Preaching Publicly and From House to House
WHEN Jesus Christ sent out his disciples, he instructed them: “As you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of the heavens has drawn near.’” (Matt. 10:7) And in his prophetic command to true Christians who would be living during the conclusion of the system of things, he said: “This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness.” (Matt. 24:14) What did that mean?
It did not mean that they were to build churches, ring a bell, and wait for a congregation to assemble to hear them give a sermon once a week. The Greek verb here rendered “preach” (ke·rysʹso) means, basically, “make proclamation as a herald.” The idea is not delivering sermons to a closed group of disciples but, rather, making open, public declaration.
Jesus himself set the example as to how it was to be done. He went to places where he could find people. In the first century, people regularly gathered in the synagogues to hear the Scriptures read. Jesus seized opportunities to preach to them there, not merely in one city but in cities and villages throughout Galilee and Judea. (Matt. 4:23; Luke 4:43, 44; John 18:20) Even more often, the Gospel records show, he preached by the seashore, on the mountainside, along the road, in villages, and in the homes of those who welcomed him. Wherever he found people, he talked about God’s purpose for humankind. (Luke 5:3; 6:17-49; 7:36-50; 9:11, 57-62; 10:38-42; John 4:4-26, 39-42) And when he sent out his disciples, he instructed them to go to the homes of people to search out deserving ones and to witness to them about the Kingdom of God.—Matt. 10:7, 11-13.
Jehovah’s Witnesses in modern times have endeavored to follow the pattern set by Jesus and his first-century disciples.
Heralding News of Christ’s Presence
As Charles Taze Russell and his associates began to grasp the harmonious pattern of truth set out in God’s Word, they were deeply moved by what they learned about the object and manner of Christ’s return. Brother Russell felt both the need to make it known and a great urgency about doing it. He arranged his affairs to travel to places where there were people to whom he could speak about these Bible truths. He attended religious camp meetings and availed himself of opportunities to speak to them, as Jesus had preached in the synagogues. But he soon realized that more could be accomplished in other ways. His study of the Scriptures showed that Jesus and his apostles did the greater part of their preaching while speaking privately with individuals and when they were calling from house to house. He recognized, too, the value of following up a conversation by putting into the hands of people something in printed form.
Already in 1877 he had published the booklet The Object and Manner of Our Lord’s Return. Two years later he undertook regular publication of the magazine Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence. Yes, the objective was to preach, or to herald, vital news concerning Christ’s presence.
As early as 1881, literature of the Bible Students was being handed out free of charge near the churches—not right at the church doors but nearby so that people who were religiously inclined would receive it. Many of the Bible Students gave such literature to acquaintances or sent it out by mail. By 1903 the Watch Tower recommended that they endeavor to reach everyone by house-to-house distribution of the tracts, instead of concentrating on church attenders. Not all Bible Students did this, but many responded with real zeal. It was reported, for example, that in a number of the large cities in the United States, as well as in their suburbs for ten miles [16 km] or more in every direction, practically every house was visited. Millions upon millions of tracts, or booklets, were put out in this way. At that time most Bible Students who had a share in spreading the good news did it by some kind of free distribution of tracts and other literature.
Others of the Bible Students—more limited in number—served as colporteur evangelists, using a considerable portion of their time exclusively for this work.
Zealous Colporteurs Take the Lead
The first call for dedicated men and women who could use a substantial amount of their time in this service went out in April 1881. They would offer householders and businessmen a small book explaining Bible truths and a subscription for the Watch Tower. Their objective was to search out those who were truth-hungry and share enlightenment with them. For a time they tried saying just enough to stimulate interest, leaving at each home a packet containing literature for the householder to examine, and then returning in a few days. Some householders would return the literature; others might want to purchase it; frequently there would be opportunities for conversation. Regarding their objective, the Watch Tower stated: “It is not the selling of the packets, nor the taking of subscriptions, but the spread of the truth, by getting people to read.”
The number who shared in this colporteur evangelism was relatively small. During the first 30 years, their ranks varied from a few up to 600 or so. These colporteurs were pioneers in the true sense of the word, opening up new territory. Anna Andersen was one who persevered in this service for decades, usually traveling on a bicycle, and she personally reached nearly every town in Norway with the good news. Other colporteurs traveled abroad and were the first to take the message to such lands as Finland, Barbados, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Burma (now Myanmar). There were also some who were not free to move to other areas but who served as colporteur evangelists in their home territory.
