British Sociologist Predicts Possible Collapse in Jehovah's Witness Numbers
A newly published article by British sociologist David Voas argues Jehovah's Witnesses may be about to experience a collapse in numbers. Contrary to claims by American sociologist Rodney Stark who predicts strong future growth for Jehovah's Witnesses, Voas shows that Jehovah's Witnesses' efforts at recruiting new members have become increasingly unsuccessful over the past few decades: the rate of increase has steadily declined, and the number of hours each publisher must preach to produce an extra convert has gone up substantially. Voas suggests a reason for the stagnation may be that there is a natural limit to the number of people in a given population that are susceptible to conversion to sectarian groups like Jehovah's Witnesses - the 'carrying capacity' of the population, and that the limit has largely been reached. If that's the case, Voas goes on to argue, as the further efforts of Jehovah's Witnesses meet little success, numbers may subsequently collapse rather than stagnate as disillusionment sets in.
Extract from David Voas - The Trumpet Sounds Retreat: Learning from the Jehovah's Witnesses.
Equilibrium or Collapse?
With the growth of JWs in developed countries stagnating or declining after a long period of growth, one may be reminded of over-fishing in the North Atlantic, where the size of the fleet rapidly increases and then collapses. If there is a mechanism connecting poor recruitment to attrition - and the obvious suggestion is that lack of organizational success leads people to give up - then something similar could happen.
In more technical terms, perhaps the appropriate population pattern is not the simple logistic (S-shaped) curve, but an 'overshoot-and-collapse' model, which in more specific contexts may be described as a potential outcome of a 'predator-prey' system. Without wishing to be pejorative, we may think of the evangelists as the predators, and the potential converts as the prey. With plenty of fish in the sea no problem exists: success is merely a matter of the fisherman's skill and effort and the fish's interest in what is being dangled before it. If too many people are attracted to become fishermen however, the result is over-fishing: stocks decline, productivity drops, the return on investment falls, and eventually some people leave the business. There may still be too many people chasing too few fish, though, particularly since stocks have been reduced, and over-fishing continues even as the number of fishermen declines. The time may come when there is insufficient incentive for anyone to continue fishing, even though there are still fish in the sea. In nature the predator-prey relationship would normally be cyclical, but extinction is possible if one group or the other falls below a sustainable level.
If publishers are discouraged by failure to recruit and are more tempted to become inactive, if they do not see their own efforts and those of fellow publishers rewarded, then the mechanism exists to produce an overshoot and then collapse in total numbers. A point may be reached where diminishing returns from field service become obvious and painful (with, for example, a lifetime of effort producing no conversions). People start to drift away from active participation. The intensity of evangelism is still such, however, that occasional converts are brought in; investment remains high. Attrition continues at a high level; recruitment is no longer high enough to compensate. Numbers will continue to fall.
The proselytizing orientation of the JWs makes them vulnerable to decline when conditions become unfavourable. The rewards of membership are found in possessing and proclaiming the truth, rather than in access to rituals, emotionally uplifting worship, or a range of social opportunities. Meetings resemble training seminars more than conventional religious services. The difficulty is that if recruitment appears to be the raison d'etre of activity, and then for extended periods not merely the individual publisher but the entire congregation experience no success, the consequential loss of morale could be substantial. If members stay firm in their faith and enjoy the solidarity that comes from mutual striving (however fruitless), the position is sustainable. If they are more like members of a pyramid scheme that must continue to grow in order to survive, however, the prospects may be bleak.
What happens after the onset of decline - whether there is a complete collapse or instead a cyclical variation around an equilibrium point - depends on the characteristics of those who become disaffected. If their time as active Witnesses has inoculated them against further spells in the organization - if, in other words, they do not return to the pool of potential recruits once they become inactive - then a major fall in numbers may result. If they return simply to occupy the same niche as before, however, and can be brought back into active service, then the prospects for the JWs are better; numbers will oscillate around the sustainable maximum.
Interesting. I think this would affect other cults fishing the same waters (Mormons, scientologists, moonies, etc)
Do you have a link to the article?
From this book:
I should add that David Voas also goes on to give some good reasons why Jehovah's Witnesses numbers may not collapse but stagnate instead, but I can't type it all out. In either case David Voas does not seem to much prospect for growth - it's either stagnation or collapse.
" whether there is a complete collapse or instead a cyclical variation"
I'd go for the cyclical variation instead of complete collapse. And if the economy and other global conditions get worse their numbers will swell up before reaching equilibrium. It would be interesting to see these predators compete with other fundamentalists for the remaining unconverted prey.
Let's hope the dude is right and even better there is a total collapse ;)
Not that it will help in the long run. There will be others cults come what may.
All the best,
If they do collapse, that sure will take much of the fun out of being an apostate. I might lose my scary, demon-posessed aura.
and the number of hours each publisher must preach to produce an extra convert has gone up substantially
That may not have gone up as substatially as implied. And I'm not looking at numbers in front of me. But, from what I understand, the rules have changed allowing JWs to count more things that they couldn't count before. Like counting as little as 15 minutes of time, counting studies with your family, etc.
So, they're probably not doing any more than they used to, but it allows them to count more. So, total hours goes up, while actual door-to-door remains about the same. More hours, same results = more hours to create a convert.
Don't know that anybody's factored that in. Just sayin...
Jared Diamond's book Collapse indicates many civilizations collapse abruptly after reaching their zenith, so slowing incremental increase by the WTS is a warning sign that doesn't neccessarily indicate long stagnation.
I wouldn't too excited about what he says.
" one may be reminded of over-fishing in the North Atlantic" is a very poor example. In this example the actual population decreases, not the proportion of the population likely to be caught in a net.
The rewards of membership are found in possessing and proclaiming the truth, rather than in access to rituals, emotionally uplifting worship, or a range of social opportunities. Meetings resemble training seminars more than conventional religious services. The difficulty is that if recruitment appears to be the raison d'etre of activity
Thus if I was truly evil and applied myself I could very easily transform the Corporation.........
This is what I have been talking about regarding "mainstreaming"and "mormonizing"....... If the Corp. expanded the rewards and adjusted a few interpretational "lighting" in more 'mainstream' ways it could see higher retention and make conversion more appealing.
Dubbies are feeling pressured left and right from Mother to give up every free moment for FS, doing current and approved WTS study, and donations, donations, donations! Fudging FS and studies has never been easier and most who do drive around find themselves just leaving tracts without knocking. Hell you can set up a booth and spend the day catching up on a well disguised book wrapped in ministry ideaz book jackets!
There is no set date and we have been living in the 'end time' for longer then Noah preached!
The meeting are nothing but sales meetings now that the separate BS is gone .... and with the GB unwilling to commit to a study schedule for the BS part of the new consolidated night it leads me to believe soon that 25 minutes will be done away with too!... Think of the $$$ saved by not printing out study books anymore except on rare occassion to replace or 'update' a conversion book!
Sink or Swim Boys
Damn it..... thought I hogtied that refomist voice in my head!
I say take the money and run Bethel Boys before you spend more then you receive!