As one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Naples resident Angie Nelson was accustomed to knocking on doors as part of her volunteer ministry. That abruptly changed in the spring of 2020 when the Witnesses took the unprecedented action of completely suspending their in-person public ministry, meetings, and large conventions.
Two years later, Nelson said she is busier than ever. “I have five Bible students right now, and that's the most I've ever had.”
Nelson adapted her ministry and has been able to thrive. Instead of knocking on doors, she calls or writes to people. “They appreciated you sharing a scripture with them like a scripture of comfort and hope.”
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 congregants like Nelson, the change has had some practical benefits as well. “We were in the sun a lot. It was very hot,” she said, describing her ministry before the pandemic. “We tried to stay in the shade but you know, sometimes you just couldn't find any.”
The situation has changed, but her message is the same–only now, she shares it from her air-conditioned home. “It's been very encouraging because we see people still want to learn, especially in the midst of all the craziness that's going on in the world.”
Last year, the international organization reported all-time peaks in the number of people participating in their volunteer preaching work, increased attendance in videoconference 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.
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 videoconferencing 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.
Free self-paced Bible courses can be started at jw.org under BIBLE TEACHINGS > ONLINE LESSON. After starting a free self-paced Bible course on December 2019, Lisa Owen requested a free, interactive Bible study via videoconference. 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.