The Governing Body and its committees supervise operations of thirty zones, with nearly one hundred branch offices worldwide. Each branch office oversees activities of Jehovah's Witnesses in a particular country or region, and may include facilities for the publication and distribution of Watch Tower Society literature. Directly appointed by the Governing Body, branch committees make local appointments and perform other administrative functions for congregations, which are organized within circuits and districts. The Governing Body directly appoints circuit overseers as its representatives to supervise activities in circuits of about twenty congregations; headquarters representatives visit groups of branch offices in a particular zone and report back to the Governing Body.
Each congregation is served by a group of locally recommended, branch-appointed male elders and ministerial servants. Elders take responsibility for congregational governance, pastoral work, 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.
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 March 2014 has comprised seven members, each of whom claims to be of the "anointed" class with a hope of heavenly life (whereas most Jehovah's Witnesses hope to be resurrected in an earthly paradise). There are no elections for membership; new members are selected by the existing body. Each of its members serves as chairman, with the position rotating among members alphabetically each year. Until late 2012, the Governing Body described itself as the representative and "spokesman" of God's "faithful and discreet slave class" (approximately 10,000 Jehovah's Witnesses who profess to be "anointed"), providing "spiritual food" for Witnesses worldwide on behalf of the "faithful and discreet slave class". In practice it sought neither advice nor approval from other "anointed" Witnesses when formulating policies and doctrines, or when producing material for publications and conventions. At the 2012 Annual Meeting of the Watch Tower Society, the "faithful and discreet slave" was defined as referring to the Governing Body only.
From 1944, Watch Tower publications had made occasional references to a governing body, identifying it with the board of directors of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. 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, although all doctrinal and publishing decisions continued to be made by, or were subject to, the approval of the Society's president. 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.
The Governing Body directs six committees made up of its full members and its "helpers"; the six committees are responsible for various administrative functions within the Witness community, including personnel, publishing, evangelizing activity, school and assembly programs, writing, and coordination. The full Body directly appoints all headquarters representatives, circuit overseers, collectively referred to as "traveling overseers", and also appoints branch office committee members. Only branch committeemen and traveling overseers are referred to as "representatives of the Governing Body".
In the last decade, the Governing Body has reiterated its overall oversight role but has delegated other Witnesses, typically branch committee members, to serve as corporate executives and directors of Watch Tower and other incorporated entities.
Jehovah's Witnesses operate 91 branch offices worldwide, grouped into thirty global "zones", each under the oversight of a headquarters representative who visits each of his assigned branches every few years, auditing operations, counseling branch committeemen, department heads, and missionaries, and reporting back to the Governing Body. Each branch office is referred to as Bethel. The United States branch office, spread across three New York State locations with a staff of more than 5000, also serves as the international headquarters.
Branch offices, operated by Witness volunteers known as Bethel families, produce and distribute Bible-based literature and communicate with congregations within their jurisdiction. Full-time staff at branch offices take a vow of poverty and are considered members of a religious order. Each branch is overseen by a committee of three or more elders, which is appointed by the Governing Body. A Service Department in each branch corresponds with congregations and supervises the work of traveling overseers. Branch offices may also have printing, translation and legal and departments.
New York headquarters of Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society
Each branch office appoints various committees in its jurisdiction's communities, with local elders as members. Committees may include:
Jehovah's Witnesses use the term traveling overseer to refer to either a headquarters representative, or a circuit overseer. All overseers are elders; headquarters representatives and circuit overseers are directly appointed by the Governing Body. A branch may appoint qualified local elders as "substitute" circuit overseers. Circuit overseers typically perform such substitute assignments for several years before receiving a regular appointment. Additional training is provided at their School for Traveling Overseers, and ongoing pastoral care and instruction is provided to them by senior branch office representatives. In 1995, Witnesses reported that 4374 traveling overseers cared for 78,620 congregations, an average of about 18 congregations each.
The majority of traveling overseers are circuit overseers; they oversee circuits of about twenty congregations, performing twice-yearly week-long visits with each. During his visit, the circuit overseer delivers talks to the congregation and meets with the elders, ministerial servants and pioneers. He typically works with various members of the congregation in the house-to-house preaching work, and may also conduct personal Bible studies and pastoral calls.
Jehovah's Witnesses are instructed to "participate in a joyful interchange of encouragement" with traveling overseers, and to render them "double honor", a biblical term they believe includes cooperation and hospitality. Traveling overseers are generally members of a religious order who have taken a vow of poverty; they are provided with vehicles, healthcare, and lodging, and their basic expenses are reimbursed by the congregations they serve.
