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The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania (WTBTS), the corporate body of the Jehovah's Witnesses, has restructured itself at a time when the group's growth rate is slowing.

With nearly a million active "publishers" (members) in the United States last year, the group baptized only 30,000 converts, down from a high of nearly 50,000 in 1988, according to statistics in the group's January 1 Watchtower magazine. Globally, the group claims nearly 6 million publishers but added fewer than 300,000 members worldwide in 2000, a significant drop from 1997's high of 375,000.

The controversial sect, headquartered in Brooklyn, New York, is non-Trinitarian. Evangelicals have long labeled the group, founded in Pittsburgh by Charles Taze Russell in 1870, a non-Christian cult. Failed attempts to pinpoint the return of Christ have marked the group's history. Russell himself predicted that Christ would begin his visible reign on Earth in 1914.

WTBTS formed three new corporations last fall. One, Kingdom Support Services Inc., will focus on the everyday needs of individual congregations. Another, the Religious Order of Jehovah's Witnesses, will interact with full-time workers, who take a vow of poverty. The third, the Christian Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses, will oversee religious matters.

Milton Henschel, 80, resigned as WTBTS president post on October 7 as part of the reorganization, as did six other directors. They remain members of the Governing Body, an oversight panel that will now be dedicated to religious matters in conjunction with the Christian Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses. Don Adams, 75, is the new president.

"Basically, there's a lot of politics going on," said ex-Jehovah's Witness Randall Watters of Manhattan ...

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March 5, 2001

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