The work by the colporteurs was outstanding. One who was serving on the west coast of the United States wrote in 1898 that during the previous 33 months, he had traveled 8,000 miles [12,800 km] with his horse and rig, witnessed in 72 towns, made 18,000 calls, placed 4,500 books, taken 125 subscriptions, given away 40,000 tracts, and seen 40 people not only accept the message but also start sharing it with others. A husband-and-wife team serving in Australia succeeded in placing 20,000 books in the hands of interested persons during a period of just two and a half years.
Were numerous placements the exception rather than the rule? Well, the report for 1909 shows that about 625 colporteurs (the total on the list at that time) received from the Society 626,981 bound books to place with the public (an average of more than a thousand for each colporteur), in addition to a large amount of free literature. They often could not carry enough books from house to house, so they would take orders and then return later to make deliveries.
Nevertheless, some objected: “This is not preaching!” But, in fact, as Brother Russell explained, it was preaching of a most effective sort. Instead of hearing just one sermon, people were receiving many sermons in printed form and thus could enjoy them again and again and could check their contents in their own Bible. This was evangelism that took into account the fact that general education had equipped people to read. The book The New Creation pointed out: “The fact that these evangelists are working on lines adapted to our day instead of upon the lines adapted to the past, is no more an argument against this work than is the fact that they travel by steam and electric power instead of on foot or on camels. The evangelization is through the presentation of the Truth . . . , the Word of God.”
The genuine interest of the Bible Students in helping people was manifest in the thoroughness that in time became characteristic of their preaching work. The Watch Tower of March 1, 1917, outlined the program as follows: First, the colporteurs would call on the homes in an area, offering volumes of Studies in the Scriptures. Then, following up on names noted by the colporteurs or turned in at public meetings, pastoral workers* would call. They endeavored to stimulate a desire to read the literature, encouraged interested ones to attend specially arranged talks, and made an effort to arrange classes for Berean Bible study. When possible, the colporteurs would cover the same area again, and then the pastoral workers would follow through in order to keep in touch with those who showed interest. Later, other class workers would visit the same homes with volunteer matter, as they called the tracts and the other free literature that they offered. This made it possible for everyone to receive at least something that might stimulate a desire to learn more about God’s purpose.
When only one or two colporteurs served in an area, and there was no congregation, the colporteurs often did the follow-up work themselves. Thus, when Hermann Herkendell and his partner went to Bielefeld, Germany, as colporteurs in 1908, they were specifically instructed to acquaint the interested ones in the area with one another and to form a congregation. A few years later, The Watch Tower mentioned other colporteurs who were giving personal attention to interested ones to the point that they were leaving a class of Bible Students in every town or city where they served.
A valuable aid in this work was provided in 1921 in the book The Harp of God. Especially designed to benefit beginners, the book eventually had a circulation of 5,819,037 in 22 languages. To assist those who obtained this book, the Society arranged a correspondence course in topical Bible study. This consisted of 12 questionnaires, sent out over a period of 12 weeks. With the use of this book, arrangements were also made for group Bible discussions in the homes of interested persons. A number of Bible Students would usually attend such a study.
The Witnesses were keenly aware, however, that the field was large and their numbers were few.—Luke 10:2.
Reaching Many When Numbers Were Few
The Watch Tower pointed out that those who were truly spirit-anointed Christians had the God-given responsibility to locate and assist all who were earnest Christians, whether they were churchgoers or not. (Isa. 61:1, 2) How could it be done?
The two Bible Students (J. C. Sunderlin and J. J. Bender) who were sent to England in 1881 could have accomplished relatively little by themselves; but with the assistance of hundreds of young men who were paid for their services, they managed to have 300,000 copies of Food for Thinking Christians distributed in just a short time. Adolf Weber, who returned to Switzerland with the good news in the mid-1890’s, had a vast territory extending into several countries in which to preach. How could he cover it all? He personally traveled far as a colporteur, but he also placed advertisements in newspapers and made arrangements for booksellers to include Watch Tower publications in their collections. The small group of Bible Students in Germany in 1907 arranged to have 4,850,000 four-page tracts mailed out with newspapers. Shortly after the first world war, a Latvian brother who was a member of the Society’s headquarters staff in New York paid for ads in newspapers in the land of his birth. A man who responded to one of those ads became the first Bible Student in Latvia. Use of such means of publicity, however, did not take the place of personal witnessing and the house-to-house search for deserving ones. Rather, it was used to amplify the proclamation.
