The Jehovah’s Witnesses are likely to maintain steady growth and will likely be a “very large religious body” in the future, according to an article in the Journal of Contemporary Religion (May).
Rodney Stark and Lawrence Iannaccone write that the Jehovah’s Witnesses are becoming a global religious force that have not received much attention from scholars. Witnesses are more “globalized” than even the Mormons; while nearly half of all Mormons reside in the U.S., only 19 percent of Jehovah’s Witnesses do so. The movement of the group into the former Soviet Union is also more extensive than their number of congregations (40 in 1995) might suggest; because of the lack of leadership, many JW congregations are much larger — double or triple the size — than their counterparts elsewhere. They are even in the Islamic world, meeting in secret “cells.”
Stark and Iannaccone review Jehovah’s Witnesses’ statistics and then make the following forecasts and conclusions: The Witnesses will likely do best in cultures familiar with Christianity as opposed to Islamic or Buddhist cultures; since failed prophesies have hurt their growth in the past, the Witnesses current disinclination to make such predictions will likely spur their growth; maintaining strict standards will assist in religious expansion (creating commitment among members and filtering out less committed members), but the issue may be whether the Witnesses are too strict, as is evident in the many conflicts they have with governments (although they are at home with much of American culture; they even allow drinking).
Stark and Iannaccone continue that the Witnesses’ high fertility rate will assist further growth — their many minority members in the U.S. may increase the appeal of the movement in the Third World; the Witnesses’ practice of assigning important roles to young people as part-time missionaries give them a better chance of retaining their children.
The writers conclude that “continued growth is the most plausible assumption” for the Witnesses, and project (on the conservative side) that they will show at least a four percent growth rate per year.
(Journal of Contemporary Religion, Centre for New Religions, Dept. of Theology, King’s College, Univ. of London, Strand, London WC2R 2LS UK)