My math must be off. I’m good with numbers but admit I’m no accountant, so my math must be off. I must be missing something.
The 2016 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses was just recently released online, and this book contains all their important stats and figures when it comes to their preaching work, attendance, congregations, and so on. I’m sure much dissecting of the numbers will be done, but what I find inexplicable is that Jehovah’s Witnesses claim to have spent, worldwide, some 1,933,473,727 hours in their preaching work last year. That’s almost 2 billion, with a B.
Yet, their average number of publishers (the term used for those who actively go out in their preaching work) increased from 7,867,958 to merely 7,987,279 worldwide, or by only 119,321.
No, I’m missing something. Jehovah’s Witnesses spent almost 2 billion hours talking to people about the bible, reading them their Watchtower literature and bringing them to their Kingdom Halls, only to see 119,321 people join their ranks?
That’s a Lot of Hours, and Lives, Lost
Some people like to have numbers broken down for them, so note that there are 8,760 hours in a year. Two billion hours is the equivalent of over 228,000 years; figure about 80 years per lifespan, and that’s the life of some 2,850 people, from birth to death. So, if I’m not mistaken, Jehovah’s Witnesses spent the equivalent of 228,000 years or the full 80-year lifespan of 2,850 people preaching, just to convert the equivalent of a nice American suburb.
Figuring the Children … This Gets Tricky
When figuring these numbers, you then also need to consider how many children of Jehovah’s Witnesses are considered publishers or preachers, and who go out in this preaching work and get baptized at the behest of their parents. As a child becomes old enough, they start preaching and then become “publishers,” and their numbers are added to these stats.
Publishers then eventually go on to get baptized; according to the 2016 yearbook, there were some 260,273 newly baptized Jehovah’s Witnesses last year. Well, there are also tons of pictures and experiences of children of Jehovah’s Witnesses getting baptized, which needs to be figured into that number.
There’s no way to determine this accurately, but consider a typical congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses when it comes to the number of adults versus children who are counted as publishers. There are the parents, elderly ones, single adult JWs, and those who are in the religion without their families; would that make up 2/3 of a congregation’s publishers? Take those away from the 8 million-ish Jehovah’s Witnesses and you’re left with about 2,600,000 children of JWs who are publishers. Only 260,000 persons were baptized; that’s just one-tenth that number. One out of ten children of Jehovah’s Witnesses who preach then get baptized each year? I can honestly say that number isn’t too far-fetched, from my memory and experiences as an active JW.
Of course these numbers can be adjusted in any way; you might assume that children make up far less than 1/3 the number of publishers and those who were baptized, or far more, and this could certainly be true. The point is, no matter how you figure it, when you add* children who are raised in the religion to the number of newly baptized ones and the 119,000 who just became publishers this past year, new converts from outside the religion are obviously few and far between.
(*This phrase may have confused a few readers; I’m saying that when you “account for” the children who are raised in the religion. I’m not sure if that would mean add or subtract them to the overall number, but I think most people get the point. Sorry for any confusion.)
This also eliminates the argument that there are more converts than the 119,000 since you need to make up for those who die off or leave the religion; if 1 million Jehovah’s Witnesses pass away or leave the religion in a year, you need to bring in another 1 million just to keep the numbers even, right? Except for every one elderly person in a congregation who passes away and every member who leaves the religion that year, you’ll have one child of a JW who starts to preach and becomes a “publisher.” It’s a wash, whatever the actual math.
Return on Investment
The yearbook notes that Jehovah’s Witnesses saw a 1.5% increase in the past year, which is just slightly higher than the world’s population growth of 1.18% (per The Guardian). This increase may seem impressive to some; after all, it’s more than just keeping up with the rate of population. That’s fine, but it’s the work put into preaching versus how many people actually join the religion that make the stats seem so paltry and devastating. Two billion hours, versus 119,000 converts, if that?
I’m sure those hours also don’t include their website and new TV channel. I can’t imagine that the 2 billion hours they say they’ve spent preaching includes the hours of streaming television they have available, and obviously can’t include their own website, set up for research but also for converting others. Two billion hours, as well as a fancy website and TV station, and for what? An average suburban population.
The yearbook stated that there are currently 118,016 congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide. This increase of 119,000 is just a bit more than one new person for each congregation in the world. One new person, for the hundred or so publishers who go out in their preaching work day after day, week after week, tossing their literature at anything that moves. One person, for all that work?
No, I’m missing something.
God’s Blessing Seems a Bit Thin
What is also suspect is how Jehovah’s Witnesses often discuss their growth and increase in the context of how this proves they have god’s blessing, and must be the only true organization. Note this quote from the May 15, 2014, Watchtower:
“Because of the global preaching and teaching activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses, millions of people have learned to worship God “with spirit and truth.” (John 4:23, 24) For example, in a recent ten-year period —during the service years of 2003 through 2012— more than 2,707,000 individuals were baptized in symbol of their dedication to God. Worldwide, there are now well over 7,900,000 Witnesses, with millions more associating with them, especially during the annual observance of the Memorial. We do not boast in numbers, for it is ‘God who keeps making things grow.’ (1 Cor. 3:5-7) Nevertheless, it is evident that the great crowd is growing and becoming greater with each passing year.
There has been remarkable growth in the number of God’s servants because Jehovah himself is backing his Witnesses. (Read Isaiah 43:10-12.) This increase was foretold in these prophetic words: “The little one will become a thousand and the small one a mighty nation. I myself, Jehovah, will speed it up in its own time.” (Isa. 60:22) At one time, the anointed remnant were like “the little one,” but their number grew as other spiritual Israelites were brought into God’s organization. (Gal. 6:16) Because of Jehovah’s blessing over the years, the increase continues with the gathering of the great crowd.”
So, they “do not boast in numbers,” (or so they claim right after boasting their numbers), but they do come right out and say that Jehovah himself is backing their work and their religion, as supposedly proven by those numbers. However, I need to question this so-called “backing.” How can you put in some 2 billion hours of preaching, not to mention a website and TV channel, and boast only 119,000 new members if you have the backing of almighty god himself? All that pavement pounding just to knock on the doors of empty houses, calling back on potential bible studies who are never home and never commit, standing on street corners with carts that no one even notices; this all seems like a waste, not an effective work with solid results that unquestionably have god’s “backing.” If this was a financial return on investment, it would be called a miserable failure, a scam, a Ponzi scheme, a shell game. I wonder what we should call the religion.
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