More than ads were published in the newspapers, however. During the years leading up to World War I, under Brother Russell’s supervision, his sermons were regularly published. In a short period, this picked up amazing momentum. More than 2,000 newspapers, with a combined readership of 15,000,000, were carrying these sermons concurrently in the United States, Canada, Britain, Australia, and South Africa. Could more be done? Brother Russell thought so.
After two years of preparation, the first exhibition of the “Photo-Drama of Creation” was given in January 1914. The “Photo-Drama” was presented in four parts. The eight-hour program included motion pictures and slides, coordinated with voice recordings. It was truly an extraordinary production that was designed to build up appreciation for the Bible and God’s purpose as set out in it. Showings were organized so that 80 cities could be served each day. Advance advertising was done by means of newspapers, a generous number of window signs, and the distribution of large amounts of free printed matter designed to stimulate interest in the “Photo-Drama.” Wherever it was shown, crowds turned out to see it. Within a year the “Photo-Drama” had reached audiences totaling upwards of 8,000,000 persons in the United States and Canada, and further capacity crowds were being reported from Britain and the European continent as well as Australia and New Zealand. The “Photo-Drama” was followed by a somewhat shorter version (without the motion pictures) for use in smaller towns and country areas. In various languages the Drama continued in use for at least two decades. Much interest was stirred up, names of interested ones were turned in, and follow-up calls were made.
Then, in the 1920’s, another instrument became available to give wide publicity to the Kingdom message. Brother Rutherford felt strongly that the hand of the Lord was manifest in its development. What was it? Radio. Less than two years after the world’s first commercial radio station began regular broadcasts (in 1920), J. F. Rutherford, president of the Watch Tower Society, went on the air to broadcast Bible truth. Here was an instrument that could reach millions of people simultaneously. Within two more years, in 1924, the Society had its own radio station, WBBR, in operation in New York. By 1933, the peak year, 408 stations were being used to carry the message to six continents. In addition to live broadcasts, programs on scores of subjects were prerecorded. Intense local advertising by distribution of printed announcements was done so that people would know about the broadcasts and could benefit from them. These broadcasts broke down much prejudice and opened the eyes of honesthearted ones. Many people, out of fear of their neighbors and the clergy, held back from attending meetings sponsored by the Bible Students, but this did not stop them from listening to the radio in the privacy of their own home. The broadcasts did not replace the need for house-to-house witnessing; but they did carry Bible truth to places that were hard to reach, and they provided excellent openings for conversations when the Witnesses personally visited the homes.
Responsibility of Each One to Witness
The responsibility to have a personal share in witnessing had been pointed out in the Watch Tower for decades. But from 1919 on, it was a topic of constant discussion in print and on convention programs. Yet, for many people it was not easy to approach strangers at their doors, and at first only a limited number of the Bible Students shared regularly in house-to-house witnessing.
Heartwarming Scriptural encouragement was given. “Blessed Are the Fearless” was the subject featured in the Watch Tower issues of August 1 and 15, 1919. It warned against fear of man, drew attention to Gideon’s courageous 300 warriors who were alert and willing to serve in whatever way the Lord directed and against seemingly overwhelming odds, and commended Elisha’s fearless reliance on Jehovah. (Judg. 7:1-25; 2 Ki. 6:11-19; Prov. 29:25) In 1921 the article “Be of Good Courage” highlighted not merely the duty but the privilege that it is to serve on the Lord’s side against satanic forces of darkness by having a share in doing the work foretold at Matthew 24:14. Those whose circumstances imposed limitations on them were urged not to be discouraged and at the same time not to hold back from doing what they could.
By frank Scriptural discussions, The Watch Tower made all who professed to be anointed servants of God aware of their responsibility to be proclaimers of God’s Kingdom. The issue of August 15, 1922, had a concise, pointed article entitled “Service Essential”—that is, service in imitation of Christ, service that would take one to the homes of others to tell them about God’s Kingdom. Later that same year, it was shown that such service, to be of value in the sight of God, must be motivated by love. (1 John 5:3) An article in the issue of June 15, 1926, stated that God is not at all impressed by formalistic worship; what he wants is obedience, and that includes appreciation for whatever means he is using to accomplish his purpose. (1 Sam. 15:22) The following year, when considering “Christians’ Mission on Earth,” attention was directed to Jesus’ role as “the faithful and true witness” and to the fact that the apostle Paul preached “publicly and from house to house.”—Rev. 3:14; Acts 20:20.
