home > interesting topics > statistics

Jehovah's Witness Statistics

Since 1995, statistics for the Watchtower Society have rapidly become less encouraging in almost every indicator. Most dramatic have been the increase in people leaving and the number of hours preaching required to gain one additional publisher.

American studies show that Jehovah's Witnesses now have the highest turnover of any religion,1 as supported by Watchtower figures presented in this section. This dramatic change in growth of Jehovah's Witnesses coincides with the change of the generation teaching in 1995, and access to information via the Internet.

number that leave Jehovah's witnesses each year

In the 10 years from 1996 to 2005 there were 2,968,732 baptisms, yet the increase in average publishers was only 1,439,672. This shows 1,529,060 stopped publishing. Even accounting for the average death rate, over 1 million Witnesses left in a 10 year period.

There are limitations to how much can be read into each individual statistic. For instance "hours preaching required per baptism" is limited in that it cannot be determined how many baptisms were newly interested people from the territory, and how many were children raised as Jehovah's Witnesses. The figure for publishers includes those not yet baptised ("“Publishers” includes baptized Witnesses of Jehovah as well as unbaptized ones who qualify to be Kingdom preachers." w11 8/15 p.22) and it cannot be determined how many that become publishers go on to be baptised. Furthermore, the Watchtower has changed criteria over the years, such as reducing the minimum time to be counted a publisher to just 15 minutes per month for some individuals and reducing the hours required to be considered a pioneer. What is readily apparent is that the trends show a significant drop in growth and increase in the percentages leaving.

For the figures these statistics are based on, click for the annual Watchtower publisher reports and data table.

Average publishers

The most important statistics are percentage growth rates; these show a significant drop since 1995.

In the 5 years prior to 1975 the number of publishers was increasing at an average of 15% per year. During the 1980s and early 1990s growth continued at over 5% per year. This has fallen to between 1 - 3%, hardly more than the world's population growth of 1.2%. A large number of new publishers are teenagers that were raised as Jehovah's Witnesses. This indicates that almost 2 billion hours of preaching a year only brings enough new people to the Watchtower Society to replace the children that leave.

The following graph highlights the consequence of such a decrease on the number of Jehovah's Witnesses, and powerfully demonstrates the effect of compounding growth. The rate of growth of publishers has dropped from an average 5.64% per annum over the 15 years prior to 1995, to 2.55% in the 15 years after 1995. Had growth remained above 5%, the 4,950,344 Witnesses in 1995 would have exceeded 11 million in 2010. Instead, there were only 7 million in 2010 - a difference of 4 million people. Factors on conversion and retention, such as Internet education, resulted in growth of 2 million instead of 6 million, just one third of that expected in 1995.

Click here for the figures used in this graph.

Note:

  • Publisher growth tends to spike in times of uncertainty, such as after the events of September 11, 2001, earthquakes or global recession, but these spikes are short lived.
  • The Watchtower Society artificially increased numbers in 20022 by allowing publishers to report 15-minutes preaching in one month.

Baptisms

The number of baptisms reached a high of over 375,000 in 1997. Since then there has been a rapid fall of 30% to an average of 250,000 per year. When comparing baptisms to the increase in average publishers there is one to two hundred thousand people unaccounted for each year. This figure is examined in more detail later.

Baptisms have halved as a percentage over the last decade. Strikingly, as shown later, since 1997 the rate of baptisms has been around double the publisher growth rate, meaning that for every two people baptised almost one is leaving.

In 1969 there was one baptism for every 1,983 hours of preaching. During the 1980s it had risen to 3,000 hours. From 1990 to 2005 the number of hours preaching required per baptism increased from 3000 to 5000, an increase of 60%.

More significant is the number of hours required for an additional publisher. Due to the large increase in Witnesses leaving the religion, the number of hours preaching required per additional publisher has doubled from 4,000 in the early 1990's to over 8,000 since 2000. The difference from 1991 and 2005 from 4,000 to 16,000 is 400%.

A remarkable comparison is total Average Bible Studies to Baptisms. Whilst there is roughly one Bible study conducted every month for each publisher, only a minute amount of these ever progress to baptism. Although the number of studies has doubled in the last 20 years to 8 million, the number of baptisms continues to languish below 300,000.

The percentage of Bible studies that get baptised have dropped dramatically. The Annual Number Baptised compared to Average Monthly Studies has fallen from a high of around 1 in 5 (22%) to now a mere 1 in 32 (3.1%). This rapidly falling conversion rate must be of grave concern to the Governing Body.

Growth compared to total publishers

This graph highlights the low growth rate proportional to total publishers.

Extrapolations

The following graphs are only approximations, as they include global average estimations on figures such as death rates, and numbers disfellowshipped. They do however uncover interesting information and trends.

Number Leaving

Subtracting the increase in average publishers from the number baptised each year can be used to determine the number of Jehovah's Witnesses that leave each year.

After factoring in those that have died, the number that stop publishing each year trends around 80,000. This is an aggregate number as the number that stop each year is higher than this, but is compensated for by those that start preaching again after a period of inactivity.

A more detailed analysis appears later to identify factors such as death rate and number disfellowshipped.

Percentage that stopped publishing compared to number baptised

The increase in publishers is only about half the number baptised. For this reason, Jehovah's Witnesses have the highest turnover of any mainstream religion.

"Jehovah's Witnesses are most "mobile." Accounting for less than 1 percent of American adults, one-third of their members leave the group, and two-fifths join from another religion."
(Leadership Currents Shaping Our World: Switched after Birth July 1, 2003 www.ctlibrary.com/le/2003/summer/19.7.html as displayed on 24th January 2007)

The comment in Leadership magazine is supported by the following analysis of Watchtower publisher reports. The number leaving has been calculated by comparing the number baptised with the increase in average publishers. I have taken into account an average death rate of around 0.85% per year, based on 5 yearly average information from cia.gov.au. The percentage leaving is the number that stop publishing, and does not necessarily correlate with the number that stop attending meetings, as it includes:

  • people disfellowshipped/disassociated
  • people that have faded from meetings
  • people that may attend meetings but have become inactive in reporting

There is a timing difference between when a person starts publishing and gets baptised, but this averages out over the time period represented.

After accounting for the death rate it is still generally in excess of 20% each year.

This is one of the most telling graphs, showing that the number of people leaving has tripled from the rate in the early 1990's. For the 10 years from 1986 to 1995 the rate was an average of 12%; for the 10 years from 1996 to 2005 it had risen to 41%.

Inactive and Faders

The number that have stopped publishing includes some that are disfellowshipped and a portion that died. The third category are those that voluntarily stop preaching. This is made up of people that no longer believe it is the truth and fade from meetings without getting disfellowshipped, and others that still believe but become inactive in the preaching work. This category has also seen significant increase since 1995. However, this is also the most volatile group. Many inactive ones are uncertain of their beliefs, and reactivate in times of crisis, out of fear of the imminence of Armageddon.

The negative numbers in some years indicate that a net rejuvenation of publishers, as some that stopped publishing in previous years start to report again. These periods of reactivation are seen to follow times of crisis, such as the terrorist attacks in 2001, or the earthquakes and Global Financial Crisis starting 2009. Once the crises fades from memory, these weak individuals soon fade again from the ministry.

This figure has been calculated in the following way;

    Baptisms
  • less Growth in publishers
  • less 1.00% disfellowshipped
  • add 0.33% reinstated
  • less death rate = Unaccounted/Inactive

Breakdown of Baptisms, Increases and the number that Leave

1997 was the peak of a long period of year on year growth in baptisms. The following graph shows that not only did the number of baptisms start to drop at that time, but also the number of people that stop preaching. Up until 1995, the number that stopped publishing (the purple section) was a small fraction in comparison to the increase in publishers (yellow column). Since then, the number of people leaving has grown to the point where on occasion it exceeded the increase in average publishers, such as in 1999.

The years 1983/4/5 and 2009 have a negative purple column, indicating more people reactivated than stopped publishing. It is likely the early 1980's result was that some who went inactive after the failure of the 1975 predictions came back to the religion. In 2009 it seems economic uncertainty and end of the world fears brought a number of inactive back.

For the sake of accuracy, this graph takes into account the death rate as discussed earlier.

Breakdown by Continent - 2011

Ratio Jehovah's Witnesses per population graphed

Comparing the number of Jehovah's Witnesses by continent highlights how dependant ones chance of belonging to the religion is on place of birth. The Americas have by far the highest saturation of Witnesses, with one witness for every 249 people. This is followed by Europe and Oceania. These are all traditionally Christian Continents and it becomes immediately apparent that the success of Jehovah’s Witnesses is dependant on the success of Christianity before it.

Africa has about half the rate of Witnesses of Europe, which follows on from Africa being fairly evenly split between Muslims and Christians. Christian African countries have high Witness density levels, similar to Latin America.

In the Hindu/Muslim area of Asia/Middle East there is a tiny fraction of Jehovah’s Witnesses, signified by the tall green column. Despite a population of over 4 billion people in Asia/Middle East, the number of publishers increased by only 12,399.

Click here for a summary of the figures used, as taken from the 2011 and 2012 Yearbooks.

5 Year Figures

Comparing the figures over 5 year time-frames evens out some of the spikes. Several hundred thousand people are unaccounted for every five years, over half the number baptised.

Long Term Peak Figures

The highest percentage growth rates were in the 1970's and highest numerical growth in the early 1990's. Long term figures show a dramatic decrease in the percentage growth rates when making comparison of the early 1970's with the 21st century.

Memorial Attendance

For information on memorial partakers see 1935 and Memorial Partakers

Growth in memorial attendance aligns closely with the growth in publishers, and represents about 2.6 times the number of average publishers. Interestingly, the difference was 2.0 in the 1960's but steadily increased until it stabilised at 2.6 since the 1980's. Many of these attendees may be considered fence sitters, hedging their bets that if Armageddon is real and does occur they will jump back on board.

