I have a suggestion about what might happen to Witnesses in the future. I don't know what I am talking about... read this post at your peril.
Back in the 1960s there was, seemingly, a brief period of relaxation in authoritarianism among Jehovah's Witnesses. Those who have read Raymond Franz's 'crisis of conscience' will have heard the story about Dan Sydlik's remark about the need to 'open some windows to let some air in here'. This apparently mirrored the mood of reform within the Catholic Church at the time. But what happened to the mood of reform?
1. Growth slowed substantially in the 1960s and the board of directors panicked.
2. Fred Franz was allowed to write his prediction about 1975 in the "Life Everlasting" book.
3. There were disputes among the governing body about how far they should push the 1975 thing.
4. Fred Franz managed to publish more definite statements about 1975 than the other members would have liked.
5. Figures increased greatly leading up to 1975 and there was great expectation.
6. 1975 came and went and the governing body had to deal with the fallout for the coming 5 years until things started to pick up again.
Why did things start to pick up again in the 1980s? Why, for instance, were there actually more pioneers (% wise) in the late 1980s than leading up to 1975? Why were publishers doing more hours (per publisher) in the late 1980s/early 1990s than in 1975?
Lots of reasons, but I think that the main one is the 'generation' prophecy. For one thing, among Witnesses, the generation idea had a lot more credibility than the 1975 chronology. Was it not founded on the 'immovable' 1914 date? Had not the society stated it in certain terms (unlike the 1975 date on which they were wishy washy)? Had not God's organisation been teaching about the 'generation' for decades?
This is why many Witnesses went into the 1980s and early 1990s with great confidence. They knew that they had made a mistake about 1975, but at the same time they knew that the generation was fast running out in any case and that the end must come within a couple of decades at the most. The Bible says 'their days are seventy or eighty', so Witnesses figured that the end must come around 1994 at the latest. This explains how Witnesses, even in western countries, were able to demonstrate significant increases in the 1980s and early 1990s.
But, as we know, things all went pear shaped in 1995. At conventions the shock announcement was made - the 'generation' was reformulated so that it could stretch into the foreseeable future. Try as they might to dress it up well in talks and the publications, ordinary Witnesses knew in their gut that the society were saying they simply did not know how long the old system might last. For practically the first time in their 120 year history Witnesses had no date to work work towards, no reasonable time frame in which to place their expectations. No wonder this has a dramatic effect on the Witnesses' ability to convert and retain members - in the western world they have still to recover from the 1995 announcement. And they will not recover until they make a new prediction...
That is all history you know already, so sorry for going over it again.
This is the history of the future:
1. Witness leaders nowadays do not have the luxury of an 'open the window' period of reform, although there have been some small moves in that dirrection.
2. The governing body (especially the young ones and future appointees) will panic when they realise that tinkering (15 mins for old publishers and pioneer requirement shifts) has not done the trick.
3. They will make more and more grave statements about the end being near, but these won't do the trick either because they will contain nothing specific.
4. Eventually the governing body will stomach the idea of promoting 2034 as the possible date for the end (120 years from 1914 - 'just as the days of Noah will the days of the son of man be...'). There may be some infighting about this as there was in Franz' day, but some new 'prophet' will need to come forward from among them! A replacement for Freddy is still awaited.
But what will happen then? That is the interesting part. Will the Witnesses have a turn-around just as they did in the early 1970s? Or will ordinary Witnesses see through the date setting because of the flood of information on the Internet? Or will the Witnesses break up into various factions and branches before it even reaches that stage? (see earlier thread) That is not so easy to call. I am just setting out one of the possibilities.
One of the biggest problems for the governing body is that 2034 is an awful long time away. Only when new appointments are made to the governing body of people who have a reasonable chance of making it to 2034 will this idea get off the ground. Even then, the governing body will have a challenge in convincing ordinary Witnesses to hang around until then. They can either come out with the date soon in the hope of short-term gains - or they can keep it under their hat until the mid-2020s. If the latter - then they are going to have some problems in giving incentives for making people stay until the new prediction is made. The general warnings about the nearness of the end, no matter how strongly they are worded, will simply not have the same impact as a definite prediction.
Background to 2034 prediction:
Back in 1998, before I read anything apostate, I was having a conversation with an elderly sister about when the end might come. She suggested it would come in 1999. "Why 1999?", I asked. Because that will be 120 years from when the Watchtower was first published. God gave the people in Noah's day 120 years, and perhaps he was giving us 120 years also. I was quite taken with this theory at the time, but of course 1999 came and went.
Then there was that Watchtower a while back that many apostates interpreted as pointing to 2034 implicitly. I do not agree with those who overinterpreted that Watchtower as meaning a bit more than perhaps it did. But I did agree with those who suggested that it may be an indication of things to come. It suggests that someone in the writing department (perhaps a younger Nethinim hopeful, waiting for the governing body to be opened to the great crowd) has perhaps given passing thought to the possibility of a 120 tie in with 1914 to 2034.
Then I read an interesting thing about the Adventists. You know how they expected the end of the world in 1843/4? Well it turns out that many Adventists also thought of a 120 year tie in with that date and came to the conclusion that the end would come in 1964. Where the Adventists have been, the Witnesses will follow. Nothing much has changed since the days of Russell...