Organizational structure of Jehovah's Witnesses: Wikis


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Jehovah's Witnesses are organized under a hierarchical arrangement their leadership calls a "theocratic government", under the belief that it is an extension of God's heavenly government on earth.[1][2][3] The organization is headed by the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses, based in the Watch Tower Society's Brooklyn, New York headquarters. The Governing Body directs six committees that are responsible for various administrative functions within the Witness community, including publication, assembly programs and evangelizing activity.[3] The committees supervise operations of 115 Watchtower Society branches around the world, which oversee Witnesses in their country or region and produce literature for use by local members and for evangelism. Branches serving a country or region appoint district and circuit overseers to supervise local congregations.

Each congregation is served by a group of locally-recommended, branch-appointed male elders and ministerial servants (their term for "deacons"). Elders take responsibility for congregational governance, setting meeting times, selecting speakers and conducting meetings, directing the public preaching work, and creating "judicial committees" to investigate and decide disciplinary action for cases that are seen as breaching scriptural laws. Ministerial servants fulfill clerical and attendant duties, but may also teach and conduct meetings.[3]


Governing Body

The organization is directed by the Governing Body, based in the Watchtower Society's Brooklyn, New York headquarters – an all-male group that varies in size, but since 2007 has comprised nine members,[4] each of whom claims to be of the "anointed" class with a hope of heavenly life.[5][6] There are no elections for membership, with new members selected by the existing body.[7] Each of its members serves as chairman, with the position rotating among members alphabetically each year.[8] The Governing Body is described as the "representative"[9] of God's "faithful and discreet slave class" (the approximately 10,800 remaining "anointed" Jehovah's Witnesses),[10][11] and is said to provide "spiritual food" for Witnesses worldwide on behalf of the "faithful and discreet slave class". In practice it seeks neither advice nor approval from other "anointed" Witnesses when formulating policies and doctrines, or when producing material for publications and conventions.[12][13]

From 1944, Watch Tower publications had made occasional references to a governing body,[14] identifying it as the board of directors of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania.[15] In October 1971, four additional men joined the seven members of the Society's board of directors on what became known as a separate, expanded Governing Body. The Governing Body was then for the first time formally defined, indicating that it provided the religion with direction, guidance and regulation,[16][17] although all doctrinal and publishing decisions continued to be made by, or were subject to, the approval of the Society's president.[18] Organizational changes at the highest levels of the Watchtower Society in 1976 significantly increased the powers and authority of the Governing Body and reduced those of the Watch Tower Society president.[19]

The Governing Body directs six committees, which are responsible for various administrative functions within the Witness community, including publication, assembly programs and evangelizing activity.[3] It directly appoints all members of branch committees as well as district and circuit overseers.[20]


The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania is the primary corporation the group uses to represent its interests. The Pennsylvania corporation has voting members who live in all parts of the world. They meet annually and elect or re-elect seven directors, who themselves elect officers including the Society president.[21] Other subsidiary corporations used include:

In the majority of other countries of the world, local corporations have been established to facilitate the organization's work.

Branches and zones

Jehovah's Witnesses are organized in 115 branches around the world,[22] grouped into thirty global "zones", each under the oversight of a zone overseer.[23][24] Each branch office is referred to as Bethel.[25] The United States branch office, spread across three New York State locations with a staff of more than 5000,[26] also serves as the international headquarters.

Branch facilities, operated by volunteers known as Bethel families, produce and distribute Bible literature and communicate with congregations within their jurisdiction.[27] Staff at branch offices take a vow of poverty.[28] Each branch is overseen by a Branch Committee of three or more men, which is appointed by the Governing Body. A Service Department in each branch corresponds with congregations and supervises the work of traveling overseers, and may also have printing, translation, legal and Hospital Information Services departments.

New York headquarters of Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society

Committees are appointed by each branch office to organize specific matters; each committee serves a particular locality with local elders as committeemen. Such committees may include:

Units within a branch

A branch is further organized into a number of units served by overseers:

  • A district consists of a number of circuits and is served by a district overseer, whose responsibilities include spending a week with the circuit overseer visiting a congregation, and teaching students of the Ministerial Training School. District overseers have a large role in planning and presenting circuit assemblies.[31]

  • A circuit, served by a circuit overseer, includes a number of congregations. The number of congregations in each circuit is usually between 18 and 25.[32] The circuit overseer visits each congregation twice a year.[31] Such visits typically last one week, during which the circuit overseer delivers talks to the congregation and the general public, meets with the elders, ministerial servants and pioneers, and leads in the house-to-house preaching work.