Detailed presentations for publishers to memorize were provided in the Bulletin, their monthly service instruction sheet. Encouragement was given to share in the field service regularly each week. But the number who actually witnessed by making house-to-house calls was small at first, and some who started out did not continue in the work. In the United States, for example, the average weekly number reported as sharing in the field service in 1922 was 2,712. But by 1924 the figure had dropped to 2,034. In 1926 the average rose to 2,261, with a peak of 5,937 sharing during one week of special activity.
Then, late in 1926, the Society began to encourage congregations to include a portion of Sunday as a time for group witnessing and to offer at that time not only tracts but also books for Bible study. In 1927, The Watch Tower urged loyal ones in the congregations to remove from positions of eldership any whose speech or actions showed that they did not accept the responsibility of witnessing publicly and from house to house. Thus, branches that were not bearing fruit were taken away, as it were, and the ones that remained were pruned so that they might bear more fruit to God’s praise. (Compare Jesus’ illustration at John 15:1-10.) Did this actually result in an increase in public praise to Jehovah? The year 1928 saw a 53-percent increase in the average weekly number of participants in witnessing in the United States!
No longer did the Witnesses simply hand people a free tract and move on. More of them spoke briefly to householders, endeavoring to stir up interest in the Bible’s message, and then offered them books to read.
Those early Witnesses certainly were courageous, although not all of them were tactful. Nevertheless, they stood out as distinct from other religious groups. They did not just say that each one should bear witness to his faith. In ever-increasing numbers, they were actually doing it.
Testimony Cards and Phonographs
Late in 1933 a different method of preaching was begun. By way of introduction, the Witnesses handed people a testimony card that had a brief message for the householder to read. This was especially of great help to new publishers, who did not receive much training in those days. Generally, they made only a few brief remarks to the householder after the card had been read; some spoke at greater length, using the Bible. The use of testimony cards continued well into the 1940’s. It allowed for rapid coverage of territory, and it enabled Witnesses to reach more people, get much valuable Bible literature into their hands, give a uniform witness, and even present the message to people whose language they could not speak. It also resulted in some awkward moments when householders kept the card and shut their door, making it necessary for the Witness to knock again to retrieve it!
Recorded Bible discourses too had a prominent role during the 1930’s and early in the 1940’s. In 1934 some of the Witnesses began to take a portable phonograph with them when they went witnessing. The machine was rather heavy, so they might keep it in their automobile or leave it at a convenient place until they found people who were willing to listen to a recorded Bible discourse. Then, in 1937, use of a portable phonograph right on the doorstep was inaugurated. The procedure was simple: After stating that he had an important Bible message, the Witness would put the needle on the record and let it do the talking. Kasper Keim, a German pioneer serving in the Netherlands, was most grateful for his “Aaron,” as he called the phonograph, because he found it difficult to witness in Dutch. (Compare Exodus 4:14-16.) Out of curiosity entire families would sometimes listen to the records.
As of 1940, more than 40,000 phonographs were being used. That year a new vertical model designed and built by the Witnesses was introduced, and it was put to use especially in the Americas. It stirred up even greater curiosity because householders could not see the record as it was being played. Each record was 78 rpm and was four and a half minutes in length. The titles were short and to the point: “Kingdom,” “Prayer,” “Way to Life,” “Trinity,” “Purgatory,” “Why Clergy Oppose Truth.” Upwards of 90 different discourses were recorded; over a million records were put to use. The presentations were clear and easy to follow. Many householders listened appreciatively; a few reacted violently. But an effective and consistent witness was being given.
Boldly Heralding the Good News in Public Places
Although testimony cards and phonograph records were doing much of the “talking,” great courage was required to be a Witness during those years. The very nature of the work thrust the individual Witnesses before the public.
Following the 1931 convention in Columbus, Ohio, Jehovah’s Witnesses distributed the booklet The Kingdom, the Hope of the World, which included a resolution entitled “Warning From Jehovah” that was addressed “To the Rulers and to the People.” They recognized that as Witnesses for Jehovah, a serious obligation rested on them to deliver the warning set out in his Word. (Ezek. 3:17-21) They did not simply put those booklets in the mail or slip them under doors. They delivered them personally. They called on all the clergy and, to the extent possible, politicians, military officers, and the executives of large corporations. Additionally, they called on the public in general in the approximately one hundred lands where Jehovah’s Witnesses were then carrying on organized witnessing.
By 1933 they were making use of powerful transcription machines to play recordings of straightforward Bible discourses in public places. Brothers Smets and Poelmans mounted their equipment on a tricycle and stood by it as it boomed out the message in the marketplaces and near the churches in Liège, Belgium. They were often out there ten hours a day. People in Jamaica would readily gather when they heard music, so the brothers there played music first. When crowds would pour out of the bush areas to the main roads to see what was happening, they would find Jehovah’s Witnesses delivering the Kingdom message.
