KNOCKING
Jehovah’s Witnesses and Their Community Structure

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Jehovah’s Witnesses and Their Community Structure

Several wide high-rise buildings, one with a large WATCHTOWER sign on the roof, standing next to the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan skyline
Worldwide headquarters of Jehovah's Witnesses in Brooklyn, NY

Men and women in suits and dresses, praying and singing from small books
Kingdom Hall services begin with song and prayer

Men and women, wearing white T-shirts, immersed in water inside a stadium with people sitting in bleachers
Jehovah's Witnesses join the faith by total water immersion

The congregation is the center of spiritual and social activity in the lives of most Jehovah’s Witnesses. A model of Witness leadership and community, there are more than 98,000 Jehovah’s Witness congregations worldwide.

Learn more about the congregations and community structures of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The Congregation

Jehovah’s Witnesses form congregations, which meet in Kingdom Halls. The Kingdom Hall is not called a church, and is a simple building with chairs, classroom-style lighting and a speaker’s platform. There are no images, special furnishings or religious rituals inside.

The size of a congregation is usually limited to fewer than 150 to 200 members in order to maintain a community atmosphere. Larger cities often have many congregations. Each congregation is assigned a territory within the city and its suburbs that they are responsible to cover and cultivate in the door-to-door ministry. There are no hourly requirements for door-to-door ministering, or “publishing,” but most Witnesses average about eight to ten hours per month.

Congregations meet three times weekly for a total of five hours of programming. Meetings consist of lectures, teaching models and audience discussions. Sessions are opened and closed with group song and prayer. In some ways, the meetings resemble a classroom setting more than a religious service. Several times a year, groups of congregations meet in larger gatherings called assemblies and conventions.

Water baptisms are performed at these conventions for people who have gone through an extensive course of Bible study—usually several months to several years. Candidates are not allowed to be baptized until they are ready to commit themselves to the rigorous life of a Witness. The Witnesses do not practice infant baptism, but children as young as their pre-teens can be baptized. Youth raised in the religion are typically baptized in their teens. Regardless of the age, baptism is considered a lifelong vow.

Finances and Leadership

Jehovah’s Witnesses do not practice tithing, and no collection plates are passed at congregation meetings. Members anonymously and voluntarily donate money in boxes at the back of the Kingdom Hall, specifying donations for local congregation expenses, the religion’s worldwide work or disaster relief for fellow congregants.

Witnesses accept donations from the public, which go to the headquarters of their worldwide operations. The headquarters pays for all the printing and shipping of literature (nearly 87 million copies of the Watchtower and Awake! magazines every month and millions more Bibles and other religious books). The annual operating expense is well over a billion U.S. dollars, voluntarily supported by nearly seven million Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide.

An aerial view of a large stadium full of people, with a giant stage with green curtains
District convention of Jehovah's Witnesses in Cleveland, Ohio

Witnesses have no paid clergy. Everyone is addressed as “brother” and “sister.” Upstanding Witness men can qualify to serve as elders with specific pastoral and teaching responsibilities in the congregation. The current body of elders designates new elders. Women are not allowed to serve as elders.

Each congregation is part of a regional circuit, which may include multiple cities. Several circuits make up a district, and circuits and districts are supervised by a central branch committee. In the United States, the branch is headquartered in Brooklyn, New York. All the branches, including the U.S. branch, are overseen by the international headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses, also housed in Brooklyn. A governing body has the final say in all aspects of the religion’s organization and doctrine.

More than 5,000 volunteers live and work communally at the U.S. branch and international headquarters in New York. All expenses are paid by donations. About 5,000 volunteers operate the other branches around the world. The branches are called “Bethel,” meaning “house of God.” Young men and women from age 19 and up are invited to apply to work at Bethel branches.

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