Places of Worship and Architecture
Whilst the Jehovah’s Witnesses have purchased a few former churches in the UK, the huge majority of Jehovah’s Witnesses around the world worship in distinctive, purpose-built, buildings called Kingdom Halls. Chryssides notes that the term ‘Kingdom Hall’ came into use in the mid-1930s and refers to “the Society’s central message, which is the coming kingdom of God.” He writes, “the redesigning of the buildings was to encourage simplicity in worship, distancing Jehovah’s Witnesses from what they regarded as the over-elaborate buildings that are often found in Christendom.” (2016: 204).These rather bland and functional-looking buildings have been designed as the most cost-effective means of establishing buildings quickly and easily as needed. A number of different designs of Kingdom Halls exist and these can be selected ‘off the shelf’ from the local design and construction department, adapted slightly for any necessary planning regulations, and then may be constructed by the congregation over the course of a week or two, in a practice known as ‘quickly built’. In 2018, this means of building is less common than it has been in the past. As the majority of Jehovah’s Witnesses enter trade jobs, rather than professions, most aspects of construction can be covered by the congregation and other local or regional volunteers. The finances necessary for the construction of UK Kingdom Halls is distributed as a grant from the umbrella body in the UK, to which all surplus funds are donated. The Hall is not considered a sacred building, though it is only used for worship and related activities, and it is not consecrated although there may be a dedication service.
Inside the Kingdom Hall, the emphasis is also on functionality and comfort. There are no religious symbols (see Symbols of Faith above) and no pulpit or pews. Instead, rows of chairs face a raised platform, much as in a classroom. There is often a computer and projector or other means of screening videos during the teaching sessions, as much emphasis is placed on online and audio-visual learning materials.
In addition, Jehovah’s Witnesses have Assembly Halls, which are larger buildings for the purpose of the meetings of ‘circuits’ (which are themselves around 20 local congregations). These may be purpose-built but are often bought for the purpose and Chryssides notes that former cinemas are favoured as they already have the necessary tiered seats facing centre (2016: 207). Baptisms usually take place in the Assembly Hall.