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Jehovah's Witnesses have a unique organizational structure, unlike that of other religious organizations. - Compare Congregationalism, Presbyterian, Episcopalian.
PublishersAll who take part in the congregation-sponsored witnessing activity are known as publishers. Persons intending to become Jehovah's Witnesses typically become publishers after several months to a year of Bible study with the Witnesses. Although many discuss their beliefs with their friends, relatives and acquaintances on an informal basis, participation in the house-to-house ministry of Jehovah's Witnesses requires authorization from the congregation's elders. Most new Witnesses spend several months as unbaptized publishers before being baptized. Some witnesses commit to spending 70 hours every month in witnessing activites; they are known as regular pioneers. Others spend 50 hours in a particular month, and are known as auxiliary pioneers In some countries, Witnesses are appointed as missionaries or special pioneers, who usually commit to spending 130 hours per month preaching.
Congregations of Jehovah's Witnesses vary in size, but are usually between 50 and 150 publishers. They meet in a Kingdom Hall twice a week. Smaller meetings are also held weekly in private homes.
Congregation meetings generally involve the participation of the members. Two of the meetings, the Congregation Book Study and the Watchtower Study have a question-and-answer format, with paragraphs from publication being read, printed questions being propounded and answered, and scripture citations being read. In the Theocratic Ministry School members of the congregation take turns at giving short talks to the congregation. (Women present dialogues in pairs.) Once a week, a 45-minute public discourse is given.
Elders and Ministerial Servants
Each congregation has a body of Elders who make decisions regarding the local congregation's activities and welfare, on the basis of direction received from the Branch Office. They are expected to teach the congregation from the platform, make pastoral visits (known as shepherding calls) to congregation members, and to take the lead in the evangelizing work.
Ministerial Servants are generally less experienced Witnesses, appointed to assist the elders with routine work, such as taking care of the Kingdom Hall, the sound and microphone system, supplies of books, magazines and tracts, congregation accounts. They may also take part in teaching the congregation in certain circumstances.
New elders and ministerial servants are appointed by the local Branch Office of Jehovah's Witnesses, usually on the recommendation of the local body of elders, during a visit of a Circuit Overseer (see below.) Only males may be appointed as elders and ministerial servants, although females may perform most of the activites listed as duties of Ministerial Servants above, if they do not involve teaching the congregation. (This is mostly in small congregations and others which for some reason have a shortage of competent and qualified males.)
Congregations are grouped together into circuits, usually consisting of about 20 congregations. These meet together twice a year for assemblies, and are also visited twice a year by a Circuit Overseer, an elder representing the Branch Office. Such visits typically last one week, during which the Circuit Overseer delivers talks for the congregation and the general public, meets with the elders, ministerial servants and pioneers, and participates in the house-to-house evangelizing work.
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 attending the circuit's yearly two-day assembly.
Annually, usually in summer, a three-day District Convention is held. Despite its name, it may be attended by less than a whole district, or by several districts together. Often such conventions are held in sports facilities.
There are Branch Offices of Jehovah's Witnesses in 110 countries. The Branch Office may include a translation department, a legal department, a hospital information services department, as well as printing facilities in larger branches. Each branch has a Service Department that corresponds with the congregations and supervises the work of Circuit and District Overseers.
In each branch, a committee of three to seven persons serve as a Branch Committee, appointed by the governing body.
Decisions regarding matters concerning Jehovah's Witnesses worldwide are made by the group's Governing Body, located in Brooklyn, New York. Until the 1970s, this group was identical with the board of directors of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. Currently, the responsibility for serving as directors of the various corporations the group uses have been delegated to others, and the chairmanship of the Governing Body rotates annually.
The current members of the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses, in alphabetical order, are:
The Governing Body supervises all the activities of Jehovah's Witnesses throughout the earth. This includes writing, translating and publication of literature, planning the program of congregation meetings, arranging for circuit and district conventions, sending out missionaries, making appointments of elders, ministerial servants, as well as circuit and district overseers, and arranging for disaster relief.
The work of the Governing Body is undertaken by six committees:
A number of other elders, not members of the Governing Body, serve on some of these committees as assistants.
The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York is one of a number of legal corporations the group uses to represent its interests. Other corporations used include the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, the Christian Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses and the International Bible Students Association, based in London, England.
In the majority other countries of the world, local corporations have been established to facilitate the organization's work.