It was apparently announced today, during the annual meeting of Jehovah’s Witnesses, that the publication of their Yearbook would soon cease.* This is quite a switch from when I was an active Witness, as the Yearbook was something many Witnesses looked forward to eagerly. This book gives a rundown of stats and figures of Witnesses worldwide, along with experiences from around the world.
Of course, it’s anyone’s guess as to the real reason why this book is apparently no longer going to be published, but I’d like to offer my theories.
One statistic included in the Yearbook is the number of “Memorial partakers.” For those unfamiliar, Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that only 144,000 persons will go to heaven when they die, with the rest of approved Jehovah’s Witnesses living forever in a paradise on earth. (See this website for more information about that teaching.)
Jehovah’s Witnesses observe the passing of the bread and the wine only once per year, which they call the “Memorial of Christ’s death,” or just the “Memorial.” According to their teaching, only those who belong in that small group of 144,000 (“the anointed,” or “the remnant”) should partake of that bread and wine.
Since, according to Jehovah’s Witnesses, the number of persons who are to go to heaven is finite or fixed, it would seem logical that the number of those partakers would decrease every year, as those in that group would eventually pass away. Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves embraced this thinking:
“Over the past seven years, from 1974 to 1980 inclusive, Jehovah’s Witnesses have made steady progress. Their growth is healthy. Only as to Memorial partakers has there been a gradual decline, which is in accord with Scriptural expectations.” (1981 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses, p.31)
However, there have apparently been over 186,000 partakers from the years 2000 to 2016 alone (see this website). Because of this outright conflict with their own teaching, Jehovah’s Witnesses have said that some who would partake may have a “mental or emotional imbalance”¹ or that they “mistakenly think that they are anointed.”²
Having to come out publicly and say that persons in your own religion are either A) proving your own teaching to be faulty, or B) mentally and emotionally imbalanced and don’t know their own hope for the future, is a futile endeavor, and it doesn’t make the religion look good. However, by discontinuing the Yearbook, no one except those at the headquarters of the religion will know how many persons actually partake of the bread and wine, and Jehovah’s Witnesses will no longer need to cover their own tracks and refute the actions of their own members.
Publishing your religion’s growth rate can be a good thing, if your religion is continually growing; this cannot be said for Jehovah’s Witnesses, as what little growth they experience seems paltry when compared to the number of hours that are reportedly spent preaching and trying to make new converts. Anyone who runs down their facts and figures, using any accounting method, is probably not going to be overly impressed, especially given the number of hours put into preaching.
Pictures I’ve seen inside Kingdom Halls as of late show half-empty auditoriums, and the Pew Research Institute reported that Jehovah’s Witnesses have the lowest retention rate of any religion, with some 63% of those raised as Jehovah’s Witnesses eventually leaving the faith. (See “Jehovah’s Witnesses: A Case Study in Viral Marketing.”)
By discontinuing the Yearbook, Jehovah’s Witnesses no longer need to face scrutiny over their apparently stagnating ranks. They can tell their members that “Jehovah is speeding up the work,” and that they’re experiencing phenomenal growth, and whatever else they want their members to believe, and their congregants will be none the wiser.
The Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses will always include experiences from around the world, but I personally have found some of those experiences to be a bit dubious, at best. In the column, “Did the 2016 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses Lie In Their Very First Experience?” I note how their first experience in that Yearbook mentioned a couple who “removed their tattoos,” before ever meeting Jehovah’s Witnesses, and with no mention of the pain and expense of such a process.
While I can’t come right out and state for certain that this experience was a lie, the mention of multiple tattoo removal in such a flippant, casual way called into question the truthfulness of the experience; in turn, this calls into question the genuineness of all the experiences in the Yearbooks, at least those that cannot be backed up with photos, exact locations, and the like. Again, by not publishing a Yearbook, the Witnesses no longer face such scrutiny over these experiences.
As said, no one but the governing body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and whoever else makes such decisions at their headquarters, knows for certain the thought process behind discontinuing this Yearbook, if this is actually their plans. However, when one particular publication proves your teachings, growth rate, and experiences to be dubious and downright questionable, you are faced with two options; fix your teachings and truthfulness, or just discontinue that publication … and here we are.
*Editor’s note: Since the initial publication of this post, this information has been confirmed via a copy of an October 7, 2017, letter sent to all congregations worldwide, which says, in part, “Encouraging reports about the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses in other lands are now provided regularly by means of JW Broadcasting and jw.org. Therefore, the Yearbook will no longer be published. When the worldwide field service report for the 2017 service year becomes available, this information will be published in the “About Us” section of jw.org.”
¹”A number of factors — including past religious beliefs or even mental or emotional imbalance — might cause some to assume mistakenly that they have the heavenly calling.” (August 15, 2011, Watchtower, p.22)
²”In recent years, we have seen an increase in the number of those partaking at the Memorial of Christ’s death. … The number of partakers includes those who mistakenly think that they are anointed. … Others may have mental or emotional problems that lead them to believe that they will rule with Christ in heaven. Therefore, the number of partakers does not accurately indicate the number of anointed ones left on earth.” (January 2016 Watchtower study edition, pp.25-26)