History and Organization
The modern-day organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses began toward the end of the 19th century with a small group of Bible students near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
In 1879 we began publishing the Bible journal now called The Watchtower Announcing Jehovah’s Kingdom. It is published in more than 190 languages and is the world’s most widely circulated religious magazine. The name Jehovah’s Witnesses was adopted in 1931. Previously, we had been known as International Bible Students.
How we are organized
Following the model of first-century Christianity, Jehovah’s Witnesses have no clergy-laity division. All baptized members are ordained ministers and share in the preaching and teaching work. Witnesses are organized into congregations of up to 200 members. Spiritually mature men in each congregation serve as elders. A body of elders supervises each congregation. About 20 congregations form a circuit, and about 10 circuits are grouped into a district. Congregations receive periodic visits from traveling elders. Guidance and instructions are provided by a multinational governing body made up of longtime Witnesses who currently serve at the international offices of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Brooklyn, New York.—Acts 15:23-29; 1 Timothy 3:1-7.
This international brotherhood of people of all races is made up of about 7.4 million practicing members organized into more than 109,000 congregations in more than 235 lands.
The following chart represents worldwide membership statistics as of September 2011. A report broken down by country is also available.
|Attendance at the annual Memorial of Christ’s death||19,374,737|
|Total volunteer hours spent in public Bible educational work||1,707,094,710|
|Average monthly home Bible courses taught||8,490,746|
|Increase over 2010||2.4%|
|New members baptized in 2011||263,131|
|* While other religious groups count their membership by occasional or annual attendance, this figure reflects only those who are actively involved in the public Bible educational work.|
Racial and ethnic unity
Jehovah’s Witnesses, who come from all racial and ethnic groups, believe the Bible’s teaching that all races are equal in the sight of God. Through Bible education, we have been successful in helping many to overcome deep-seated prejudices.—Acts 17:26.
Even under extreme pressure, we will not support any movement motivated by racial or ethnic hatred. During the Nazi era, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany and elsewhere refused to support Hitler’s campaign of hatred. Thousands paid with their lives. Historian Christine King described the contest in this way: “One [the Nazis] was monstrous, powerful, and seemingly invincible. The other [the Witnesses] was quite tiny . . . had only faith as his weapon, and nothing more. . . . Morally, the Jehovah’s Witnesses brought the mighty Gestapo to its knees.”
Similarly, the Witnesses remained neutral during the 1994 massacre in Rwanda, even though some 400 of them perished as innocent victims of ethnic violence. The Reformed Press, a weekly magazine in Switzerland, published an article on December 8, 1998, stating, “In 1995, African Rights documented the genocide in Rwanda on twelve hundred pages. It could prove participation of all Churches with the exception of Jehovah’s Witnesses.” At the risk of their own lives, Jehovah’s Witnesses sought to protect fellow Christians, no matter what their ethnic background.
Such unity is a feature commonly noticed during our annual conventions held around the world. A reporter from The Sun Herald made this observation while attending a convention in Mississippi, “They are all ages, from newborn to the elderly, and the ethnic mix shows an erasure of racial barriers.”
Do you shun former members?
Those who become inactive in the congregation, perhaps even drifting away from association with fellow believers, are not shunned. In fact, special effort is made to reach out to them and rekindle their spiritual interest. If, however, someone unrepentantly practices serious sins, such as drunkenness, stealing or adultery, he will be disfellowshipped and such an individual is avoided by former fellow worshippers. Every effort is made to help wrongdoers. But if they are unrepentant, the congregation needs to be protected from their influence. The Bible clearly states: “Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.” (1 Corinthians 5:13) Those who formally say they do not want to be part of the organization anymore are also avoided. What of a man who is disfellowshipped but whose wife and children are still Jehovah’s Witnesses? The spiritual ties he had with his family change, but blood ties remain. The marriage relationship and normal family affections and dealings can continue. As for disfellowshipped relatives not living in the same household, we apply the Bible’s counsel: “Quit mixing” with them. (1 Corinthians 5:11) Disfellowshipped individuals may continue to attend religious services and, if they wish, they may receive spiritual counsel from the elders with a view to their being restored. They are always welcome to return to the faith if they reject the improper course of conduct for which they were disfellowshipped.
How are you funded?
Primarily by voluntary donations from Jehovah’s Witnesses. No collections are taken at our meetings, and members are not required to tithe. Clearly marked contribution boxes are provided in all meeting places for voluntary donations, which remain anonymous. Expenses are manageable, as there are no paid clergy and the meeting places are modest. Donations forwarded to the nearest branch office are used for disaster relief, support for missionaries and traveling ministers, construction of houses of worship, and the printing and shipping of Bibles and Christian publications. It is a personal decision to donate, whether toward local expenses, worldwide expenses, or both. Financial reports are regularly given for the information of the entire congregation.