LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — For the first time in the history of the Jehovah’s Witnesses religious organization, they will be holding their worldwide annual conventions virtually.
Last year, more than 14 million people attended these conventions. In the US alone, Jehovah’s Witnesses typically hold 800 conventions with an attendance of nearly 2 million.
Global attendance spans 240 lands, making it the largest convention organization in the world.
However, this year, they are canceling their conventions around the world out of concern for the health and safety of local communities, and moving all events online to a streaming platform.
Jehovah’s Witnesses have been holding large scale conventions for more than 100 years. Typically, these conventions are held in stadiums, arenas, conference halls, and smaller gathering places around the world.
For the past 10 years, with cooperation from local officials, many Las Vegas residents have traveled to Saint George, Utah for annual conventions held at either Dixie Convention Center or Dixie State University’s Burns Arena. Attendance at those smaller events reaches about 13,900, according to Jamie Dunjey, local spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic though, those conventions were canceled in April 2020 for the health and safety of both the public and those who would attend.
Congregations, families, and guests will now view the “Always Rejoice”! virtual program online for six weeks during July and August 2020.
“Our worship is centered on our mutual love for our God and for each other, irrespective of where we are physically. This year’s convention program underscores the unity of our international family and the joy that people can have against a backdrop of stress and despair,” said Robert Hendriks, US spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The two Christian principles guiding the Witnesses’ historic decision are respect for the sanctity of life and love of neighbor.
“As much as we long to meet together, life is far too precious to put at risk,” added Hendriks.
Millions will be streaming the convention from their homes beginning Saturday, July 11, and July 12 in over 100 languages.
In cooperation with government officials who have placed restrictions on large gatherings amid the coronavirus pandemic, Jehovah’s Witnesses paused holding in-person congregation meetings, and are instead utilizing videoconferencing platforms to hold weekly meetings.
“The virtual meetings we have held over the past four months have proved to all of us that it’s not about where we are physically. It’s about where we are spiritually. In many ways we are closer as a spiritual family than ever before,” added Hendriks.
Witnesses have also used creative methods to continue their ministry while following the direction of local authorities. Many write letters and make phone calls to reach their neighbors. Others send encouraging text messages with web links to those who have expressed interest in the past. While some conduct regular Bible studies using virtual meeting software.
Each year, many who are not Jehovah’s Witnesses also attend the annual international conventions.
Those interested in viewing the convention this year can contact someone from a local congregation or access the program online for free.
There are more than 8.6 million active Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide, yet the 2019 conventions had a peak attendance of more than 14 million.
With this year’s program available online in hundreds of languages, this may be the most attended convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses to date.
For more information about the “Always Rejoice”! Convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses, you can visit the website jw.org.