Structure and Authority

The overall direction of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is in the hands of the Governing Body, which is based at the headquarters in New York. There are two incorporated societies in America: The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania and The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York which oversees printing operations. The Governing Body currently, in early 2018, has eight members, all of whom are believed to be of the 144,000 ‘anointed class’.Individual congregations are led by elders, comparable in some ways to clergy in other denominations, but without special titles, and without being paid for their work. Elders are assisted by ministerial servants who fulfil such practical tasks as welcoming attendees to services and handing out literature, in order that elders can focus on teaching and shepherding duties. In some ways, the Jehovah’s Witnesses can be considered an egalitarian movement – any man can become an elder or ministerial servant and the lack of clergy titles and remuneration creates a sense of equality. However, women cannot become elders or ministerial servants. (See also the Values and Commitments section for information on the practice of disfellowshipping and the authority which elders can hold over parts of their congregation).

Governing Body representatives visit the 240 lands where Jehovah’s Witnesses are present to meet with branch representatives. Each branch is divided into circuits and each circuit has about 20 congregations (based at a Kingdom Hall, which several congregations might share) ranging in size from a few to 200 people. A circuit overseer visits each congregation in his circuit twice a year. Each congregation is mapped out into territories and individual Witnesses endeavour to visit every home in the territory.

As in the USA, there are two main Jehovah’s Witnesses organisations in the UK, both of which are registered charities: The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Britain and The International Bible Students Association (IBSA) (individual congregations are also registered charities). These manage the printing, literature distribution, translation work and related administrative functions of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Around 300 staff live ‘on-site’ at the IBSA headquarters located in North London. This complex, spread along and around a residential road in an affluent, suburban area, includes a printing press; offices; purpose-built residential complexes with communal living areas, including a cafeteria where members eat communally; large houses which have been purchased for additional accommodation; and a Kingdom Hall. The building in which the offices and printing press are located is open to the public, who can walk in for guided tours and talks. It is also open to schools and there are interactive displays for children. There are similar complexes around the world which are called ‘Bethels’ (Hebrew for House of God).

However, in 2019, the Jehovah’s Witnesses UK headquarters will be relocated to Chelmsford in Essex, to a purpose-built complex at a property formerly called Temple Farm. Jehovah’s Witnesses report that this is because they have out-grown the London site in Mill Hill, but it also parallels a move in New York to move from the city centre to an out-of-town location for financial reasons.

Jehovah’s Witnesses do not use the terminology of membership. A distinction is made between those who are baptised and those who are not yet baptised. (Children are not usually baptised until between the ages of 13-16.) Baptised Jehovah’s Witnesses are known as ‘publishers’ – those who go door to door spreading the word and distributing and materials. Publishers are engaged in ‘witnessing’ for Jehovah and they are asked to report their preaching activity to their local congregation each month (it is in this way that the number of Witnesses in each congregation is determined). Some share in the publishing work prior to their baptism (if they are on the path to converting, for instance) and are known as ‘unbaptised publishers’. A wider number of people attend services, including the annual Memorial Service.

Jehovah’s Witnesses do not practice tithing (donating a regular amount of money to the Church, often 10% of earnings, which is common in some Christian traditions). However, they are encouraged to make modest donations to the Church and to leave legacies. The Church also has some income from investments.

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