Organizational structure of Jehovah's Witnesses

From Academic Kids

Jehovah's Witnesses have a unique organizational structure, unlike that of other religious organizations. (Compare Roman Catholic Church, Congregationalism, Presbyterian church governance, and Episcopalian church governance.)



All who take part in the witnessing activity arranged by the Christian Congregations of Jehovah's Witnesses are known as publishers. A publisher engages in preaching this good news of the kingdom. (Matthew 24:14) Although Jehovah's Witnesses do publish books, magazines, brochures, booklets, cassettes, CD's, DVD's, tracts, as well as digital information on the Internet, the primary meaning of the word "publisher", in this instance, is a person who is engaged in the public ministry of sharing Bible information with his neighbors.

Baptized Publishers

A baptized publisher is someone who has made his private dedication to serve God manifest through a public baptism. From this moment on he can correctly be called one of Jehovah's Witnesses, in the sense that s/he is a witness to Jehovah's right as sovereign God. (Isaiah 43:10-13)

Unbaptized Publishers

Unbaptized publishers could include children or other persons who are on their way to becoming baptized, but not necessarily. A person qualifies to become an unbaptized publisher when able to demonstrate sufficient understanding of the meaning of this step. The person who is conducting the Bible study with the unbaptized person approaches the Congregation Service Committee. They arrange for two elders to meet with the student to examine the student's understanding of what is required in representing the message of God's Kingdom. If qualified, he or she will begin to officially share in the public ministry. Often a person will already be sharing with their friends and relatives the information they are learning from a Bible study with one of Jehovah's Witnesses.

Other Publishers

There are different avenues of service available to publishers within the Christian Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses. Some may want to serve as pioneers, which means they spend at least 70 hours a month in the public ministry.

Others may chose to serve as auxiliary pioneers. They make an effort to spend at least 50 hours a month in the public ministry.

There are also missionaries and special pioneers, who take on a special work, such as publishing in remote areas. This may require committing to at least 130 hours a month in the public ministry.

In order to serve as a pioneer, auxiliary pioneer, missionaries, or special pioneer one must be baptised.

A regular publisher does not have a quota of hours each month. Whatever a person can do is accepted. Some elderly publishers may, because of their situation, only be able to count 15 minutes in the public ministry each month.


The Congregation Book Study

Meetings are held weekly, and in some cases, in private homes in small groups, Congregation Book Study groups, with usually 10-20 publishers. These groups are the smallest unit in the congregation arrangement and is the basic unit that is still working if congregational activity is banned in an area. The group has an overseer, usually an elder, who is responsible for the group. The publisher gives his service report to the overseer, and is cared for spiritually mainly by this person. The public ministry is usually arranged within this small unit of publishers.

Meetings in the Congregation

Each Book Study Group is part of a congregation. Within this larger unit, meetings are usually held twice a week, two meetings at the time, in a Kingdom Hall. These four meetings are: The Public Meeting, with a public discourse, the Watchtower Study, which is a question and answer consideration of an article in a current Watchtower magazine, the Theocratic Ministry School, and the Service Meeting, each meeting is 40 minutes to an hour in length. All meetings begin and end with prayer, are free for anyone to attend and usually include the singing of Kingdom Songs. (See also: Practices of Jehovah's Witnesses#Meetings)

Circuits, Districts, Zones and Their Overseers

Each congregation is part of a Circuit, being cared for by a Circuit Overseer. Each circuit of congregations is part of a District, being cared for by a District Overseer. This in turn is under the supervision of a Branch Office ( The Branch Office is under direct supervision of the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses. All Branch Offices are part of a Zone with a Zone Overseer appointed by the Governing Body.


The congregations come together twice a year for assemblies, and are also visited twice a year by the Circuit Overseer, an experienced 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 annual two-day assembly. Annually, usually in summer, a three-day or four-day District Convention is held. Despite its name, it may be attended by less than a whole district, or by several districts together. Such conventions are held in suitable facilities, usually seating thousands of visitors.


A zone consists of a number of Branch Offices. It is served by Zone Overseers appointed by the Governing Body. Their main work is to help Branch Committees with problems and questions in the ministry.


Jehovah's Witnesses do not have the clergy-laity distinctions common among many other religious denominations. Rather they believe that according to the Bible, all of Jehovah's worshipers are ministers. Nevertheless, as a practical matter there are overseers appointed to take the lead in the ministry and the teaching in the local congregations.

The Elders

Each congregation has a body of elders some of whom serve as "Overseers", who make decisions regarding the local congregation's activities and welfare. For example, 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. The elder serving as 'Presiding Overseer' leads the elder meetings, the 'Service Overseer' handles ministry issues within the congregation, and the 'Secretary' takes care of documents. In addition, an elder may be appointed as a Book Study Overseer, with the specific responsibility of conducting the weekly book study arrangement.

The Ministerial Servants

Ministerial Servants are appointed to assist the elders with routine work, such as taking care of the Kingdom Hall, the sound and microphone system, supplies of publications, congregation accounts. They may also take part in teaching the congregation in certain circumstances.

Appointments of Elders and Ministerial Servants

New elders and ministerial servants are appointed by the local Branch Office of Jehovah's Witnesses, who are assigned by the Governing Body to act on their behalf in this matter, usually on the recommendation of the local body of elders, during a visit of a Circuit Overseer. Only men may be appointed as elders and ministerial servants, although women may perform most of the activities of Ministerial Servants above, if they do not involve teaching the congregation. For a women to act as a teacher in a congregation, specific requirements are set forth in the Scriptures. (This is mostly in small congregations and others which for some reason have a shortage of competent and qualified men.) (1 Corinthians 14:31-35; 1 Timothy 2:11-14)

Branch Offices

There are Branch Offices of Jehovah's Witnesses in about 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 or more persons serve as a Branch Committee, appointed by the governing body.

The Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses

Decisions regarding matters concerning Jehovah's Witnesses worldwide are made by the 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. Since 2000, 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 president of the Watch Tower Society, Don A. Adams, is not a member of the Governing Body. As of October, 2004, the current members of the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses, in alphabetical order, are:

  • Carey W. Barber
  • John Barr
  • Samuel Herd
  • Theodore Jaracz
  • Stephen Lett
  • Gerrit Lsch
  • Guy Pierce
  • Albert Schroeder
  • David Splane
  • Daniel Sydlik

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:

  • Personnel Committee - arranges for volunteers to serve in the organization's headquarters and branch offices.
  • Publishing Committee - handles legal matters, such as property and printing.
  • Service Committee - takes care of witness work and supervises traveling overseers, pioneers, and the activities of congregation publishers.
  • Teaching Committee - arranges congregation meetings, special assembly days, circuit assemblies, and district and international conventions as well as various schools for elders, ministerial servants, pioneers, missionaries.
  • Writing Committee - supervises the preparation and translation of publications, including magazines, brochures, books, audio, video cassettes, CDs and DVDs.
  • Chairman's Committee - cares for emergencies, disaster relief and other urgent matters.

A number of other elders, not members of the Governing Body, serve on some of these committees as assistants.

Legal Instruments

The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania is one of a number of legal corporations the group uses to represent its interests. Other corporations used include, for example, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., the Christian Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses and the International Bible Students Association, based in London, England. In the majority of other countries of the world, local corporations have been established to facilitate the organization's work.

In the past, the presidents of the Watchtower Society have been important persons in the history and development of the religious group.

See Legal instruments of Jehovah's Witnesses for further information.

See also



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