Kathleen Palmieri 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 Cape Coral resident continues thriving in her ministry. Now, she writes letters, makes phone calls and studies with her Bible student all while cozied up to her desk in a sunny corner of her home. Palmieri, who tries to tailor her letters for each person, said, “We just might be reaching more people that either hadn’t been home, or maybe they wouldn’t have listened to a Witness at the door.”
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.
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.
“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 Palmieri, the virtual pivot has meant trading her bookbag for a laptop and smartphone, and her heels for flip flops. Her tools have changed, but her message is the same. She explained, “I want to bring them some good news. Something positive, something encouraging, something to look forward to.”
Over the past two years, Lee County residents, Alan and Carolyn Jostes have adapted to focus on making phone calls and writing letters to comfort others. Carolyn related that these different methods are a safe way of “sharing the Bible's message even through this difficult time. I’m really actually enjoying the way the ministry is going right now.”
The Jostes’ virtual ministry has also enabled them to interact more frequently with a larger number of their fellow congregants. Alan relates that despite the challenges of the pandemic, "there is no limit to how many can come together online and share the Bible’s message of hope with their neighbors."
Last year, the international organization reported all-time peaks in the number of people participating in their volunteer preaching work, increased attendance via video conferencing meetings and more than 171,000 new believers baptized. In the past two years, more than 400,000 have been baptized worldwide.