Let's Review: How the Watchtower Society Uses Quickbuilds to Make More $$$

by under_believer 19 Replies latest jw friends

  • under_believer

    I posted something similar to this in another thread, but I decided that this is an important subject, and something that a lot of people don't realize, so I expanded it into its own post. And we can always use a review now and then, so that lurkers, active Witnesses, and newly ex-Witnesses can catch up.

    According to the Watchtower Society, one of the best examples of God's Holy Spirit operating on the organization is the building program. And it is, indeed, an impressive enterprise--to see this all you have to do is drop by a "quickbuild", which is the Witness word for a two- (or sometimes more) day construction effort. These events have the atmosphere of an old-fashioned barn-raising. It's a festive, fun atmosphere, with lots of free food for the workers, singing, and of course lots of power tools and hammering and prayer before and after the meals. It's easy to get caught up in the spirit of the thing and really believe you can feel the Holy Spirit making something possible that wouldn't have ever been possible any other way.

    There are even rules that are supposed to protect the influence of the Holy Spirit from being tainted and making the project fail. People who aren't in "good standing", meaning they have recently been the subject of congregational disciplinary action for violating one of the Society's rules for behavior, are unable to participate and will be asked to leave if it comes to the attention of the site overseer.

    I personally have participated at many of these "quickbuilds". When I had what I believed was the honor of doing so, I was always happy and felt like I was full of purpose. Of course, all of the labor at these "quickbuilds" is volunteer labor--with very few exceptions. Sometimes a specialist contractor is needed and no local (or even regional) Witnesses can be found who have the requisite skills. This is extremely rare, though--Witnesses are somewhat overrepresented in the construction industry (probably second only to immigrant South Americans, at least in the United States) and a Witness who can do the job for free can almost always be found.

    And why shouldn't it be volunteer labor? After all, the local congregation completely and totally shoulders the entirety of the cost, so using 100% volunteer labor prevents any burden on the local brothers and sisters. Also, it retains that important Holy Spirit on the enterprise. This would no doubt be lost if "worldly" (what many Witnesses call non-Witnesses) people were brought in to help.

    The person who decides which congregations get new Kingdom Halls and which congregations remodel and which ones have sufficient facilities (for now) is the "Circuit Overseer". This man, who in times past was referred to as the "Circuit Servant", is essentially the local boss of an entire Circuit, which is a local grouping of a dozen or more congregations. In close consultation with the "Regional Building Committee", a group of local, experienced brothers, he recommends to various congregations that they remodel their Kingdom Halls or seek land for new Kingdom Halls.

    When this recommendation is received, a special meeting of the congregation is called and a representative of the Regional Building Committee gives a little presentation about why the project is necessary. An open discussion is then held about the merits or disadvantages of such a course. Sometimes, dissenters will suggest that any money that would have gone to this effort be sent to help foreign brothers and sisters in other lands. These people aren't typically called on by the conductor of the discussion more than once. Eventually, a resolution will be put forth, and the congregation as a whole will vote using a show of hands.

    The project is always approved.

    After this approval is received, the head of each household is asked to sit down and prayerfully consider how much money they could put, usually on a monthly basis, towards such a project. Anonymous pledges are then requested. These are in no way legally binding (though some would consider them binding before God) and the total arrived at is often fallen short of by a large amount when the actual contributions start coming in.

    However, the upgrade is necessary now, so money needs to be borrowed. There is only one place a congregation is allowed to borrow money from: The Watchtower, Bible, and Tract Society of New York. Borrowing from other sources, like banks, is specifically forbidden and is never done.

    The Society then loans money (at a certain interest rate) to the local congregation to purchase building materials, land, permits if necessary, heavy equipment rental, and inspections. Of course, the labor is free and most of the tools are provided free by the expert Witnesses who assist in the construction. This keeps the actually loan amount low when compared with equivalent non-Witness building projects.

    It must be stated right now that the interest from these loans is one source of income for the Society. This is justified because otherwise the congregation would be asking the Society to loan money at a loss--they could make a reasonable interest rate on that capital by investing it elsewhere, and so (the story goes) it would be unfair to the Society to ask them to loan interest-free.

