Wow... this discussion has certainly been interesting to the non-jw (me). So that my position is known, please realize that given the pain in your collective voices and the pain of a person who is incredibly important to me, I'm celebrating stalls and declines of membership where this organization is concerned right alongside ya'. :)
Respectfully, I'd like to shed some light on a variable that nobody seems to have taken into consideration. Please don't turn my insight into an "Us vs. You" dialogue - that truly is not my intent. We're talking about numbers.
Statistically the attendance numbers being used to evaluate growth and decline in the non-JW world mean absolutely nothing and cannot be used to truly evaluate the number of those subscribing to a denomination. Three elements of many should be considered:
1. In my world, attendance is far from mandatory - and we're lazy. Our spirituality/salvation/faith is not so intricately linked to our attendance or performance within our denomination. Fluctuations in attendance could be based on things such as personal circumstances (divorce, death, personal challenges) or regional circumstances (unemployment, economic collapse, civil war, etc). I suspect that some triggers would have the potential to produce exponential attendance increases that could statistically blow away any increase in correlative JW attendance/membership.
I may be wrong, but I get the impression that this is unlike the JWs. If you're MIA, you run the risk of being off of the invite list.
2. It is okay to attend a Baptist church one week and a Presbyterian another. There are no barriers that prohibit these crossings. Most are comfortable and remain with a certain denomination and church but unlike what I've read if subscribing to the JW faith, there's nothing prohibiting anyone from floating. Individuals are expected to take responsibility for their own salvation and are not obligated to respond to the admonition of man whether he be a priest, deacon, minister, or pastor with respect to attendance. If someone feels uncomfortable with that church, they join another. That issue is between they and God. My reason for spending six months at one faith's services could be superficial (the better choirs have an impact on attendance) but I may not identify completely with that faith's doctrines. I could attend one church but doctrinally my heart may belong to the other so as soon as that choir starts to sound better..... I'm back! *giggling*
3. I acknowledge this as my experience, but I can't think of one person in my close to 50 life's years who has been formally disfellowshipped/excommunicated/thrown out of an entire denomination. I know of those who have expressed disappointments with their congregations (stupid arguments about church menus that turn into wars) and one who left a denomination because of a doctrine they no longer subscribed to (Catholicism's stance on divorce) but can't say I know of one circumstance of a person being formally tossed out of a denomination so EVERYONE is doctrinally allowed to return! For those of you in touch with "worldlies", you may be hard pressed to find more than one in your life who may know another who was formally tossed from a denomination. Barring some bizarre circumstance, people leave because they choose to leave.... and their decision is respected (and yes, depending on the circumstances like their cooking abilities, sometimes welcomed) but generally, if one chooses to leave and then return for a week, month or lifetime, his/her return is accepted.
Conversely, given what appears to me to be the Society's stance on:
1. the value of attendance/service of the meetings,
2. the assignment of individuals to congregations,
3. the general quantification of attendance of said meetings (along with a phone-in option where you have to state the number of listeners), and
4. their position on disfellowshipping (fairly permanent removal so we can deduct these folks),
I can easily see how attendance could be considered a barometer that reflects rates of growth or decline but to use that same barometer in a world that does not leverage this requirement with absolutely no interdenominational accounting you could end up with some really skewed results.
I respect all of the poster's opinions on this board and appreciate the diversity of thoughts. Remember, my goal is just to warn against the statistical models used along with some examples for consideration.
I'd really suggest that the only true statistical comparisons that could be drawn would be annual WT to WT comparisons. Even then it gets fuzzy when things like requirements for benchmarks (aux pioneer) are different but that's the better gauge.