It is my opinion that having some familiarity with various religious movements and worship services that differ significantly from one’s own is helpful in promoting inter-religious dialogue and understanding. To that end, I have visited several services of Christian and non-Christian sects, and have found the experiences very interesting. In this series, I offer a preview as to what to expect for the benefit of those who are considering doing likewise.
Jehovah’s Witnesses refer to their meeting places as “Kingdom Halls” instead of “churches,” and their meetings as, well, “meetings” instead of services. Joseph Rutherford, president of the Watch Tower Society (the ruling authority over Jehovah’s Witnesses) began using the name because these buildings would be used for preaching the good news of the Kingdom. Because Jehovah’s Witnesses are against using religious symbols, Kingdom Halls are usually simple, plain buildings (often built without windows).
Congregations typically meet two days each week plus an additional weekly class called Theocratic Ministry. Meetings are open to the public, and visitors are welcome. Sunday meetings are broken into two parts: the Public Meeting (a 30 minute Bible study) and the Watchtower Study (a 60 minute Q&A over that month’s pre-selected Watchtower magazine article). Most services are led by elders or ministerial servants, but there is no clergy designation (all baptized members are considered ministers).
Although there is only one meeting per congregation, there may be more than one congregation that meets in a single kingdom Hall. While the talks may differ, the Watchtower study should be the same world-wide. Children attend with parents, and there is no separate Sunday School or nursery. Dress is usually business casual – most men wear ties and most women wear skirts or dresses, but these are not required.
Inside the building you will usually find an auditorium with folding chairs set up instead of pews, a speaker’s platform with a lectern, and a library area where Watchtower Bible study literature can be purchased. You will probably not make it to the chairs unnoticed. Be prepared to be greeted, shown around, and introduced to members. You may be given supplies for the meeting: a Bible (New World Translation, no doubt), a hymn book, a Watchtower magazine, etc. Simply take them and be seated.
Meetings open and close with prayer, and include singing, Bible readings, talks on the Bible, and an interactive discussion of pre-selected articles in The Watchtower magazine. If you have ever read a Watchtower magazine, you are probably familiar with the Q&A format used to train the Witnesses for going door to door. The Sunday service is part of that training (members use a “study edition” however – not the ones they give out). Audience participation is expected, but don’t worry – visitors are not expected to answer questions.
Jehovah’s Witnesses do not pass collection plates in the service (donation boxes are set up near the rear of the auditorium), so no worries there. They also pass on communion – literally. Communion is only taken once a year during the “Memorial Celebration” which falls on the Passover date of the Jewish calendar (usually in March or April). But since Jehovah’s Witnesses reserve communion for the 144,000 members of the “anointed class” (which has nearly passed away), probably no one will actually partake (cf. John 6:53). So even if you do happen upon the communion service, you can just pass on it like the rest.
After the closing prayer the meeting is completed. You may get to look at some literature in the library, but it is basically over and you may leave.
For more of what to expect in Jehovah’s Witness worship, try these helpful links: