Jehovah's Witness Statistics
This article contains the most detailed statistical analysis of Jehovah's Witnesses on the internet, graphically presenting Watchtower's annual publisher reports from 2019 back to 1960.
Since 1995, statistics for the Watchtower Society have rapidly become less encouraging in almost every indicator. Most dramatic have been the increase in people leaving and the number of hours preaching required to gain one additional publisher, with over 12,000 hours of preaching required for an increase of just one additional publisher.
American studies show that Jehovah's Witnesses have the highest turnover of any religion,1 as supported by Watchtower figures presented in this section. This dramatic change in growth of Jehovah's Witnesses coincides with the change of the generation teaching in 1995, and access to information via the Internet.
In the 10 years from 1996 to 2005 there were 2,968,732 baptisms, yet the increase in average publishers was only 1,439,672. This shows 1,529,060 stopped publishing. Even accounting for the average death rate, over 1 million Witnesses left in a 10 year period. Figures are similar for 2006 to 2016, with 2,752,016 baptisms, but only 1,495,504 publisher growth, a loss of 1,256,512 publishers over the ten year period.
The majority of growth is coming from developing countries in Africa and South America. In 2016, 70% of the increase in average publishers came from just 7 countries, Angola 10k, Brazil 21k, Ecuador 3k, Ghana 4k, Mexico 11k, Rep. of Congo 34k and Nigeria 3k. On the other hand, developed countries with the highest level of wealth, education and internet access to information regarding Watchtower have little to no growth. In 2016, many of these countries reported less publishers than previous year peaks, including Britain, Australia, Germany, Italy, USA, Canada and Japan.
The following figures highlight important trends, and show a significant drop in growth and increase in the percentages leaving. More reliance can be placed on trends, rather than specifics, due to limitations to how much can be read into each individual statistic. For instance, "hours preaching required per baptism" is limited in that it cannot be determined how many baptisms were newly interested people from the territory, and how many were children raised as Jehovah's Witnesses. The figure for publishers includes those not yet baptised (““Publishers” includes baptized Witnesses of Jehovah as well as unbaptized ones who qualify to be Kingdom preachers.” w11 8/15 p.22) and it cannot be determined how many that become publishers go on to be baptised. Furthermore, the Watchtower has changed criteria over the years, such as reducing the minimum time to be counted a publisher to just 15 minutes per month for some individuals and reducing the hours required to be considered a pioneer.
For scans of the Watchtower reports see Watchtower Publisher Reports.
Whilst a relatively small religion in the scheme of things, Jehovah's Witnesses number in the millions, and hence are worthy of attention.
To be officially counted as one of Jehovah's Witnesses requires being a "publisher," a term used somewhat confusingly to refer to a follower that engages in preaching. This requires submitting a report each month of how many hours preaching an individual participated in.
I have generally used average publishers rather than peak publishers. Peak publishers is an inaccurate figure due to how Watchtower collects this data. For example, if a publisher forgets to report in January and lodges their January and February reports at the end of February, the January report is not adjusted. Both reports are added to February, creating an artificial spike.
"“Peak publishers” is the highest number reporting for any one month of the service year and may include late reports that were not added to the preceding month’s report. In this way some publishers may be counted twice. However, the peak figure does not include the number of publishers who actually shared in the ministry but forgot to report. This emphasizes the importance of each publisher reporting promptly each month. “Average publishers” is the typical number of different ones reporting time in the ministry each month." Watchtower 2011 Aug 15 p.22
Using average publishers helps even out this error.
Each year the number of average publishers has increased since around 1930.
To make a meaningful comparison of these numbers requires comparing percentage growth rates, which show significant declines since 1995.
In the 5 years prior to 1975, average publishers increased up to 13% per year. During the 1980s and early 1990s, growth continued at over 5% per year. This has fallen to 1.32% in 2019, hardly more than the world's population growth rate of around 1.05%. As a portion of new publishers are teenagers that were raised as Jehovah's Witnesses, 2 billion hours of preaching each year only leads to enough new converts to replace the children that leave.
The following graph highlights the consequence of such a decrease on the number of Jehovah's Witnesses, and powerfully demonstrates the effect of compounding growth. The rate of growth of publishers has dropped from an average 5.63% per annum over the 15 years prior to 1995, to 2.17% per annum from 1995 to 2019. Had growth remained above 5%, the 4,950,344 Witnesses in 1995 would have exceeded 18 million in 2019, instead of 8 million - a difference of 10 million less Jehovah's Witnesses. Factors on conversion and retention, such as Internet education, resulted in growth of 3 million instead of 13 million, just one quarter of that expected in 1995.
- Publisher growth tends to spike in times of uncertainty, such as after the events of September 11, 2001, earthquakes or global recession, but these spikes are short lived.
- Watchtower artificially increased numbers in 20022 by allowing publishers to report when engaging in just 15-minutes preaching in one month.
The number of baptisms reached a high of over 375,000 in 1997. Since then there has been a rapid fall of 30% to an average of 250,000 per year. When comparing baptisms to the increase in average publishers there is over one hundred thousand people unaccounted for each year, examined in more detail later.
Baptisms are less than half what they were in the 1990s, when compared as a percentage to average publishers.
Strikingly, the number of baptisms gravitates around double publisher growth, meaning that for every two people baptised almost one publisher is leaving.
Hours Preaching per Conversion
In 1969 there was one baptism for every 1,983 hours of preaching. During the 1980s it had risen to 3,000 hours. In the 15 years from 1997 to 2011, the number of hours preaching required per baptism increased from 3000 to 6000, an increase of 100%.
More significant is the number of hours required for an additional publisher. Due to the large increase in Witnesses leaving the religion, the number of hours preaching required for an additional publisher doubled from 4,000 in the early 1990's to over 8,000 in 2000. The difference between 4000 hours in 1995 and 12,000 in 2014 is a change of 300% in just 20 years.
Of gravest concern to the Governing Body must be the rapidly falling conversion rate - the percentage of Bible studies that get baptised. This has dropped dramatically, with the Annual Number Baptised compared to Average Monthly Studies falling from a high of around 1 in 5 (22%) prior to 1975, to now a mere 1 in 33 (3%). During the 1980's and 1990's the conversion rate was consistently around 8%. This has steadily declined to less than 3% in 2014. (Please note that this is a comparative rate, not an exact one, as it is based on "average monthly Bible studies", and some Bible Studies may extend for years, whilst others for less than one year.)
Whilst there is roughly one Bible study conducted every month for each publisher, only a minute amount of these ever progress to baptism. Despite the number of studies doubling to 9 million in the 20 years from 1995 to 2014, the number of baptisms is decreasing, plummeting from over 350,000 per year in the 1990's to flatline around 275,000.
Growth compared to total publishers
This graph highlights the low growth rate proportional to total publishers.
Growth in Congregations
Number of Congregations provides better comparison to other Christian groups, as the figure for "average publishers" does not count youth and interested ones that do not report hours of preaching. The average number of publishers per congregation has increased from 52 in 1970 to 68 since 2010.
The following graphs are only approximations, as they include global average estimations on figures such as death rates, and numbers disfellowshipped. They do however uncover interesting information and trends.
The increase in publishers is only about half the number baptised, resulting in Jehovah's Witnesses have the highest turnover of any mainstream religion.
"Jehovah's Witnesses are most "mobile." Accounting for less than 1 percent of American adults, one-third of their members leave the group, and two-fifths join from another religion." (Leadership Currents Shaping Our World: Switched after Birth July 1, 2003 ctlibrary.com as displayed on 24th January 2007)
The comment in Leadership magazine is supported by the following analysis of Watchtower publisher reports, which compares the number baptised with the increase in average publishers.
Subtracting the increase in average publishers from the number baptised each year can be used to determine the number of Jehovah's Witnesses that stop publishing each year.
|Year||Average Publishers||Baptisms||Previous Year Publishers plus Baptisms||Number Missing|
Factoring those that have died makes the figures more meaningful. I have taken into account an average death rate of around 0.85% per year, based on 5 yearly average information from cia.gov.au.
This method of determining the number that leave is in line with how Watchtower also calculates this figure, as shown in a 1967 Watchtower article.
