Perhaps, like me, you have often pondered the above question many times. Whether you are a devout Jehovah’s Witness, or a former believer – you will occasionally hear of drastic changes being made by the Society, and wonder whether there is any deeper significance. If you have grown up in the faith, you will have previously entertained the idea that the Society will always be around in some form, and can only conceivably continue to grow and experience “wonderous expansion”. However, we occasionally hear announcements read out at our meetings that somehow don’t fit with our long-held expectations, leaving us baffled and confused.
For example, a letter dated 2nd April was recently read out to all congregations, stating the following (bold is mine):
The Governing Body has noted the growing tendency for people to obtain reading material from the Internet and has carefully weighed the effect this trend is having on the printing industry and on our ability to obtain paper and equipment for printing. Based on these changing conditions, effective with the issues of January 2013, Awake! and the public edition of The Watchtower will be reduced from 32 pages to 16 pages. These magazines that we distribute to the public will continue to provide a rich supply of enlightening material to attract people to the truth of God’s Word. Since each issue will contain less material, it may be possible for more translation teams to be able to translate every issue of Awake! and the public edition of The Watchtower, thus increasing the number of languages in which they are available. The study edition of The Watchtower will continue to be a 32-page magazine.
When we first heard this letter read out, we may have given it little thought, perhaps only the tiniest of nagging doubts. If the Society is expanding, and we need more spiritual food as we edge deeper into the time of the end, then why are the public Watchtower and Awake! magazines essentially being halved? There must be some good reason.
Well, there is a good reason. It is because the Watch Tower Society is in decline, and has been for several years. This may sound shocking, and I don’t intend to upset anyone – but if you read to the end of this article and examine the facts, you will be left in little doubt.
Before we continue, it’s worth reminding ourselves that the Watch Tower Society is first-and-foremost a publishing company, and has been since the days of Charles Taze Russell. Logically therefore, if something was wrong with the Society (i.e., if it was experiencing serious financial difficulties) a telling sign of these problems would be seen in its printing operations. In particular, you would see a significant drop in its printing commitments over a period of time.
At the start of 2005, the total number of pages in a monthly set of magazines was 128. That’s two 32-page Watchtower magazines, and two 32-page Awake! magazines. Later that year, the Society announced that, starting with the January 2006 articles, there would be only one Awake! published per month. That brought the total pages per set of monthly magazines down to 96 pages.
Now we are told that, beginning with the January 2013 articles to be printed later this year, the number of pages will be reduced still further – bringing the total pages per set of monthly magazines down to just 64! Think about that for a moment. In only 7 years, the Society has halved the amount of magazine pages it is committed to printing each month! This raises serious questions among thinking Witnesses, namely…
- If we are truly living in the final part of the last days, why has the Society so drastically reduced the amount of spiritual food it is providing each month?
- If 64 pages is the correct amount of magazine pages for us to receive from the Faithful Slave, does that mean that for all those decades when we had 128 pages we were receiving too much spiritual food?
- Can Jehovah truly be blessing this organization if it no longer has the resources to fulfil its regular printing commitments?
Each one must reach his or her own conclusions to the above questions, but there can be little doubt that something is going badly wrong for the Watch Tower Society, and the underlying reason can be found right in front of us – in our worldwide report.
Back in the 80s, the Society had a growth rate of between 5 and 7%. This continued until 1996, when the growth rate dipped to 4.4%. The following two years, the growth rate hovered at 3.6% before reaching only 2% in 1999. Since then, the growth has mostly stuttered between 2 and 3%, dipping as low as 1.3% in 2004. You are encouraged to check these figures for yourself in the yearbooks.
When we analyze the latest worldwide report for 2011, we see an interesting picture emerge that explains why the Society is experiencing so many difficulties. Firstly, we see that the Society is especially struggling in lands where people have better access to the internet, whereas in lands with virtually no access to the internet, they are expanding at a greater rate.
This is depicted for us in the following graph, which I produced not long ago after checking the internet penetration data for the countries mentioned in the worldwide report. “Internet penetration” refers to the amount of internet subscribers in a given country expressed as a percentage of the total population, and this information is easily found online. Once known, the internet penetration figures can be directly compared with the Society’s published growth figures, and the results are quite astonishing. The graph below shows a clear correlation in which countries with hardly any internet experience faster growth (as much as 4.58% average growth in countries with between zero and 9.99% internet penetration) whereas countries with high internet access experience slower growth (as little as 0.92% in countries with between 90 and 100% internet penetration). The data used to calculate these figures may be found by clicking here.
Even if we choose to completely ignore the influence of the internet, there is still a notable financial imbalance in the countries experiencing growth. Last year, the overall global increase over 2010 was a meager 2.4%. When you dissect that figure according to whether the separate countries are developed (richer) or developing (poorer), you immediately notice a disparity. 34 of the countries mentioned by the Society are recognized by the IMF (International Monetary Fund) as being developed, or advanced economies. The average growth rate for these 34 wealthier countries was only 1.2%.* Contrast that with an average of 3.09% for the 116 developing countries mentioned, and you soon realize where the problem lies.#
Put simply, the Society relies on donations in order to operate, and the main source of donations is inevitably from publishers in wealthier lands. However, not only is the growth slowing down in these countries (thanks in part to the internet), but the ever-dwindling donations received from these regions must also be spent on servicing the expansion in poorer countries of the third world, where the local publishers are unable to finance the printing of their own literature, or the building of their own kingdom halls. This financial model is completely unsustainable. What you have is…
- The slow growth in wealthier countries dragging down the worldwide growth rate that is fueled by relative expansion in poorer countries.
- The poverty of publishers in poorer countries (experiencing growth) draining the dwindling donations from wealthier countries that are experiencing slow growth.
Not only is the Society unable to function in the longterm with this state of affairs, they are already experiencing a negative impact as the money starts to dry up. This has resulted in drastic measures being taken to reduce costs, abandon expansion plans, and gather in funds from anywhere they can think of. This is partly why the magazine printing commitments have been slashed in such a relatively short period of time.
There is another indicator of the apparent decline of the Watch Tower Society, and this may be found in its recent spate of branch closures and property “fire sales”. I will discuss this in greater detail in the next blog article, which will hopefully give further evidence of what the future holds for this once proud organization.
* The 34 developed countries to which I refer are: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Britain, Canada, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, United States (incl. Hawaii).
# The 116 developing countries to which I refer are: Albania, Angola, Antigua, Argentina, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belize, Benin, Bolivia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Botswana, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Chile, Chuuk, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Costa Rica, Cote d’Ivoire, Croatia, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Fiji, Gabon, Gambia, Georgia, Ghana, Grenada, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Hungary, Indonesia, Jamaica, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kiribati, Kosrae, Kyrgzstan, Latvia, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Madagascar, Malawi, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Mozambique, Namibia, Nauru, Nepal, Nevis, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palau, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Pohnpei, Poland, Romania, Russia, Rwanda, Saint Kitts, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent & the Grenadines, Samoa, Sao Tome & Principe, Senegal, Serbia, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Solomon Islands, Sudan, Suriname, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Tonga, Trinidad & Tobago, Tuvalu, Uganda, Ukraine, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Venezuala, Yap, Zambia, Zimbabwe. This list does not include 8 countries listed by the IMF as newly emerging economies, namely: Brazil, India, Malaysia, Mexico, Philippines, South Africa, Thailand and Turkey (for which the average growth figure was 2.97%). There was also a total of 48 states and islands quoted on the worldwide report that have not been given an official status by the IMF, not to mention the 30 “other lands” that are unidentified by the Society.