Some of that transcription equipment was installed in automobiles and on boats, with loudspeakers on the roof to make the sound carry farther. Bert and Vi Horton, in Australia, operated a van with a large sound horn mounted on top that was inscribed with the words “Kingdom Message.” One year they made almost every street in Melbourne resound with stirring exposures of false religion and heartwarming descriptions of the blessings of God’s Kingdom. During those years Claude Goodman was pioneering in India. Use of the sound car, with records in the local languages, enabled him to reach large crowds in bazaars, in parks, along the road—wherever people could be found.
When the brothers in Lebanon parked their sound car on a hill and broadcast lectures, the sound carried down into the valleys. People in the villages, not seeing the source of the voice, were sometimes frightened, thinking that God was speaking to them out of the heavens!
There were a few tense moments for the brothers, however. On one occasion, in Syria, a village priest left his dinner on the table, grabbed his big walking stick, and ran out into the crowd that was gathering to hear a Bible discourse broadcast from a sound car. Waving his stick angrily and shouting, he demanded: “Stop! I command you to stop!” But the brothers realized that not everyone agreed with him; there were those who wanted to hear. Soon, some of the crowd bodily picked up the priest and carried him back to his house, where they deposited him again at the dinner table! Despite clergy opposition, the Witnesses courageously saw to it that people had the opportunity to hear.
This era also saw extensive use of advertising placards worn by Witnesses in business areas as they distributed invitations to special lectures. It began in 1936 in Glasgow, Scotland. That year the same method of advertising was used in London, England, and then in the United States. Two years later such advertising was augmented by the carrying of signs held aloft on sticks. These signs proclaimed, “Religion Is a Snare and a Racket”* and, “Serve God and Christ the King.” At the time of a convention, the line of marchers bearing these signs might be miles long. As they quietly marched, single file, along heavily traveled streets, the effect was like that of the army of ancient Israel going around Jericho before its walls fell. (Josh. 6:10, 15-21) From London, England, to Manila, in the Philippines, such bold public witnessing was done.
Yet another method of public witnessing was undertaken in 1940. In line with the scripture that refers to ‘true wisdom calling aloud in the streets,’ in February of that year Jehovah’s Witnesses began street-corner distribution of The Watchtower and Consolation (now known as Awake!).* (Prov. 1:20) They would call out slogans drawing attention to the magazines and the message these contained. In large cities and small towns in all parts of the world, Jehovah’s Witnesses offering their magazines have become a familiar sight. But doing that work requires courage, and especially was such courage needed when this work began, for it was an era when there was much persecution coupled with the fever of wartime nationalism.
When called on to share in such public witnessing, the Witnesses responded in faith. The number having a personal share in the work continued to increase. They counted it a privilege to demonstrate their integrity to Jehovah in this way. But there was more for them to learn.
Each One Able to Explain His Faith
An extraordinary program of education got under way in 1942. It started at the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and by the next year, it began to be inaugurated in congregations of the Witnesses earth wide. With confidence that God’s spirit was upon them and that he had put his word in their mouths, they were determined to preach that word even if persecutors were to deprive them of Watch Tower publications or the Bible itself. (Isa. 59:21) There were already lands, such as Nigeria, where the Witnesses had only the Bible to use when preaching, since the government had banned all Watch Tower literature and had even seized the publications many of the brothers had in their private libraries.
It was on February 16, 1942, that Brother Knorr inaugurated an advanced course in theocratic ministry at the Bethel Home in Brooklyn, New York. The course provided instruction in such matters as research, expressing oneself clearly and correctly, outlining material for presentation in discourses, delivering speeches effectively, presenting ideas persuasively, and being tactful. Both brothers and sisters were welcome to attend, but only males were invited to enroll and give student talks on which they would be counseled. The benefits quickly became evident not only in platform speaking but also in greater effectiveness in house-to-house preaching.
The following year this schooling began to be extended to the local congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide. First it was in English, then in other languages. The stated purpose of the school was to help each one of Jehovah’s Witnesses to be able to teach others when calling on people from house to house, making return visits, and conducting Bible studies. Each Witness was going to be helped to become a qualified minister. (2 Tim. 2:2) In 1959, sisters were also given opportunity to enroll in the school and present talks in field-service settings—not addressing themselves to the entire audience but, rather, to the one assigned to take the role of householder. And that was not all.