Conclusion

"Jehovah is not slow respecting his promise, as some people consider slowness, but he is patient with YOU because he does not desire any to be destroyed but desires all to attain to repentance." 2 Peter 3:9

The Watchtower explains that the Last Days have continued for so long because Jehovah desires all to attain to repentance.

"However, God finds no pleasure in the death of the wicked one. Rather, he delights to see people repent, turn back from their bad ways, and keep living. (Ezekiel 33:11) Consequently, he is exercising patience and is having the good news declared in all the earth so that people may have every opportunity to live." Watchtower 2006 Feb 1 p.18

If only active Jehovah's Witnesses will be saved, then 2 Peter 3:9 and Watchtower comments about God's patience do not make sense. On average, over 200,000 people are born everyday, but the number of active Jehovah's Witnesses increases by only 224 (2005 daily increase in average publishers). Each day that Armageddon delays requires Jehovah to destroy an extra 200,000 people.

It has been stated that Jehovah is speeding up the growth of the Watchtower Society, with predictions that the momentum would continue.

"JEHOVAH is now speeding up the ingathering of sheeplike ones. Surely, then, this is no time for his people to slow down in their Kingdom-preaching and disciple-making work. (Isaiah 60:8, 22; Matthew 24:14; 28:19, 20) Indeed, increased witnessing activity by so many more publishers and pioneers is now stirring up the world field. And the momentum of this joyous ingathering will yet grow. Isaiah 60:11" Watchtower 1988 Jul 15 p.15

Statistics show this no longer holds true. It will take major policy change for the Watchtower Society to have a hope of turning this trend around and start growing at any significant rate.


Notes on how Statistics derived

The following statistical information has been used in the estimation of some figures above:

Number disfellowshipped annually - 1.00%

This is based on the Watchtower 1992 Jul 1 p.19

"In recent years disfellowshippings worldwide have been approximately 1 percent of publishers."

One percent is a conservative estimate. For example, the Watchtower 1986 Jan 1 p.13 stated;

"It is to be noted, also, that during the past year, 36,638 individuals had to be disfellowshipped from the Christian congregation."

In 1985 average publishers were 2,865,183, so 36,638 represented 1.28%.

"Unfortunately, during the 1986 service year, 37,426 had to be disfellowshipped from the Christian congregation." Watchtower 1987 Sep 15 p.13

Of the 3,063,289 publishers in 1986, this represented 1.22%

Number reinstated - 0.33%

I have used an average figure of 1/3 of the number disfellowshipped subsequently being reinstated. This is based on the following comments.

"36,671 persons had to be disfellowshiped for various kinds of serious wrongdoing. Yet, in that same period 14,508 persons were reinstated." Watchtower 1974 Aug 1 p. 466

This equates to 39.6% being reinstated.

"During the service year of 1958-1959 there were 6,552 individuals disfellowshiped by the New World society of Jehovahs witnesses for various reasons ... and there were 1,597 ... Reinstated." Watchtower 1960 Dec 1 p.728

This equates to only 24% reinstated.

Number died

The CIA World Fact Book has been used for calculations that include the global population death rate, with esa.un.org/unpp/index.asp?panel=2 providing the rate averaged over 5 year periods. Where indicated, the above statistics take into account the number of Witnesses that die each year, so as not to over inflate the numbers leaving.

Average versus Peak Publishers

I have generally used average publishers rather than peak publishers, as peak publishers is an inaccurate figure due to how the Watchtower Society collects this data. For example, if a publisher forgets to report in January and lodges their January and February reports at the end of February, the January report is not adjusted. Both reports are added to February, creating an artificial spike.

"“Peak publishers” is the highest number reporting for any one month of the service year and may include late reports that were not added to the preceding month’s report. In this way some publishers may be counted twice. However, the peak figure does not include the number of publishers who actually shared in the ministry but forgot to report. This emphasizes the importance of each publisher reporting promptly each month. “Average publishers” is the typical number of different ones reporting time in the ministry each month." Watchtower 2011 Aug 15 p.22

Using average publishers helps even out this error.


Footnotes:

1 "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." America's Unfaithful Faithful David Van Biema (news.yahoo.com/s/time/20080225/us_time/americasunfaithfulfaithful February 25 2008)

"Jehovah's Witnesses have the lowest retention rate of any religious tradition. Only 37% of all those who say they were raised as Jehovah's Witnesses still identify themselves as Jehovah's Witnesses." (religions.pewforum.org/reports As at March 8 2008)

"Jehovah's Witnesses are most "mobile." Accounting for less than 1 percent of American adults, one-third of their members leave the group, and two-fifths join from another religion." Currents Shaping Our World: Switched after Birth (ctlibrary.com/le/2003/summer/19.7.html July 1, 2003)

2 "He makes sure that those who are very limited because of advanced age or because of being shut-ins and those who are temporarily limited because of serious illness or injury are aware of the provision that allows them to report field service time in 15-minute increments if they are not able to report a complete hour during one month." Kingdom Ministry 2002 Oct p.8

Further Statistics

Australian Publisher Statistics

United Kingdom Publisher Statistics

United States Publisher Statistics

Towerwatch.com/witnesses/statistics

creative commons copyright    Paul Grundy  2005 - 2014