As the pandemic continues, the number of Jehovah’s Witnesses grew three percent 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.
NATIONWIDE — Carmela Clayton would rarely go more than a few days without knocking on a door or visiting a Bible student as part of her volunteer ministry. That abruptly changed in the spring of 2020 when Jehovah’s Witnesses suspended their in-person public ministry, meetings, and large conventions.
Two years later, the Lakeland resident is busier than ever. “A lot of people are struggling. For me, there is no greater service that we can do than to share the Bible’s message of comfort and hope with people because that’s what’s needed … especially for the times we’re living in now.”
With this historic change, the number of Jehovah’s Witnesses grew three percent 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 congregants like Clayton, the virtual pivot has meant trading her bookbag for a tablet and smartphone and her walking shoes for slippers. Her tools have changed, but her message is the same. She regularly shares scriptures with dozens of community members and conducts free Bible courses via telephone and Zoom. Even late into the evening, in her pajamas and about to turn in, Clayton has answered phone calls requesting a Bible study on the spot. How did she respond?
“So, I got up and gathered my stuff, and we had the study,” she said.
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 re-energized with the convenience of virtual meetings and a home-based ministry.
Despite dealing with memory loss and diminished energy, Joseph Fuoco, 81, and his wife Sarah, 88, are now nicknamed “the dynamic duo.”
The Fuocos use Zoom to worship twice a week with their Hollis, N.H., 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 Dec. 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, N.M.
To start an online Bible study course, receive a visit or attend a virtual meeting locally, visit jw.org.