Since 1926, traveling representatives of the Society had been working along with individual Witnesses in the field service, in order to help them to improve their abilities. However, at an international convention in New York in 1953, with circuit and district overseers seated in front of the platform, Brother Knorr declared that the principal work of all servants, or overseers, should be to help every Witness to be a regular house-to-house minister. “Everyone,” he said, “should be able to preach the good news from house to house.” A global campaign was launched to achieve this.
Why such emphasis on the matter? Consider the United States as an example: At that time 28 percent of the Witnesses were limiting their activity to distributing handbills or standing on the streets with magazines. And over 40 percent of the Witnesses were sharing in the field service only irregularly, allowing months to go by without doing any witnessing at all. There was a need for loving assistance in the form of personal training. Plans were laid that would make it possible for all of Jehovah’s Witnesses who were not already house-to-house Witnesses to be given help in approaching people at their doors, talking to them from the Bible, and answering their questions. They would learn to prepare Scriptural sermons that they could give in perhaps three minutes for people who were busy, or about eight minutes for others. The objective was to assist each Witness to become a mature Christian evangelizer.
It was not only the traveling overseers who gave this instruction. Local servants, or overseers, did too; and in the following years, other well-qualified Witnesses were assigned to train certain ones. For years, demonstrations of how to do the work had been provided on the congregation’s weekly Service Meeting. But this was now coupled with increased emphasis on personal training in the field.
The results were outstanding. The number of Witnesses preaching from house to house increased, as did the number who regularly participated in the field ministry. Within a decade the total number of Witnesses worldwide rose 100 percent. They were also making 126 percent more return visits to answer Bible questions for interested people, and they were conducting 150 percent more regular home Bible studies with those who showed hunger for Bible truth. They were truly proving themselves to be qualified ministers.
In view of the varied educational and cultural backgrounds from which these Witnesses came, and the fact that they were scattered in small groups all over the earth, it is obvious why the Witnesses give credit, not to any man, but to Jehovah God for the way in which they have been equipped and trained to proclaim the good news.—John 14:15-17.
House-to-House Preaching —An Identifying Mark
At various times other religious groups have encouraged their members to call on the homes of people in their community to talk about religion. Some individuals have tried it. Certain ones may even do it as missionaries for a couple of years, but that is the end of it. However, it is only among Jehovah’s Witnesses that virtually all, young and old, male and female, participate year in, year out, in the house-to-house ministry. It is only Jehovah’s Witnesses who truly endeavor to reach all the inhabited earth with the Kingdom message, in obedience to the prophetic command at Matthew 24:14.
It is not that all of Jehovah’s Witnesses find this work easy.* On the contrary, many of them, when they first started to study the Bible, said: ‘There is one thing I will never do, and that is go from house to house!’ Yet, it is an activity in which nearly all of Jehovah’s Witnesses share if they are physically able to do so. And many who are not physically able do it anyway—in wheelchairs, with canes, and so forth. Others—completely unable to leave their home, or temporarily confined, or in order to reach otherwise inaccessible people—witness by telephone or by writing letters. Why this determined effort?
As they come to know Jehovah, their love for him changes their whole outlook on life. They want to talk about him. The wonderful things that he has in store for those who love him are just too good to keep to themselves. And they feel a responsibility before God to warn people about the great tribulation just ahead. (Matt. 24:21; compare Ezekiel 3:17-19.) But why do it by going from house to house?
They know that Jesus taught his disciples to go to the homes of people to preach and to teach. (Matt. 10:11-14) They are aware that after holy spirit was poured out at Pentecost 33 C.E., the apostles continued without letup to declare the good news “in the temple [in Jerusalem] and from house to house.” (Acts 5:42) Every Witness knows Acts 20:20, which says that the apostle Paul taught “publicly and from house to house.” And they see abundant evidence of Jehovah’s blessing on this work in modern times. Thus, as they gain experience in the house-to-house ministry, the activity that they at one time dreaded often becomes something that they eagerly anticipate.
And they are thorough about it. They keep careful records so that they can call back to talk to any who were not at home. Not only that, but they make repeated calls at every home.
Because of the effectiveness of the house-to-house ministry, opposers in many lands have tried to stop it. In order to gain official respect for their right to preach from door to door, Jehovah’s Witnesses have appealed to government officials. Where necessary, they have gone to court in order to legally establish the right to spread the good news in this manner. (Phil. 1:7) And where repressive governments have persisted in forbidding such activity, Jehovah’s Witnesses have at times simply done it in a less conspicuous manner or, if necessary, used other means to reach people with the Kingdom message.
