Why Do Jehovah’s Witnesses Preach?

In asking the above question as to why Witnesses preach, I’m not looking for the usual answer that Witnesses typically repeat verbatim: “Because Jesus did,” or “We are only following Jesus’ example.” Yes yes…

Allow me to share a recollection about a certain Jehovah’s Witness friend of mine who served as a regular pioneer. Roxanne[1] was one of the first friends I made in the congregation when I was still ‘in.’ She regular pioneered for years straight out of high school. She also worked part-time in order to ensure she could remain in the full-time service.

Her one ambition (if I may call it that) was that she wanted to go to bethel. At that time, the bethel in South Africa seldom accepted single sisters who applied. However, she did eventually get in – by marrying a bethelite. Then, roughly seven years later, she and her husband left bethel, and she continued pioneering – so far as I know – ’til to this day.

As a person, Roxanne is the sweetest loveliest person I know; she was always looking out for everyone else. In fact, she often had ‘gatherings’ at her house for the youngsters so we could have some fun – supervised of course.

One night, on our way to the meeting, I was sitting with her in the back of the car; I could tell she was exhausted, completely maxed-out. She explained to me how she had been up since early that morning trying to get her field service hours in as it was the end of the service year.[2] During such year, a regular pioneer is required to put in a total of 840 hours – basically 70 hours a month.

Now, since she only had, like, a day left in order to make up her annual hours, she had been doing ‘crazy’ amounts of time in order to reach her goal. I, on the other hand, deprecated my own service, telling her that I only did, like, two hours all month.[3]  I recall saying to her that doing all that pioneer time must surely feel amazing. Much to my surprise, instead of agreeing with me, she said – and very honestly – that she thought my two hours that were given to Jehovah in joy and love were surely worth more than her “forced” 70. Quality over quantity, basically.

I was quite surprised at this, because quantity – it seems – is all about being a “good” JW. That is why they have these hour requirements; there is a congregation average (usually about 10 hours a month) that all publishers are encouraged to achieve.

Witnesses Preach

The global preaching work that Witnesses typically engage in.

Now that I am out of the organisation and able to think clearer, her frank comment strikes me even more now. Here was a regular pioneer doing everything that should be causing her to overflow with happiness – that is, according to the JW checklist – and, yet, here she was half envying my happily given preaching hours, “insignificant” as they were.

So it got me thinking, why do Witnesses preach? Put bluntly, because they have to. You cannot be a Witness and not preach, pretty much. If you don’t preach for three months consecutively, you are labelled as ‘inactive.’ You need to hand in a ‘field service report’ every month declaring how much you have done; this is how the congregation elders monitor your ‘spiritual health.’ Point is, if you are doing too little, a follow up may be deemed in order. In fact, I have heard so many stories of how Witnesses would falsify their hours just to keep the elders off of their backs.

Now, imagine if a quarter of a congregation of, say, a hundred members, are handing in fake hours, how much of that annual report is pure fiction then? Are they faking their hours out of malice? Not necessarily. It’s usually out of fear or pressure because they don’t want the elders to start boring their eyes into them wondering what’s wrong.

So, then, the next time a Witness knocks on your door, keep in mind that they may be in a position similar to my friend Roxanne. When you feel that usual (understandable) annoyance when you reach your doorstep, just remember that they are “compelled” to be at your doorstep to complete their service hours, and, of course, to maintain their image of being in ‘good standing.’ Yes, they engage in the preaching work in order to recruit new members for the organization, but, I submit, the overwhelming reason is simply to get their time in.

The new ‘cart witnessing’ bears testament to this, I believe. Think about it, are they talking to anyone? In my observation, most of the time they appear to just stand some distance away and watch, or, in some cases, just sit in their folding chairs all the while keeping an eye on the cart. Hardly the way Jesus preached, no? But, then again, to (really) preach might not have been the motivating factor for being there; this, we must accept, is certainly true for a great number of Witnesses.


(An earlier version of this article was published by the author on April 25, 2016)

[1] Names have been changed.

[2] “Field service” refers to the preaching work. Jehovah’s Witnesses have a ‘service year,’ much like a ‘financial year’ of a company.

[3] At the time, I had heavy responsibilities taking care of my chronically ill mother – I wasn’t just slacking off.