Sir82, why should individual publishers be the unit that defines growth or decline? I know this is an extremely difficult concept to challenge in our individualistic society, but it is difficult to justify when you really think about it. Not all individuals are equal. If you swap 100 zealous individuals for 100 who couldn’t care less, is that really equivalent?
Consider a scenario where you have a congregation of 50 publishers who are very zealous, half of them are pioneers, fifteen elders, broad range of ages, lots of ministry, over 100% attendance at meeting, Bible studies, fantastic donations and so on.
Same congregation, thirty years later, still 50 publishers (including 15 minute reports) now mostly older publishers, only 1 pioneer, 2 elders, hardly any ministry, only 70% at meetings, donations barely cover costs.
As a resul this congregation is merged with another congregation. According to your reckoning no “decline” as such has taken place here, because the publisher number is the same. Yet I think we are missing something pretty significant if we don’t observe that the merging of congregations in a scenario like this is, at a very deep and significant level, definitely an indication of “decline”. The interesting thing is, the scenario I described above is actually not far from the reality in some congregations!
The number of congregations is a much better indication of vitality, growth or decline, precisely because it measures much more than just the number of individuals involved, which frankly can be much more easily manipulated or misrepresented. It captures something of the level of commitment and direction of travel too. If you say “won’t the programme of consolidation give a false impression of decline?” My response is: the programme of consolidation is a result of massive decline.