This Sunday, Jehovah’s Witnesses around the world will gather to study the Watchtower article, “‘Rightly Disposed’ Ones Are Responding.” The article cites the “remarkable growth” that Jehovah’s Witnesses have experienced and calls attention to some statistics from the religion’s annual report. In looking at their internal statistics the Watchtower does not give equal consideration to the shocking number of Jehovah’s Witnesses that leave their ranks. However, an independent survey released today highlights that very thing.
The report, from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, shows that of American religions, Jehovah’s Witnesses have the lowest retention rate of any religious tradition, with only 37% of all those who say they were raised as Jehovah’s Witnesses still identifying themselves as Jehovah’s Witnesses. About this, the Time magazine article America’s Unfaithful Faithful states,
An even more extreme example of what might be called “masked churn” is the relatively tiny Jehovah’s Witnesses, with a turnover rate of about two-thirds. That means that two-thirds of the people who told Pew they were raised Jehovah’s Witnesses no longer are – yet the group attracts roughly the same number of converts. Notes [Pew Forum Director Luis] Lugo, “No wonder they have to keep on knocking on doors.”
This study simply cites something that honest Jehovah’s Witnesses have noticed for years. In 2006, just prior to being expelled from the religion, I wrote the following in a letter to members of my congregation:
Of what benefit is it if we spend 6,000 hours in the field service to bring one person to a knowledge of the truth when in the meantime twenty brothers and sisters have slipped out the back door due to discouragement or lack of attention? Our ministry would be in vain! Please remember that we are to “work what is good toward all, but especially those related to us in the faith.”
The religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses is geared toward door-to-door proselytizing, which they commonly refer to as “service”. There are internal monthly time quotas that members of the congregation must maintain in order to remain “in good standing”. Congregation elders, in particular, are heavily scrutinized by the amount of time they spend each month in the door-to-door work. Even if they are fine shepherds, diligently caring for the needs of the flock, they can be removed from service if their time consistently falls short of the expectation.
Like most people today, members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, are incredibly busy. Elders are generally family men, working full time jobs, with heavy religious organizational responsibilities on top of that. The failure lies in that so much attention is placed on making converts, in the time crunch the needs of existing members of the congregation often go neglected. The challenge that Jehovah’s Witness elders face is if they should spend their limited time visiting and encouraging members of the congregation or proselytizing. Sadly, because they cannot count the time spent shepherding the flock on their monthly report the door-to-door “witnessing” work wins out and the congregation continues to suffer.
Despite the Watchtower’s claims otherwise, the door-to-door work is highly ineffective. For example during their last “service year”, Jehovah’s Witnesses spent some 1,431,761,554 hours engaged in their public ministry work. However, during that time only 298,304 were baptized. This means that the individual Jehovah’s Witness, who spends an average of 10 hour each month in the work, will take an amazing 40 years to make one convert! Even at that, the majority of new members come, not from the public ministry, but through more family and informal personal connections. Nevertheless, the new Watchtower continues to push Jehovah’s Witnesses to focus near exclusively on their trademark, door knocking, form of evangelism. In the meantime, these statistics show that the religion is not meeting the needs of its adherents he dwindle over time.