Congregations are usually based on geographical area or language spoken, and may have as few as ten or as many as two hundred members. Congregations meet for religious services at Kingdom Halls, which may be shared by two or more congregations. If a small group of Witnesses is isolated by geography or language, it may have some or all of its meetings at a different time and place to the rest of the congregation, under the supervision of that congregation's body of elders. Branch offices record and recognize geographically isolated and foreign-language groups. If a group intends to become a new congregation, the area's circuit overseer submits an application to the branch office.
Each congregation is assigned a territory; members are requested to attend the congregation of the territory in which they reside. Members also meet in smaller "field service groups", often at private homes, prior to engaging in organized door-to-door preaching. Each field service group has an appointed "group overseer" (an elder) or "group servant" (a ministerial servant). Witnesses are instructed to devote as much time as possible to preaching activities ("witnessing" or "field service"), and to provide a monthly report to their congregation summarizing their preaching activity. Jehovah's Witnesses consider all baptized Witnesses to be ministers. Participants in organized preaching activity are referred to as publishers. The Watchtower Society only counts as members those who are approved and active as publishers.
Congregations are governed by local elders, who are assisted by ministerial servants. Elders and ministerial servants are appointed in each congregation for handling various religious and administrative duties. Only male members may 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 perform some of their duties only if a baptized male is unavailable; female Witnesses leading in prayer or teaching are required to wear a head covering.
Each congregation has a body of elders, who are responsible for teaching the congregation. Elders maintain general responsibility for congregational governance, pastoral work, 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.
There are no secular educational requirements for elders; however, training programs are offered for elders within the organization. Elders are considered "overseers" based on the biblical Greek term, ἐπίσκοπος (episkopos, typically translated "bishop"). Prospective elders are recommended from among ministerial servants and former elders by the local elder body for appointment by the circuit overseer.
Particular roles within the body of elders include:
Coordinator of the Body of Elders: chairs elders’ meetings, assigns duties and speakers for most congregation meetings, and cares for certain financial matters.
Service Overseer: organizes matters related to public preaching, and oversees those handling Witness literature and territories.
Congregation Secretary: maintains congregation records, reports congregation activity to the branch headquarters, advises the congregation about conventions and assemblies, and oversees those handling accounts.
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.
Auxiliary Counselor: responsible for providing private counsel, as needed, to elders or ministerial servants that handle meeting parts.
Operating Committee Members: 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.
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 manner to elders.
The following roles are normally filled by ministerial servants:
Accounts Servant: collects donations from contribution boxes after each meeting, deposits moneys, pays bills.
Sound Servant: 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: distributes literature in stock, takes requests for special items, or yearly items for use by congregation members. May place special request orders for publishers in their own Kingdom Hall.
Literature Coordinator: orders and receives stock and bulk literature for multiple congregations meeting at a single Kingdom Hall.
Magazine Servant: arranges orders of study, simplified, foreign language, and non-print editions of The Watchtower and Awake! magazines.
Magazine Coordinator: orders and receives all magazines for congregations meeting at a single Kingdom Hall, and stocks them in a designated magazine pickup area.
Territory Servant: distributes 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 are members who have been publicly baptized following conversion to the faith. Jehovah's Witnesses do not practice infant baptism, and previous baptisms performed by other denominations are not considered valid. Prior to baptism, they are required to respond to a series of questions to assess their suitability, and to make a personal dedication to serve God. Baptisms are typically performed at assemblies and conventions. From the moment of baptism, the organization officially considers the person to be one of Jehovah's Witnesses, and an ordained minister.
Regular publishers do not have a specific quota of hours for preaching each month, although publishers are requested to "set goals such as reaching [the] national average of hours for publishers". Publishers are typically each required to 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. Elders may allow certain publishers to count fifteen-minute increments if special circumstances limit them, such as advancing age or limiting health. Publishers who fail to report for one month are termed "irregular"; those who do not report for six consecutive months are classed as "inactive". The terms irregular and inactive are used to indicate members in need of 'spiritual assistance' from the local congregation elders. Yearly reports of congregation activity are compiled and published annually in a Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses. Those habitually 'irregular' or 'inactive' are usually restricted from serving in any special capacity.
Baptized publishers in 'good standing' may serve in various special preaching capacities:
Auxiliary pioneers: make a commitment of thirty or fifty hours of preaching activities for a given month. This can be performed on a per month or ongoing basis.
Regular pioneers: make a commitment of an average of seventy hours of preaching activity each month, totaling 840 hours for the year. For congregation elders to recommend appointment of a regular pioneer, a publisher must be baptized for at least six months and be considered an exemplary member of the congregation. Members who have been reproved or reinstated in the last year may not serve as regular pioneers.