"In the last five years 323,986 new Kingdom publishers symbolized their dedication to Jehovah God by water baptism. Yet, during that period, there was an increase, on an average, of only 174,088 ministers. What happened to the other 149,898? When one subtracts the approximately 1 percent who normally die each year, it still leaves about 100,000 persons who have ceased to preach in just the past five years." Watchtower 1967 Mar 1 p.150
After accounting for the death rate, the number that become inactive each year is still generally in excess of 20% of the number baptised.
These figures are an aggregate number, as whilst tens of thousands become inactive each year, others start preaching again after a period of inactivity. The years 1983/4/5 and 2009 have negative figures for those becoming inactive, indicating more people reactivated than stopped publishing. It is likely the early 1980's result was that some who went inactive after the failure of the 1975 predictions came back to the religion. In 2009, it seems economic uncertainty and end of the world fears brought a number of inactive back.
This graph tellingly shows a significant increase in the number of people leaving since the early 1990's. For the 10 years from 1986 to 1995 the rate leaving was an average of only 12%; for the 10 years from 1996 to 2005 it had risen to 41%.
Missing Over a Ten Year Period
Adding together the numbers above, for the 10 year period between 2010 and 2019, the increase in publishers was 1,321,609 less than the number baptised. After accounting for a death rate of 0.85% each year, the total that left in one decade was 650,737.
Inactive and Faders
A publisher that does not report preaching for six months is termed inactive.
"An inactive publisher is someone who has not reported any activity in the preaching and disciple-making work for six months or more." Watchtower Study Ed. 2020 Jun p.18
Watchtower admits that "thousands of his servants become inactive each year." (w2020 jun p.18)
In these graphs, the number of inactive ones includes:
- people disfellowshipped/disassociated
- people that have died
- people that have voluntarily stop preaching
Those that no longer believe it is the truth and stop preaching without getting disfellowshipped, usually so as to be able to keep contact with family members, are referred to by former Jehovah's Witnesses as faders. These graphs show this category has seen significant increase since 1995.
Inactive ones are the most volatile group, as a sub-set of those that fade or are disfellowshipped are uncertain of their beliefs, and reactivate in times of crisis, out of fear of the imminence of Armageddon. This reactivation, seen through a decrease in the rate leaving, manifest itself following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001, and at the height of the CFC (Global Financial Crisis) in 2008. In the year 2014, the 100th anniversary of when Watchtower claims Jesus took heavenly rulership, there were less leavers; maybe some doubters superstitiously remained in expectation the anniversary may herald in Armageddon. Once the crises fades from memory, these weak individuals soon became inactive again. The number leaving rose to over 50,000 again in 2015, and no doubt will continue to rise over coming years.
The following graphs attempt to identify the number that voluntarily stop preaching. The negative numbers in some years indicate that a net rejuvenation of publishers, as some that stopped publishing in previous years start to report again.
This figure has been calculated in the following way;
- less Growth in publishers
- less 1.00% disfellowshipped
- add 0.33% reinstated
- less death rate = Unaccounted/Inactive
Breakdown of Baptisms, Increases and the number that Leave
1997 was the peak of a long period of year on year growth in baptisms. The following graph shows the number of baptisms started to drop from that time, whilst the number of people that stop preaching began to increase. Up until 1995, the number that stopped publishing (the yellow section) was a small fraction in comparison to the increase in publishers (blue column). Since then, the number of people becoming inactive has grown to the point where on occasion it exceeded the increase in publishers, such as in 1999.
For the sake of accuracy, this graph takes into account the death rate as discussed earlier.
Breakdown by Continent
Comparing the number of Jehovah's Witnesses by continent highlights how dependant ones chance of belonging to the religion is on place of birth. The Americas have by far the highest saturation of Witnesses, with one witness for every 240 people in 2016. This is followed by Oceania and Europe. These are all traditionally Christian Continents and it becomes immediately apparent that the success of Jehovah’s Witnesses is dependant on the success of Christianity before it.
Africa has about half the rate of Witnesses of Europe, which follows on from Africa being fairly evenly split between Muslims and Christians. Christian African countries have high Witness density levels, similar to Latin America.
