 1 – Is wondrous expansion now taking place?
If you are one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, then your whole outlook on the bible and life itself will be defined by the teachings of the Watch Tower Society. You accept these teachings without question, because these come down to us from the “Faithful Slave Class”, as represented by the Governing Body. At your baptism, likely you answered a loud and affirmative “yes!” to the following question:
“Do you understand that your dedication and baptism identify you as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses in association with God’s spirit-directed organization?” (Organized To Do Jehovah’s Will, page 215)
If someone were to ask why, as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, you believe that the Watch Tower Society is God’s spirit-directed organization, you would likely give any one of the following answers:
- Because of the wondrous expansion of Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide
- Because only Jehovah’s Witnesses show true love for one another (John 13:35)
- Because Jehovah’s Witnesses are the only ones preaching the good news worldwide (Matt 24:14)
- Because Jesus Christ chose the early Bible Students to be his earthly congregation in 1919
It may be that you consider ALL of the above answers to be satisfactory in explaining why the Society has God’s backing. Certainly, all answers are used to varying degrees in the Society’s publications to support the idea that they enjoy Jehovah’s approval and direction. However, do these answers hold up under close scrutiny, without religious or emotional bias?
To find out, I’ve prepared a series of four articles to discuss each of these “criteria” for divine direction, of which this is the first. You are invited to examine each article, weigh the information carefully, and reach your own conclusions as to whether Jehovah’s Witnesses truly represent God’s organization on Earth today. In so doing, you will be taking to heart the words found at 2 Corinthians 13:5, where Paul says: “Keep testing whether you are in the faith, keep proving what you yourselves are.”
So with this in mind, let’s begin by discussing the first criterion for God’s backing of the organization, namely the seemingly ‘wondrous expansion’ being enjoyed by Jehovah’s Witnesses around the globe.
Worldwide Growth as Evidence
Without wishing to burst anyone’s bubble, the worldwide growth of Jehovah’s Witnesses between 2010 and 2011 was very low indeed, at a mere 2.4%. If you were to calculate only the growth in developed countries mentioned in the worldwide report, this figure would drop to as little as 1.2%. However, for the sake of argument, let’s focus on the official growth figure of 2.4%. When considering this statistic, you might feel inclined to proclaim: “Well that’s still growth! The numbers continue to swell to as many as 7,659,019 peak publishers in 2011!”
Well, consider this. The population of the Earth is estimated at 7 billion. When 7.6 million publishers are considered against the backdrop of this vast and staggering number of people, they pale almost into insignificance. Simply put, little more than 0.1% of the Earth’s population are active Jehovah’s Witnesses, or 1 in every 914 people. Assuming that Jehovah will kill all those who are not Jehovah’s Witnesses at Armageddon (as often insinuated in the Society’s literature), this means that 99.9% of the Earth’s population are due for annihilation. That would be comparable with every human soul on Earth dying, apart from all those living in the State of Virginia (with its estimated population of approximately 8,096,604). So in that context, does last year’s growth figure of 2.4%, a net increase of 151,000 publishers, still sound so impressive?
Let’s assume that 2.4% is indicative of the future growth in the number of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and it never decreases or increases. Imagine the Society set an ambitious target of reaching 14 million publishers before Armageddon. It would take another 25 years for us to reach that figure, and (assuming the world’s population remained the same) Jehovah’s Witnesses would still only amount to 0.2% of the planet’s inhabitants, equivalent to the population of Guatemala, or one Jehovah’s Witness for every 500 people. Do you honestly believe that only one in every 500 people would be considered by Jesus as being a good person, worthy of salvation? Can you imagine Jesus, if he were on Earth today, stopping to talk to every 500th person, but ignoring the rest – as these are condemned to death?
Without wishing to sound disrespectful or in any way blasphemous concerning God’s purpose, let’s for a moment imagine that Jehovah decided to bring Armageddon at the point where 1% of the Earth’s population are Jehovah’s Witnesses – that’s 1 in every 100 people worldwide (still a very “narrow door”). Based on the current growth rate, we would need to wait until 2105 for this to happen – a staggering 93 years in the future! And that’s without factoring in the projected rise in the Earth’s population over that period.
Now let’s return to the current publisher figures, and imagine that Jehovah brought Armageddon tomorrow and saved a more generous number of, say, 140 million survivors (roughly the population of Bangladesh) – which is still just 2% of the Earth’s population, or 1 in every 50 people. Assuming that every single member of Jehovah’s Witnesses was included among those saved, they would still only make up 5.5% of all survivors – a tiny fraction by anyone’s standards.
I give these explanations and illustrations to highlight the fact that, as a religion, Jehovah’s Witnesses are nowhere near as significant in number as we are led to believe. Given that Jehovah’s Witnesses only make up 0.1% of the Earth’s population, it’s highly flattering that we receive any attention from the press and media at all – and often this only comes as a result of our controversial policies such as those connected with blood transfusions or the handling of child abuse cases.
2.4% may sound to some like an impressive growth statistic, but when considering the number of Jehovah’s Witnesses in relation to the world’s population, and the size and scope of the global preaching work, this statistic falls woefully short of what would be considered meaningful growth for an organization of our size and aspirations.
Conversion Matches Gestation
According to the 2011 worldwide report, last year 6,487 hours were spent in field service for every baptism (1,707,094,710 hours to achieve 263,131 baptisms). That’s 270 days, or 9 months of solid field service (round the clock) to produce a baptized publisher from doorstep to baptism pool. We’re not talking about 9 months of visiting someone every week or so, we’re talking 9 months of preaching to someone all day, every day, with no sleep. In simple terms, the average speed of conversion can now barely keep pace with the speed of human gestation in the womb!
But let’s think about this in more practical terms. After all, we would be physically unable to study with somebody flat-out, 24 hours each day, for 9 months – let alone find somebody who would be willing to endure such a study regime. What about if we spent the average number of hours in ministry each month? According to the worldwide report, the average number of hours per publisher is approximately 18. If you were to spend 18 hours each month studying with just this one potential convert, on average it would take 30 years of studying to bring him or her to baptism based on the figures mentioned above. 30 years!
We might well ask ourselves: if it’s proving so very difficult and time-consuming to attract new ones to the good news and bring them to baptism, despite the great variety of publications that we have available, can this really be clear evidence that we as an organization are enjoying God’s blessing? Can the “truth” really be as simple and easy for people to grasp as we are led to believe? Consider the following words of Jesus, which convey how simple the truth should be to grasp:
“I publicly praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and intellectual ones and have revealed them to babes.” (Matthew 11:25, New World Translation)
So, when we honestly and carefully consider this first criterion for divine backing, we are forced to admit that using worldwide expansion as evidence for divine direction is an exaggeration at best, and a deception at worst. Furthermore, there is growing evidence to suggest that the Society is in decline, or at least scaling down on its operations. The impact of this is only now being felt, but if the Society continues to shrink in size (i.e. the number of branches) and printed output, then it won’t be long before a similar downturn is observed in our publisher figures. After all, the preaching work is heavily reliant on having printed publications to offer on the ministry. If it takes 9 months of 24-hour preaching to produce each new publisher, one can only imagine how many months or years it would take to achieve this goal without any literature to offer on the doorstep, or to study with interested ones!
If you are an active Jehovah’s Witness, you may have found the above information difficult to take in – but you are to be commended for being brave enough to give it careful thought. In the next article in this series, I will discuss further reasons why the Watch Tower Society’s claims of divine backing may be misleading.