Special pioneers: assigned by a branch to perform special activity, such as preaching in remote areas, which may require at least 130 hours per month. Special pioneers receive a stipend for basic living expenses.
Missionaries: sent to foreign countries to preach. They spend at least 130 hours per month in preaching. Before assignment to a location, missionaries may receive training at Gilead School. Missionaries receive a stipend for basic living expenses.
When accompanied by adults, children of baptized Witnesses may participate in organized preaching without formally qualifying. However, only those who are publishers are counted in the religion's official membership statistics. Children of Witness parents may be asked to participate in demonstrations at congregation meetings and assemblies, or as models and actors in materials published by the Watch Tower Society.
Unbaptized publishers are persons who are not yet baptized, but who have requested and been granted approval to join in the congregation's formal ministry. They must demonstrate a basic knowledge of Jehovah's Witnesses' doctrines to the elders, state their desire to be one of Jehovah's Witnesses, and conform to the organization's understanding of moral standards.
Their congregation handbook states that a person hoping to qualify as an unbaptized publisher should already be "an active associate of Jehovah's Witnesses", that is, he or she should regularly attend congregation meetings.
Prior to 1988, unbaptized publishers were referred to as "approved associate", "unbaptized associates" or "regularly associating". The terms were discontinued due to the view that mere meeting attendance constitutes neither approval of nor commitment to the faith.
The term Bible student, sometimes informally referred to as a "Bible study", is generally used by Witnesses to refer to an individual who takes part in their religious study program (though all Witnesses consider themselves to be students of the Bible). The purpose of the Bible study program is for the student to become baptized as one of Jehovah's Witnesses.
Students usually have their study with the same Witness for the duration of the study program, often being the member who first encounters them while preaching. Interested individuals initially contacted by a member of the opposite sex are typically assigned a study conductor of their own gender. A student typically meets with their study conductor once each week at the student's home or other suitable location. The study program involves consideration of a Bible-based publication that addresses Jehovah's Witnesses' core beliefs. Each paragraph is read aloud by the conductor or student, 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. Each Bible study is typically conducted with an individual or family, though in some cases many people may take part.
Students are invited to attend and even comment at congregation meetings. 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, 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.
Individuals who attend meetings of Jehovah's Witnesses but are not involved in preaching are occasionally referred to in Watch Tower Society publications as "associates" or as being "associated with the congregation". Attendance figures for Witness events include "Jehovah's Witnesses and associates"; such statistics may be cited for comparison of Witness numbers with membership figures of other religions, but only those sharing in their ministry are counted by Jehovah's Witnesses when reporting their official statistics.
Unbaptized individuals who attend meetings of Jehovah's Witnesses are not subject to congregation discipline, though elders may privately warn members of the congregation about individuals considered to constitute "an unusual threat to the flock."
^"Court Trial Testimony Redwood City". Superior Court of the State of California. February 22, 2012. "I am general counsel for the National Organization of Jehovah's Witnesses out of Brooklyn, New York. ... We are a hierarchical religion structured just like the Catholic Church."
^"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."
^"We Shall Walk in the Name of Jehovah Our God". The Watchtower: 21. 1 September 2005.
^ abcdePenton, M. James (1997). Apocalypse Delayed: The Story of Jehovah's Witnesses. University of Toronto Press. pp. 211–252. ISBN0-8020-7973-3.
^Twelve members as of September 2005 (The Watchtower, March 15, 2006, page 26) Schroeder died March 8, 2006 (The Watchtower, September 15, 2006, page 31) Sydlik died April 18, 2006 (The Watchtower, January 1, 2007, page 8) Barber died April 8, 2007 (The Watchtower, October 15, 2007, page 31) Jaracz died June 9, 2010 (The Watchtower, November 15, 2010, page 23) Barr died December 4, 2010 (The Watchtower, May 15, 2011, page 6) Pierce died March 18, 2014 ("Guy H. Pierce, Member of the Governing Body, Dies at 79")
^Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. 2007 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses. pp. 4, 6.
^Botting, Heather & Gary (1984). The Orwellian World of Jehovah's Witnesses. University of Toronto Press. p. 178. ISBN0-8020-6545-7.
^Franz, Raymond (2007). In Search of Christian Freedom. Commentary Press. p. 123. ISBN0-914675-17-6.
^(1 Timothy 5:17-18, NWT) "Let the older men who preside in a fine way be reckoned worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard in speaking and teaching. 18 For the scripture says: “You must not muzzle a bull when it threshes out the grain”".
^"The “Divine Peace” District Convention—Just What We Needed!", The Watchtower, January 15, 1987, page 29, "[T]raveling overseers...are, indeed, worthy of double honor because of their many duties. These include giving talks, helping out with problems, training brothers in witnessing, and visiting the physically or spiritually sick. Truly, all traveling overseers deserve our full cooperation and Lydialike hospitality."