  • A city overseer may be appointed in cities with more than one congregation to take care of various issues that affect the whole city. He is an elder in one of the congregations. His responsibilities are limited, as the branch office usually deals directly with each congregation.[33]

Jehovah's Witnesses use the term "traveling overseer" to refer to either a circuit or district overseer; in practice, a district overseer may also care for a small circuit, and a circuit overseer may occasionally serve as a district overseer.


Members are assigned to congregations, which may have only ten to twenty members, or as many as 200, usually based on geographical area or language spoken.[34][35] They are governed in many aspects by the local elders,[36][37] who are assisted by ministerial servants. Congregation meetings and some "meetings for field service" are held at the Kingdom Hall, which may be shared by two or more congregations. Congregations arrange for small groups of members to meet as "field service groups", often at private homes, for such "meetings for field service" under the care of an assigned "group overseer" or "group servant".[38]

The term "group" is also a formal designation for a new assemblage of Witnesses or a small assemblage isolated by geography or language; that is, the "group" is formally a part of a neighboring congregation. Under the supervision of that congregation's entire body of elders, such a group may have some or all of its meetings in a different time, place, and language as the rest of the congregation. A branch office records and recognizes geographically isolated and foreign-language groups, and any eventual application for a group to become a congregation is typically submitted to a branch office by the area circuit overseer.[39]

Witnesses are instructed to devote as much time as possible to preaching activities within defined congregation "territories" and provide a monthly report to their congregation on their witnessing activity.[40] Jehovah's Witnesses believe that all baptized Witnesses are ministers.[41] All who participate in the witnessing activity (evangelistic work or "field service"), arranged by congregations are known as publishers.[42] The Watchtower Society counts as members only those who are approved and active as publishers.[43]

Elders and ministerial servants are appointed in each congregation for handling various religious and administrative duties. Only male members are allowed to serve in the capacity of elder or ministerial servant. In smaller congregations, one man may handle multiple positions until another qualified candidate is available. Baptized female members may be used for privileges if a baptized male is unavailable; female Witnesses leading in prayer or teaching are required to wear a head covering.[44]



Each congregation has a body of elders, who are responsible for teaching the congregation. Elders maintain general responsibility for congregational governance, selecting speakers and conducting meetings, directing the public preaching work and creating "judicial committees" to investigate and decide disciplinary action for cases that are seen as breaching scriptural or organizational laws.

There are no secular educational requirements of elders. Prospective elders are recommended by the local elder body for appointment by the branch, which additionally approves each appointment to the local Congregation Service Committee. Service Committee roles include:

  • Coordinator of the Body of Elders (previously known as the Presiding Overseer) chairs elders’ meetings, prepares the Service Meeting, assigns a conductor for the Congregation Bible Study, and oversees financial matters.
  • Service Overseer organizes matters related to public preaching, and oversees those handling literature, magazines, and territories.[45]
  • Congregation Secretary maintains congregation records, reports congregation activity to the branch headquarters, advises the congregation about conventions and assemblies, and oversees those handling accounts.[46]

Additional roles within the body of elders include:

  • Watchtower Study Conductor leads the weekly Watchtower study.[47]
  • Theocratic Ministry School Overseer conducts the Theocratic Ministry School, assigns student assignments, counsels students with a goal to improving their preaching skills, and conducts bi-monthly question-and-answer reviews.[48][49]
  • Auxiliary Counselor is responsible for providing private counsel, as needed, to elders or ministerial servants that handle meeting parts.
  • Operating Committee Members are responsible for the care of the building and property of Kingdom Halls that are shared by two or more congregations.
  • Public Talk Coordinator schedules speakers and talks for the public meetings and co-ordinates traveling speakers from his congregation.
  • Literature Coordinator is responsible for inventory, ordering, and distribution of literature for Kingdom Halls that are shared by two or more congregations.

Ministerial servants

Ministerial servants, equivalent to deacons, are appointed to assist the elders with routine work, including the supply of literature to the congregation, accounts, maintaining the Kingdom Hall, and operating audio equipment. They also present various parts at the meetings. Ministerial servants are appointed in a similar fashion to elders.[3]

The following roles are normally filled by ministerial servants:

  • Accounts Servant collects donations from contribution boxes after each meeting, deposits monies, pays bills.
  • Sound Servant[51] coordinates and schedules others to run microphones, handle the stage and podium and operate audio equipment; in large congregations, a separate Platform Servant may also be assigned.
  • Literature Servant handles literature in stock, takes request for special items, or yearly items for use by congregation members.
  • Magazine Servant distributes magazines to members of the congregation.
  • Territory Servant assigns territory for preaching and keeps records of all territories within the local congregation's area.
  • Attendant Servant greets visitors, seats latecomers, takes attendance count, and is responsible for climate control of the Kingdom Hall and parking lot security.
  • Theocratic Ministry School Assistant distributes assignments to Ministry School students, times student talks; may make reminder phone calls to students with upcoming talks and conduct auxiliary schools.
  • Group Servant assumes role of Group Overseer when a sufficient number of elders is not available, under supervision of the body of elders.

