by Reese Rickards
The doorbell rang a few years ago and answering it I found two women standing on the porch from a local Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Contrary to conventional wisdom about a visit from the Witnesses they were not pushy and didn’t demand money for a publication I probably wouldn’t have read.
One of the women was delightful and we had a very pleasant conversation. She came back several months later with her husband and I invited them in. By then she knew my wife and I are active Episcopalians and I am a deacon, so we agreed to disagree about theological issues. My friends return once or twice a year and I’m always glad to see them. Most of our conversation is about scripture.
At a recent visit, though, they wanted to tell me about the Witnesses’ website. They showed me examples of web pages they had downloaded to a cell phone. The JW site blew me away.
I can’t cite empirical evidence but my guess is that 95% or more of American church websites are all about the churches: history, clergy, church school, choir, “friendliness”, parking, etc. Not so with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Certainly they toot their own horn, but they also have page after page devoted to persons in some level or another of distress. For example, couples can read essays and watch video on how to deal with in-laws, how to compromise, how to stop arguing. They have similar pages prepared for teenagers and for children. Many of the kids’ offerings are Disney-quality animated cartoons.
All this outreach is coupled with references (and links) to scripture. On pages explaining who Jehovah’s Witnesses are invitations are extended to attend one of their meetings and a soft reminder no collection is ever taken. I’m certain people with troubled lives and find answers on the JW website seriously consider accepting the invitation.
As a lifelong Episcopalian I must have attended not less than a bazillion meetings and the agendas of many have included something about outreach. If we were as good at doing outreach as we are in talking about it peace in our time might be just around the corner. Yet here are the Witnesses showing us how easy it is to do outreach…outreach at the level where most people live: marital issues, sick children, death, financial difficulty, bullying. Episcopalians owe it to their churches, themselves, and to God to see what a church website should be. Access it at http://jw.org.
The Ven. Reese S. Rickards was ordained a vocational deacon in 1972 in the Diocese of Chicago, serving there for twenty years until retirement from his secular work as a radio broadcaster. In retirement at the Diocese of Easton, Maryland he was named Archdeacon and served in the capacity of Canon to the Ordinary.