Although radio and television broadcasts have been used to spread the Kingdom message, Jehovah’s Witnesses recognize that the personal contact made possible by house-to-house calls is far more effective. It affords better opportunity to answer the questions of individual householders and to search out deserving ones. (Matt. 10:11) That is one of the reasons why, in 1957, the Watch Tower Society sold radio station WBBR in New York.
Having given a personal witness, however, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not feel that their job is done. It is just a beginning.
“Make Disciples . . . Teaching Them”
Jesus commanded his followers to do more than preach. In imitation of him, they are also to teach. (Matt. 11:1) Before his ascension to heaven, he instructed them: “Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, . . . teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you.” (Matt. 28:19, 20) Teaching (Greek, di·daʹsko) differs from preaching in that the teacher does more than proclaim; he instructs, explains, offers proofs.
The Watch Tower, as early as April 1881, offered some brief suggestions on how to teach. Some of the early colporteurs made it a point to call again on those who showed interest, to encourage them to read the Society’s books and meet with others for regular study of God’s Word. The book The Harp of God (published in 1921) was often used for that purpose. Later on, however, even more was done in the way of giving personal attention to interested ones. Recorded Bible lectures along with printed study guides were prominently used in this activity. How did that come about?
Since early 1933, the Society had supplemented its radio broadcasts with recordings played on portable transcription equipment in meeting halls, in parks, at factory gates, and so forth. Within a short time, Witnesses who located interested persons when calling from house to house were making arrangements to return to play some of these recordings for them in their homes. When the book Riches became available in 1936, discussions from it were used, after the recordings, to establish studies that could be attended by interested ones in the area. This work was emphasized especially with a view to helping prospective members of the “great multitude” to learn the truth.—Rev. 7:9, KJ.
At about that time, the Catholic hierarchy stepped up its pressure on owners and managers of radio stations as well as government agencies in a determined effort to stop the broadcasting of Watch Tower programs. A petition signed by 2,630,000 persons in the United States requested a public debate between J. F. Rutherford and a high official of the Roman Catholic Church. None of the Catholic clergy were willing to accept the challenge. So, in 1937, Brother Rutherford made recordings entitled “Exposed” and “Religion and Christianity,” which presented basic Bible teachings, particularly in refutation of unscriptural Catholic doctrines. The same material was published in the booklets Protection and Uncovered, and a copy of Uncovered was personally delivered to everyone who had signed the petition so that the people could read for themselves the Bible truths that the Catholic hierarchy was seeking to suppress.
In order to help people to see the issues clearly and to examine the Scriptural basis for these, the booklet Model Study No. 1 was printed for use at meetings arranged for interested people. The booklet contained questions, answers, and scriptures in support of the answers given. First, the conductor would have one or more discs of the aforementioned recorded lectures played so that everyone could hear the overall argument. Then, discussion would follow, using the material provided in the Model Study booklet and examining the scriptures themselves. Model Study No. 1 was followed by Nos. 2 and 3, coordinated with other recorded discourses. Such studies were organized first at locations where groups of interested people could be gathered, but soon they were also being held with individuals and families.
Since that time many excellent books have been provided especially for use by Jehovah’s Witnesses in conducting home Bible studies. Those having the greatest circulation were “Let God Be True,” The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life, and You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth. There were also 32-page booklets—“This Good News of the Kingdom,” God’s Way Is Love, “Look! I Am Making All Things New,” and many others. These were followed by brochures such as Enjoy Life on Earth Forever!, which contains a very simple and easy-to-understand presentation of basic Bible teachings.
The use of these instruments, coupled with extensive congregational and personal training, has resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of home Bible studies being conducted. In 1950, home Bible studies, often conducted each week, averaged 234,952. Studies that did not make sufficient progress were dropped. Many students progressed to the point that they, in turn, became teachers. In spite of the constant turnover, the number has continued to rise, often quite rapidly. As of 1992, the Witnesses were conducting 4,278,127 home Bible studies worldwide.
In order to accomplish this vast work of preaching and teaching, in the languages of all the earth, Jehovah’s Witnesses have made extensive use of the printed page. This has required publishing operations of gigantic proportions.
The pastoral work was first organized during 1915-16 in the 500 or so congregations that had elected Brother Russell to be their pastor. As pastor, he had written a letter to them outlining the work, which was at first limited to the sisters. The following year brothers too were included in this activity. This pastoral work, carried on by a select group, continued until 1921.