Baptized publishers

A baptized publisher is someone who has responded to a series of questions, has made a personal dedication to serve God, and demonstrated it through a public baptism.[52] These baptisms are performed at assemblies and conventions organized by the Governing Body, although in the past, individual baptisms would take place under the arrangement of the local congregation. From the moment of baptism, the person is officially identified as one of Jehovah's Witnesses.

A regular publisher does not have a specific quota of hours each month, although many feel obligated to spend at least the national average of hours as reported in the monthly newsletter, Our Kingdom Ministry. Typically, a publisher must report at least one hour per month to be counted as a 'regular publisher'. Only whole hours are reported. Incomplete hours are carried over to the next month.[53] Elders may allow publishers to count 15-minute increments if special circumstances limit them, such as advancing age or limiting health. If a publisher fails to report for one month they are termed "irregular".[54] If a publisher fails to report for six months, they are classed as "inactive".[55] The terms, irregular and inactive, are used to indicate those that may require 'spiritual assistance' from the local congregation elders. Yearly reports of congregation activity are compiled by the organization, and published annually in a Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses. Those habitually 'irregular' or 'inactive' are usually restricted from serving in any special capacity.

There are different levels of increased service available to baptized publishers in 'good standing' within the organization:

  • Auxiliary pioneers - make a commitment to do 50 hours of field service for a given month. This can be done on a per month basis, or on an ongoing basis.
  • Regular pioneers - make a commitment to perform on average 70 hours of field service each month, totaling 840 hours for the year.[56] A publisher must be baptized for at least 6 months and deemed to have good morals and be an exemplary publisher, in order to be recommended by the elders of their local congregation to be a regular pioneer. This includes not having been reproved or disfellowshipped in the last year.[57]
  • Special pioneers - assigned by a branch to take on special work, such as publishing in remote areas. This may require committing to at least 130 hours per month in the public ministry. Special pioneers are given a stipend for basic living expenses.
  • Missionaries - sent to foreign countries to preach. They use at least 130 hours per month in preaching. Before being assigned to a location, such persons may go through training at Gilead School. Missionaries are given a stipend for basic living expenses.

Unbaptized publishers

Unbaptized publishers, previously referred to as approved associates,[58] are persons who are not yet baptized, but are able to demonstrate to the elders a basic knowledge of the doctrines of Jehovah's Witnesses. They must confirm that they conform to the moral standards required by the organization and are asked to state that they want to be one of Jehovah's Witnesses.[59]


The term Bible student, sometimes informally referred to as a "Bible study",[60] is generally used by Witnesses to refer to an individual who takes part in their religious study programme (though all witnesses consider themselves to be students of the Bible). The purpose of the Bible study programme is for the student to become baptized as one of Jehovah's Witnesses.[61]

Students usually have their study with the same Witness for the duration of the study programme, often being the member who first encounters them while preaching. A student typically meets with their study conductor once each week at the student's home or other suitable location. The study programme involves consideration of a Bible-based publication that addresses Jehovah's Witnesses' core beliefs. Each paragraph is read aloud by the conductor, and the student answers pre-printed questions from the material in the paragraph. Students are encouraged to look up cited scriptures in the Bible and include them in their responses.[62] Each Bible study is typically conducted with an individual or family,[63][64] though in some cases many people may take part.[65]

Students are invited to attend and even comment at congregation meetings.[66][67][68] If they attend meetings regularly and are considered to demonstrate progress toward becoming an unbaptized publisher, they may receive a copy of the monthly newsletter Our Kingdom Ministry,[69] and may also qualify to join the congregation's Theocratic Ministry School. Students may also attend reading-improvement or literacy classes in congregations where these additional courses are held.[70][71][72]

