Jehovah’s Witnesses Increase as Virtual Meetings, Ministry, Conventions Keep Individuals Active and Safe
From Brian Cousins
Public Information Desk
Sonia Larson, a resident of Rockford, Illinois, has enjoyed visiting her neighbors for more than three decades as part of her volunteer ministry. However, this changed in the spring of 2020, when Jehovah’s Witnesses suspended their in-person public ministry, large meetings and assemblies.
For the past two years, Larson has kept herself busy writing letters and making phone calls to people in her community. “Because I’m at home, I have more opportunities to sit down at any moment and make an effort to help people,” she says.
Thanks to her efforts, she has received a great response from her community. “Someone called me and told me that they were very happy to receive the message that I had shared. It had cheered them up right at the time they were feeling so depressed,” she recalls.
With this historic change, the number of Jehovah’s Witnesses grew 3% in the United States in 2021 alone, matching the most significant increase for the organization over the past decade and the second-largest percentage increase since 1990.
“Staying active in our ministry while remaining safe has had a powerful preserving effect on our congregants and communities,” said Robert Hendriks, U.S. spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses. “The wise decision not to prematurely resume in-person activities has united us and protected lives while comforting many people in great need. The results speak for themselves.”
For Jehovah’s Witnesses like Sonia Larson, the virtual pivot has meant trading her bookbag for an internet connection, laptop, tablet and smartphone, and her walking shoes for slippers. The tools have changed, but the message is the same.
Larson acknowledges that it was initially difficult for her to learn how to use the technology needed to teach Bible courses online. But, since she had to give attention to an increasing number of interested people, she has become more and more skillful. She regularly shares scriptures with dozens of community members, and leads free Bible courses with about seven people a month. Doing this sometimes requires sacrifices on her part. However, she says, “People really are in need of so many things. Of love, affection, attention and comfort. This service that we are carrying out now is a way to help them.”
Last year, the international organization reported all-time peaks in the number of people participating in their volunteer preaching work, increased attendance in Zoom meetings and more than 171,000 new believers baptized. In the past two years, more than 400,000 have been baptized worldwide.
Some whose ministry or attendance at religious services had slowed because of age and poor health said they feel reenergized with the convenience of virtual meetings and a home-based ministry.
Like many octogenarians, Sarah Fuoco, 88, deals with memory loss and diminished energy. Yet she and her 81-year-old husband, Joseph, have been given the nickname “the dynamic duo.”
The Fuocos use Zoom to worship twice a week with their Hollis, New Hampshire, congregation and regularly join online ministry groups to comfort neighbors and family through phone calls, letters, texts and email.
“What could have been quite a disadvantage, we’ve made into an advantage,” Joseph Fuoco said. “The fact that we can work right from home is a great advantage. I’m happy with it.”
By sharing the Bible’s hope remotely, the fewer than 3,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Alaska can rapidly preach across the 586,000 square miles of their sparsely populated state. “We’re talking to more people in a day than we did in a month,” said Marlene Sadowski of Ketchikan.
The official website of Jehovah’s Witnesses, translated into more than 1,000 languages, has also leveraged the organization’s outreach.
After starting a free self-paced Bible course on jw.org in December 2019, Lisa Owen requested a free, interactive Bible study over Zoom. She was one of nearly 20,000 baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses last year in the United States in private settings, including backyard swimming pools, tubs and even rivers.
“JW.ORG gave me somewhere to learn, somewhere to land, and to start living the way God wants me to. It taught me so much,” said Owen of Moriarty, New Mexico.
To start an online Bible study course, receive a visit or attend a virtual meeting locally, visit jw.org.