That wording was based on the understanding that the term religion embraced all worship built on the traditions of men, instead of on God’s Word, the Bible. However, in 1950, when the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures was published, footnotes at Acts 26:5, Colossians 2:18, and James 1:26, 27 indicated that the term religion could properly be used to refer to true worship or false. This was further clarified in The Watchtower of March 15, 1951, page 191, and the book What Has Religion Done for Mankind?, pages 8-10.
Some street witnessing with the magazines had been done on a trial basis the preceding year, in California, U.S.A. Even as far back as 1926, the Bible Students had engaged in general street distribution of booklets containing important messages. Much earlier, in 1881, they had distributed literature near the churches on Sundays.
[Blurb on page 556]
Wherever he found people, Jesus talked about God’s purpose for humankind
[Box on page 559]
Special Blessing on Door-to-Door Work
“As at the first advent, work from door to door, instead of pulpit preaching, seems to be receiving the Lord’s special blessing.”—“Watch Tower,” July 15, 1892.
[Box on page 570]
Why the Witnesses Call Again and Again
Explaining why Jehovah’s Witnesses make repeated calls at every home, “The Watchtower” of July 1, 1962, said: “Circumstances keep changing. Today a man may not be at home, next time he may be. Today he may be too busy to listen, but the next time he may not be. Today one member of the family answers the door, the next time another member does; and the Witnesses are concerned with reaching not only every home in their assignments but also, if possible, each mature person in each home. Often families are divided as to religion, so it is not always possible for one member to speak for the entire family. Besides, people keep moving and so the Witnesses never can be certain as to just whom they will meet at a certain door.
“Not only do the circumstances change, but the people themselves change. . . . For just some trifle a man may have been out of sorts and not at all willing to discuss religion or anything else no matter who came to his door, but it does not at all follow that he will be of that mental attitude at another time. Or, just because a man was not at all interested in discussing religion last month does not mean he might not be this month. Since the last time a Witness called this man may have had a soul-harrowing experience or in some other way learned something that made him humble instead of proud, hungry and conscious of his spiritual need instead of self-satisfied.
“Besides, the message the Witnesses bring sounds strange to many persons and they fail to grasp its urgency. Only by hearing it again and again do they gradually get the point.”
[Box/Picture on page 574]
Using “Every Way Possible”
“Those of us inside the Lord’s organization have tried, in every way possible, to turn [the world’s] attention to the message of life. We have used slogans, full-page advertisements, radio, sound cars, portable phonographs, gigantic conventions, parades of information-walkers carrying signs, and a growing army of house-to-house ministers. This activity has served to divide people—those in favor of God’s established Kingdom on the one side, those against it on the other. This was the work foretold by Jesus for my generation.”—Written in 1987 by Melvin Sargent, at 91 years of age.
[Graph on page 574]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
Increase of Home Bible Studies
1950 1960 1970 1980 1992
[Pictures on page 557]
Tens of millions of these tracts were distributed, free of charge, near the churches, from house to house, and by mail
[Pictures on page 558]
Colporteur evangelists distributed books explaining the Bible
[Picture on page 559]
Anna Andersen reached nearly every town in Norway with Bible literature
[Pictures on page 560]
Newspaper ads helped to reach people who were not being contacted in other ways
[Pictures on page 561]
More than 2,000 newspapers on four continents carried Brother Russell’s sermons concurrently
[Pictures on page 562]
The “Photo-Drama of Creation” gave a powerful witness to millions of people in many lands
[Picture on page 563]
By means of radio, J. F. Rutherford was able to witness to millions of people worldwide right in their homes
[Picture on page 564]
Prepared to leave by bicycle for group witnessing in England
[Picture on page 565]
Starting in 1933, printed testimony cards were used
[Picture on page 566]
Recorded Bible discourses gave a powerful witness during the 1930’s and 1940’s
[Picture on page 567]
Sound cars, sometimes many of them (as here in Australia), were used to broadcast Bible truth in public places
[Picture on page 568]
Illuminated signs in the windows of homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses gave a round-the-clock witness
[Picture on page 568]
Advertising placards and signs contributed to a bold public witness (as here in Scotland)
[Picture on page 569]
Street distribution of “The Watchtower” and “Consolation” (as shown here in U.S.A.) began in 1940
[Picture on page 569]
Starting in 1943, brothers in the congregations were given training in public speaking
[Pictures on page 571]
Home Bible studies are conducted with interested people. Below are publications specially designed for that—published first in English, then in many other languages
[Pictures on page 572, 573]
Young and old, male and female, Witnesses around the globe share in house-to-house witnessing