See also

External links


  1. ^ "Walking in the Name of Jehovah". The Watchtower: 530–531. 1 September 1959. "So the Kingdom will never be established on earth as though it were an earthly arrangement, although it will extend its rule and bring blessings to men of faith on earth.". 
  2. ^ "We Shall Walk in the Name of Jehovah Our God". The Watchtower: 21. 1 September 2005. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Penton, M. James (1997). Apocalypse Delayed: The Story of Jehovah's Witnesses. University of Toronto Press. pp. 211–252. ISBN 0-8020-7973-3. 
  4. ^ Twelve members as of September 2005 (See The Watchtower, March 15, 2006, page 26)
    Schroeder died March 8, 2006 (See The Watchtower, September 15, 2006, page 31)
    Sydlik died April 18, 2006 (See The Watchtower, January 1, 2007, page 8)
    Barber died April 8, 2007 (See The Watchtower, October 15, 2007, page 31)
  5. ^ Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. 2007 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses. pp. 4, 6. 
  6. ^ Botting, Heather & Gary (1984). The Orwellian World of Jehovah's Witnesses. University of Toronto Press. pp. 178. ISBN 0-8020-6545-7. 
  7. ^ Franz, Raymond (2007). In Search of Christian Freedom. Commentary Press. pp. 123. ISBN 0-914675-17-6. 
  8. ^ Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses. 1975. p. 250. 
  9. ^ "How the Governing Body Is Organized", The Watchtower, May 15, 2008, page 29.
  10. ^ Franz, Raymond (2007). In Search of Christian Freedom. Commentary Press. pp. 153. ISBN 0-914675-17-6. 
  11. ^ 2009 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses Worldwide Report 2008 Grand Totals
  12. ^ Franz, Raymond (2007). In Search of Christian Freedom. Commentary Press. pp. 154–164. ISBN 0-914675-17-6. 
  13. ^ "The faithful steward and its governing body", The Watchtower, June 15, 2009, page 24.
  14. ^ The Watchtower, November 1, 1944, as cited by Raymond Franz, Crisis of Conscience, p.74 footnote.
  15. ^ 1970 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses, Watchtower Society, page 65
  16. ^ "A Governing Body as Different from a Legal Corporation". The Watchtower: 755. 15 December 1971.  Article discusses formal definition of Governing Body, and makes first use of capitalized term.
  17. ^ "Questions From Readers". The Watchtower: 703. November 15, 1972. 
  18. ^ Franz, Raymond (2000). "3-4". Crisis of Conscience. Commentary Press, Third edition, Second printing. pp. 42–108. 
  19. ^ Franz, Raymond (2007). Crisis of Conscience. Commentary Press. pp. 44–110. ISBN 0-914675-23-0. 
  20. ^ The Watchtower, January 15, 2001, pages 14-15
  21. ^ a b Holden, Andrew (2002). Jehovah's Witnesses: Portrait of a Contemporary Religious Movement. Routledge. pp. 29. ISBN 0-415-26610-6. 
  22. ^ Annual report, 2008 Yearbook
  23. ^ 1978 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses p. 20
  24. ^ "Declaring the Good News Without Letup", Jehovah's Witnesses - Proclaimers of God's Kingdom, page 101.
  25. ^ The Watchtower, 1 August 1997, p. 9
  26. ^ 2003 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses, page 24; "In all, the United States Bethel family numbers 5,465."
  27. ^ Jehovah’s Witnesses—Unitedly Doing God’s Will Worldwide, p. 25-27
  28. ^ "Trust in Jehovah!", The Watchtower, December 15, 1993, page 13.
  29. ^ "Positions of Responsibility in the Organization", Organized to Do Jehovah's Will, ©2005 Watch Tower, page 45
  30. ^ "“God Is Not Partial”", Bearing Witness, ©2009 Watch Tower, page 76, "Branch Committees quickly organize the formation of relief committees to look after our brothers who may be affected by natural disasters, including hurricanes, earthquakes, and tsunamis."
  31. ^ a b "Development of the Organization Structure", Jehovah's Witnesses - Proclaimers of God's Kingdom, page 223.
  32. ^ Jehovah’s Witnesses—Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom p. 19.
  33. ^ "Overseers to Shepherd the Flock", Organized to Do Jehovah's Will, ©2005 Watch Tower, page 45-46
  34. ^ Jehovah's Witnesses in the Twentieth Century, page 25
  35. ^ 1983 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses, p. 118, "Australia"
  36. ^ Watchtower 1/1/72 p. 9 par. 1
  37. ^ Watchtower 10/15/74 p. 630 How Are Jehovah’s Witnesses Different?
  38. ^ "New Congregation Meeting Schedule", Our Kingdom Ministry, October 2008, page 1.
  39. ^ "Methods of Preaching the Good News", Organized to Do Jehovah's Will, ©2005 Watch Tower, page 106-107
