There's a kingdom hall in Shannon, a small rural town in Manawatu, New Zealand, 16 KMS from the nearest town, Foxton, and about 30 KMS from Palmerston North city (population around 80,000). JWs used to go on about how fast they were growing in New Zealand that even a small town like Shannon (population little more than 1,000) has its very own kingdom hall.
In the late 70s, the local JWs worked hard to build a brand new kingdom hall and I was among the happy throngs when it was dedicated. They built it somewhat larger than needed because they were confident that the influx of newly interested ones would continue. It's located on the main road through Shannon, clearly visible to all who drive past. I drive past it every 2 to 3 weeks when my work takes me through Shannon to Palmerston North. The lawns are mowed, the shrubbery well pruned and the property generally well kept. What a marvellous witness it is to Jehovah and His dedicated witnesses.
Or is it? An acquaintance of mine who lives in Shannon and who has been studying with the witnesses off and on over the long years met up with me today. By mutual agreement, we try not to let the JWs enter into our conversations. However, today she announced that she has started going back to meetings. So, without thinking I said, "At the kingdom hall in Shannon?" The answer: "No, in Foxton, because they closed the hall in Shannon a while back" (she didn't know exactly when).
I expressed surprise because back in the 1980s there was a bustling congregation of about 30 baptized witnesses, not counting the many children. She said that in recent years there had only been a few elderly witnesses in Shannon in recent years and the upkeep of the hall plus running the meetings had got too much.
Solution: Close the kingdom hall and go to the kingdom hall in Foxton. But how come they don't sell the kingdom hall? I asked. "Oh they don't want to do that", she replied, so brothers from Foxton come over to Shannon every week or so and mow the lawns and tidy the property. I asked how the Foxton congregation is keeping. Fine she said, although most of them are older adults.
This too surprised me because these rural towns had been made up of relatively young witnesses who had lots of children. How things have changed within 20 to 30 years. A sign of the decline and ageing of the active JWs in New Zealand? I cannot say for sure. Yet, here we have a classic case of keeping up appearances in a kingdom hall that is no longer in use. Literally, 'the lights are on but no one's home'.
I wouldn't be surprised if the seemingly eroding membership elsewhere in apathetic countries like New Zealand is a well kept 'secret'.