The preaching work is probably a smaller factor than JWs realize. In one sense, I think they get their increases in spite of the preaching work, not because of it. In another sense, the preaching work is very valuable, but not because it directly creates converts, but only because it creates a tangible uniqueness that gets milked for all it's worth. ("We are the only religion preaching the good news," etc.) Of course, it's a lot smarter than trying a world-wide foot washing service.
After the end of this month, the WTS will add it all up again to run the report for the "2003 Service Year" (which is really Sept 1 2002 through Aug 30 2003). This gives them enough time to tally all the numbers internationally in time for the 1/1/04 WT and the 2004 Yearbook. The 2003 Yearbook was really the first one to get the impact of any "religion/fear revival" based on the terrorism in the USA that started 9/11/01.
This year, terrorism fears worldwide have remained higher than usual (pre-9/11/01). And, of course, wars and related fears have driven many to believe that only God can take care of this "system of things." Although I've heard all the talk of lower JW visibility and lower hours in preaching, I wouldn't be surprised if the 2004 report only shows a very slight reduction in the USA. Are they printing month by month publishing stats in the KM like they used to? It would be interesting to know what some major countries have been reporting from month to month this year -- and what the memorial attendance announcements were.
I'm still guessing that without 9/11/01 and subsequent high profile wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and other nations threatened, the JWs would likely have seen a 2% or more drop. I was hoping for that this year, but I'm guessing the media has only helped the JWs in the USA and Europe for the past couple years (from the Matthew 24 perspective).
The USA is still a very fundamentalist religious society, in some ways much more so than Iran and Iraq, and I don't think the JWs should have any trouble finding a few more million people for this niche religion in the USA. The truth is, it has a psychological appeal that works even better as people get depressed about repetitious bad news. It helps people rationalize the world's problems, and gives them a purpose, makes them feel important again in the scheme of things. And ironically, it offers a very simple, "materialistic spirituality."
I like that idea that they have a "tiger by the tail" precisely because they have created a "measurable spirituality" that could backfire if they stopped requiring the reports -- or if the reports themselves began producing their own disappointments. I suspect that a even two or three years of disappointing reports will begin to produce their "inertia."
But something like 1 out of every 100 or better are already JWs in those exact areas where their increases will obviously keep coming from. In some cities it's like 1 out of 50. Kids in these areas have JWs in most of their classes or as school friends, and they will learn more about the JWs as they invite them to parties, etc. If these kids or their parents start to get interested in religion, or get tired of mainstream religions, JWs will be a very viable sounding choice for a lot of them.
I'm sorry if these musings sound disappointing, but if there's a decrease, I think it will based on the availability of anti-JW information on the Internet, pedophile scandals, UN and political scandals, etc.. So the people who will continue to convert (or remain in there), will be those who don't (and won't) look around, those who prefer the pseudo-rational JW life to the truly rational, examined life. The latter are more noble-minded, but there's always more of the former than the latter.