  40. ^ Botting, Heather; Gary Botting (1984). The Orwellian World of Jehovah's Witnesses. University of Toronto Press. pp. 52. ISBN 0-8029-2537-4. 
  41. ^ Watchtower 10/15/62 p. 626 "Is Every Witness a Minister?"
  42. ^ True Worship Means Action The Watchtower September 1, 1965, p. 533.
  43. ^ Our Kingdom Ministry 2/02 p. 5 par. 18 “Preach the Word of God Fully”
  44. ^ "Questions From Readers", The Watchtower, July 15, 2002, page 27, "While sharing in certain congregation activities, Christian women may need to wear a head covering. At a midweek meeting for field service, for example, there may only be Christian sisters present, no baptized males. There may be other occasions when no baptized males are present at a congregation meeting. If a sister has to handle duties usually performed by a brother at a congregationally arranged meeting or meeting for field service, she should wear a head covering."
  45. ^ Our Kingdom Ministry 9/98 p. 3 pars. 1-4 Overseers Taking the Lead
  46. ^ Our Kingdom Ministry 10/98 p. 7 par. 1-2 Overseers Taking the Lead—The Secretary, "As a member of the Congregation Service Committee, he cares for the congregation’s communications and important records. ... He directly oversees those handling accounts and subscriptions as well as all convention-related matters."
  47. ^ Our Kingdom Ministry 12/98 p. 8 Overseers Taking the Lead—The Watchtower Study Conductor
  48. ^ Our Kingdom Ministry 11/98 p. 8 Overseers Taking the Lead—The Theocratic Ministry School Overseer
  49. ^ Our Kingdom Ministry'10/07 p. 3 Theocratic Ministry School Schedule for 2008'
  50. ^ The Congregation Book Study—Why We Need It, Our Kingdom Ministry June 2004, p. 4 pars. 4-5.
  51. ^ The Watchtower, September 1, 2000 page 26; and September 1, 1997, page 26
  52. ^ Why Be Baptized? The Watchtower April 1, 2002, p. 13.
  53. ^ Our Kingdom Ministry' 9/88 p. 3 Report Field Service Accurately'
  54. ^ Our Kingdom Ministry December 1987, p. 7.
  55. ^ Our Kingdom Ministry October 1982, p. 1.
  56. ^ Our Kingdom Ministry 8/99 p. 3 par. 3 " regular pioneers need to devote 70 hours to the ministry each month for a total of 840 hours per service year."
  57. ^ "Continued Increase Calls for Simplification of Procedures", Our Kingdom Ministry, August 1986, page 6, "A full year must have passed from the time a judicial reproof was given or since reinstatement following disfellowshipping before one could be considered for auxiliary or regular pioneer service. Furthermore, a person who is currently under any restrictions by a judicial committee would not qualify for such pioneer service privileges until all restrictions are removed."
  58. ^ "Questions from Readers". The Watchtower: 29. February 15, 1989. 
  59. ^ Questions From Readers, The Watchtower, December 1, 1989, p. 31.
  60. ^ The Watchtower, November 1, 1992, page 26, "See What Jehovah Has Done for Us!"
  61. ^ "Conduct Progressive Doorstep and Telephone Bible Studies", Our Kingdom Ministry, April 2006, page 3
  62. ^ What Does The Bible Really Teach? © Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania 2005. | p. 7 Is This What God Purposed?”
  63. ^ Membership and Publishing Statistics
  64. ^ Ministry to the Public, Retrieved 2009-04-15, "If a Witness finds someone who is interested in learning more about the Bible, further discussions can be arranged, or an appointment for a weekly home Bible study can be made."
  65. ^ "Russia", 2008 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses, page 231
  66. ^ Our Kingdom Ministry, October 1986, page 7
  67. ^ Our Kingdom Ministry, April 1997, page 3-4
  68. ^ "Pay Attention to Your “Art of Teaching”", The Watchtower, January 15, 2008, page 11
  69. ^ "Question Box", Our Kingdom Ministry, February 1987, page 8, "All baptized publishers and approved associates should receive a copy. Those who regularly attend the Service Meeting and who are making progress toward sharing in the field ministry should also receive a copy."
  70. ^ "Chapter 7 Meetings that 'Incite to Love and Fine Works'", Organized to Do Jehovah's Will, ©2005 Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, subheading "Theocratic Ministry School", page 68
  71. ^ "Guidelines for School Overseers", Benefit From Theocratic Ministry School Education, ©2002 Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, page 282
  72. ^ "Apply Yourself to Reading", Benefit From Theocratic Ministry School Education, ©2002 Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, page 21


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