^Jehovah's Witnesses in the Twentieth Century, page 25
^1983 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses, p. 118, "Australia"
^It is recommended but not required that members attend the congregation of the territory in which they reside. See "What are the advantages of attending the congregation that holds the territory where we live?", Our Kingdom Ministry, November 2002, page 7
^Watchtower 10/15/74 p. 630 How Are Jehovah’s Witnesses Different?
^"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."
^Our Kingdom Ministry 9/98 p. 3 pars. 1-4 Overseers Taking the Lead
^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."
^Our Kingdom Ministry 12/98 p. 8 Overseers Taking the Lead—The Watchtower Study Conductor
^Our Kingdom Ministry 11/98 p. 8 Overseers Taking the Lead—The Theocratic Ministry School Overseer
^Our Kingdom Ministry'10/07 p. 3 Theocratic Ministry School Schedule for 2008'
^The Congregation Book Study—Why We Need It, Our Kingdom Ministry June 2004, p. 4 pars. 4-5.
^The Watchtower, September 1, 2000 page 26; and September 1, 1997, page 26
^"Should Babies Be Baptized?". The Watchtower. March 15, 1986, page=4–7.Check date values in: |date= (help)
^"Why One Must Be Baptized". The Watchtower: 406. July 1, 1956.
^"Why Be Baptized?", The Watchtower, April 1, 2002, p. 13.
^"Overseers and Ministerial Servants Theocratically Appointed", The Watchtower, January 15, 2001, page 12, "At their baptism, new disciples are ordained as ministers of Jehovah God. Who ordains them? ...Jehovah God himself!"
^"Meetings to Help Us Make Disciples", Our Kingdom Ministry, November 1987, page 2, "...set goals such as reaching national average of hours for publishers"
^Our Kingdom Ministry 9/88 p. 3 Report Field Service Accurately'
^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."
^"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."
^"Question Box: To what extent may young children of Christian parents share in the field ministry before they are recognized as unbaptized publishers?", Our Kingdom Ministry, October 1992, page 7, "[Witness] parents can decide to what extent a child can share in giving a witness as they work together. Children who are not yet recognized as unbaptized publishers should not make calls on their own or accompany other children in field service."
^"Question Box", Our Kingdom Ministry, October 1975, page 8, "Rather, the persons referred to as "regularly associating" are those who have made some progress in the way of truth and who have been attending meetings regularly over a period of time."
^"Helping Others to Worship God", The Watchtower, November 15, 1988, page 17, "Previously, an unbaptized person who qualified to share in the field ministry was termed an "approved associate." However, "unbaptized publisher" is a more accurate designation"
^"Questions From Readers", The Watchtower, February 15, 1989, page 29
^The Watchtower, November 1, 1992, page 26, "See What Jehovah Has Done for Us!"
^"Conduct Progressive Doorstep and Telephone Bible Studies", Our Kingdom Ministry, April 2006, page 3
^"Question Box". Our Kingdom Ministry: 2. May 1997.
^Our Ministry: Person-to-person ministry, JW-Media.org, Retrieved 2012-09-06, "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."
^"Russia", 2008 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses, page 231
^"Pay Attention to Your “Art of Teaching”", The Watchtower, January 15, 2008, page 11
^"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."
^"Do Not Forget Those Who Are Inactive", Our Kingdom Ministry, February 2007, page 8
^"Unitedly Building to Praise God", The Watchtower, November 1, 2006, page 20
^"Are You Ready to Attend?", Awake!, May 8, 1986, page 24
^"Press release June 24, 2000", JW-Media.org Jehovah's Witnesses Official Media Web Site, As Retrieved 2010-08-12, "Jehovah’s Witnesses, who have more than 14 million members and associates worldwide"
^"‘Blessings Are for the Righteous One’", The Watchtower, July 15, 2001, page 25, "In the year 2000, over 14 million attended the Memorial of Jesus’ death [as commemorated by Jehovah's Witnesses]"
^"Note about JW adherent/member/publisher statistics", Adherents.com, Retrieved 2010-08-12, "[Their own] standard for being counted as a "member" means the Jehovah's Witness statistics are perhaps the most conservative figures presented by any religious group. A more realistic measure of how many "adherents" the group has can probably be obtained by looking at their Memorial attendance figures. These figures are simply the count of people at their yearly communion meeting. Attendance at a yearly meeting may not seem like a high standard for being counted as an adherent, but it is actually the standard used by groups such as Anglicans to issue estimates of "active" membership."