In the Hindu/Muslim area of Asia/Middle East there is a tiny fraction of Jehovah’s Witnesses, signified by the tall green column. Despite a population of over 4 billion people in Asia/Middle East, in excess of half the world population, the number of publishers increased by only 10,273 in 2016.
Click here for a summary of the figures used, as taken from the 2011 and 2012 Yearbooks.
5 Year Figures
Comparing the figures over 5 year time-frames evens out some of the spikes. Several hundred thousand people are unaccounted for every five years, over half the number baptised.
Long Term Peak Figures
The highest percentage growth rates were in the 1970's and highest numerical growth in the early 1990's. Long term figures show a dramatic decrease in the percentage growth rates when making comparison of the early 1970's with the 21st century.
For information on memorial partakers see 1935 and Memorial Partakers
Growth in memorial attendance aligns closely with the growth in publishers. The total number of attendees represents about 2.6 times the number of average publishers. Interestingly, the difference was 2.0 in the 1960's, but steadily increased until it stabilised around 2.6 since the 1980's. Many of these attendees may be considered fence sitters, hedging their bets that if Armageddon is real and does occur they will jump back on board just in time to be saved.
Are Baptisms Internal Births or Converts?
Opinions vary greatly as to whether the number baptised are mostly from the children of Jehovah's Witness families, or are converts. It is not easily calculated, as birthrates vary throughout the world, and Jehovah's Witnesses birthrates may vary from the local population due to their view on the Last Days. Furthermore, whilst Jehovah's Witnesses have a high number that leave the religion, figures are not released that break down the age they do so, or whether it is before or after baptism.
There were around 6,000,000 Jehovah's Witnesses in 1995, during which time the global average birth rate was 22.4/1000. Assuming Witnesses have about the same birth rate as the global average, the estimated number of Witness children born is therefore 134,400. In 2011, when that group of children were the age of baptism, there were 263,161 people baptised. That means Witness children could only account for at most half the number of baptisms (134,400/263,161).
It is reasonable to conclude that the birth rate of Jehovah's Witnesses is similar to the global average. On the one hand, they are increasing mostly in poor countries where birthrates are higher, but this is offset by Watchtower encouragement not to have children. Furthermore, not all children raised as Jehovah's Witnesses get baptised. With that in mind, at most 134,000 of those baptised were children; only half the number of total baptisms. Preaching therefore accounts for the other half of baptisms.
If children account for half of all baptisms, the effectivness of preaching is even worse than outlined above. In 2011, 1.7 billion hours of preaching resulted in around only 130,000 conversions from preaching, or over 13,000 hours preaching per convert.
For world historical and predicted crude birth rates (number of childbirths per 1,000 people per year) see data.un.org
The Watchtower explains that the Last Days have continued for so long because Jehovah desires all to attain to repentance, based on 2 Peter 3:9,15 "Jehovah is not slow concerning his promise, as some people consider slowness, but he is patient with you because he does not desire anyone to be destroyed but desires all to attain to repentance. ... consider the patience of our Lord as salvation...".
"However, God finds no pleasure in the death of the wicked one. Rather, he delights to see people repent, turn back from their bad ways, and keep living. (Ezekiel 33:11) Consequently, he is exercising patience and is having the good news declared in all the earth so that people may have every opportunity to live." Watchtower 2006 Feb 1 p.18
"Another reason why Jehovah has waited patiently is so that more people can have everlasting life. " Watchtower 2012 Sep 15 p.18
If only active Jehovah's Witnesses will be saved, then 2 Peter 3:9 and Watchtower comments about God's patience do not make sense. On average, the global population increases by 215,000 people each day, but the number of active Jehovah's Witnesses increases by only 320 (2017 daily increase in average publishers). Each day that Armageddon delays requires Jehovah to destroy an extra 215,000 people.
If the new system had arrived in 1975, as once expected, there were around 2 million Jehovah's Witnesses expecting salvation, and a global population of 4 billion in line for destruction. If it were to come in 2018, whilst there are 8 million awaiting salvation, 7 billion will die according to Watchtower doctrine.
It has been stated that Jehovah is speeding up the growth of the Watchtower Society, with predictions that the momentum would continue.
"JEHOVAH is now speeding up the ingathering of sheeplike ones. Surely, then, this is no time for his people to slow down in their Kingdom-preaching and disciple-making work. (Isaiah 60:8, 22; Matthew 24:14; 28:19, 20) Indeed, increased witnessing activity by so many more publishers and pioneers is now stirring up the world field. And the momentum of this joyous ingathering will yet grow. Isaiah 60:11" Watchtower 1988 Jul 15 p.15
"In fact, during 2015, there were 8,220,105 of Jehovah’s servants who preached the good news of the Kingdom around the world! God said about the increase among his people: “I myself, Jehovah, will speed it up in its own time.” So as time goes on, there will be more work for all of us to do." Watchtower 2016 Aug p.15
Statistics show this no longer holds true.
A statistic of note is that the average age of Jehovah's witnesses is increasing. The Pew Report (as of 2 Aug 2018) compares the change in age between 2007 and 2014 in the United States. There has been a significant increase in older age groups, showing that Jehovah's Witnesses are ageing, without being replaced at the same rate by younger converts. With 23% over 65, decline will increase as these older members pass away.
It will take major Watchtower policy change to turn this trend around and start growing at any significant rate. I expect that over the upcoming decades, the number of publishers will stagnate and then begin to slowly fall.
Notes on how Statistics derived
The following statistical information has been used in the estimation of some figures above:
Number disfellowshipped annually - 1.00%
This is based on the Watchtower 1992 Jul 1 p.19
"In recent years disfellowshippings worldwide have been approximately 1 percent of publishers."
One percent is a conservative estimate. For example, the Watchtower 1986 Jan 1 p.13 stated;
"It is to be noted, also, that during the past year, 36,638 individuals had to be disfellowshipped from the Christian congregation."
In 1985 average publishers were 2,865,183, so 36,638 represented 1.28%.
"Unfortunately, during the 1986 service year, 37,426 had to be disfellowshipped from the Christian congregation." Watchtower 1987 Sep 15 p.13
Of the 3,063,289 publishers in 1986, this represented 1.22%
Number reinstated - 0.33%
I have used an average figure of 1/3 of the number disfellowshipped subsequently being reinstated. This is based on the following comments.
"36,671 persons had to be disfellowshiped for various kinds of serious wrongdoing. Yet, in that same period 14,508 persons were reinstated." Watchtower 1974 Aug 1 p. 466
This equates to 39.6% being reinstated.
"During the service year of 1958-1959 there were 6,552 individuals disfellowshiped by the New World society of Jehovahs witnesses for various reasons ... and there were 1,597 ... Reinstated." Watchtower 1960 Dec 1 p.728
This equates to only 24% reinstated.
The CIA World Fact Book has been used for calculations that include the global population death rate, with esa.un.org/unpp/index.asp?panel=2 providing the rate averaged over 5 year periods. Where indicated, the above statistics take into account the number of Witnesses that die each year, so as not to over inflate the numbers leaving.
"Jehovah's Witnesses are most "mobile." Accounting for less than 1 percent of American adults, one-third of their members leave the group, and two-fifths join from another religion." Currents Shaping Our World: Switched after Birth (ctlibrary.com 1 Jul 2003)
"An even more extreme example of what might be called "masked churn" is the relatively tiny Jehovah's Witnesses, with a turnover rate of about two-thirds. That means that two-thirds of the people who told Pew they were raised Jehovah's Witnesses no longer are - yet the group attracts roughly the same number of converts." America's Unfaithful Faithful David Van Biema (news.yahoo.com 25 Feb 2008)
"Jehovah's Witnesses have the lowest retention rate of any religious tradition. Only 37% of all those who say they were raised as Jehovah's Witnesses still identify themselves as Jehovah's Witnesses." (religions.pewforum.org 8 Mar 2008)
This continued to be the case in 2014, as shown in the graph from Religious Switching and Intermarriage.
2 "He makes sure that those who are very limited because of advanced age or because of being shut-ins and those who are temporarily limited because of serious illness or injury are aware of the provision that allows them to report field service time in 15-minute increments if they are not able to report a complete hour during one month." Kingdom Ministry 2002 Oct p.8
Originally published 2006, latest update June 2020.
Paul Grundy 2005 - 2020