    After the loan is received and deposited, everything is purchased and set up and the construction begins, often astonishingly quickly. It cannot be overstated how impressive it is to drive by an empty lot on Friday and then drive by the same spot and see a mostly-complete place of worship on Sunday night. Many of the brothers who participate in the building program are very experienced and have been doing it for many years, and know how to throw these things up at a rate that would seem impossible to someone who wasn't used to it. The Society says Holy Spirit makes this possible and the local brothers and sisters (and often some non-Witnesses) have no problem believing this, considering the evidence.

    And the project is done, and life goes back to normal.

    Of course the Society, as the lender, holds the title to the property, and has it on file back in Brooklyn. In the meantime, the people in the congregation have a new expense in their monthly accounts report--the loan payment to the Society. If the congregation starts falling short on this commitment (remember they made monetary pledges before God in prayer) they will be reminded that they're falling short. This usually results in a donation bump, for a few months, at least.

    Eventually, the loan is paid off. However, at this point, something interesting happens. The Society hangs on to the deed to the property! They hold it in trust for the local congregation, and they are the legal executor on that particular piece of property. The local congregation as a whole does NOT own that Kingdom Hall--they cannot liquidate it and get the money back.

    What they've been doing, for the last several years of loan payments, is paying money with interest to the Society, for a Kingdom Hall that also belongs to... the Society!

    If anything goes south in the local congregation, let's say mass apostasy in the elder body, for example (and there are documented cases of this happening) the Kingdom Hall can be sold and the money will go to, you guessed it, the legal owners of the property, the Society. If the remaining local faithful brothers want a new hall, they will start over with a new loan from the Society.

    It's a pretty sweet deal for the Society, wouldn't you say? Let's say they loan $200,000 to a local congregation for building a Kingdom Hall. After the loan is paid back, they now have $275,000 (let's say) in the bank, and they also have a brand new Kingdom Hall, build with FREE labor and using other people's tools, worth probably $400,000. Their original $200,000 has been turned into $675,000 in cash and assets, assets which they are free to do with as they please (and they do, believe me.) That is an AMAZING rate of return on investment, isn't it? For a remodel, the local congregation might borrow $75,000, pay back $100,000, and increase the value of the Kingdom Hall the Society already owns by $100,000. The rate of return here isn't quite as good, but turning $75,000 into $200,000 is nothing to sneeze at, either, and these projects are much more common and numerous than new Halls.

    And now you know, dear friends, why the Witnesses are always building new Kingdom Halls and remodeling the ones they already have. It is an enormous cash cow, a huge source of income.

    In the world at large, if you took out a mortgage to buy a house, and when you were done paying the bank you borrowed from owned your property, you'd call that a scam, wouldn't you? Not the Witnesses. They (especially the elders) will go on and on about how it's a wonderful provision from the Society to loan them money at such low rates, about how it's in everyone's best interests that the Society owns the property after they're done, so that no one evil brother could cheat the congregation and turn them out on their bottoms. One local elder told me "The Society owns the Kingdom Hall, but even they don't really 'own' it. Jehovah is the one who 'owns' it."

    So if you're an active Witness and your congregation is considering a remodel or Kingdom Hall build, or you currently owe the Society money, think about what you're doing when you write your next donation check. Consider it carefully and ask yourself: who am I benefiting? Myself? The dear local brothers and sisters? Or a faceless, practically anonymous publishing corporation based in New York City? And would they ever lift a finger to help me back?

    You may find the answer you come up with interesting.

  • stevenyc

    under_believer, I've heard that the society owns the buildings, but do you have any scanned references for this. I understand, that as the loaner, they own the property until payment in full, but, after full payment, how owns the property?


  • Amazing

    Hi Under and Stevec,

    Under: You are mistaken on some points.

    First, the money loaned is currently at 3%, which is about the rate of inflation. Therefore, the Society breaks even on the loan program. $200,000 loaned at 3% for 20 years (240 months) will repay approx. $266,000. I worked on these loans and typically they are not for more than 15-years to 20-years. For a time, the Society raised the loan rate as high as 6% when inflation was higher ... and if these loans are not yet retired, they will make some money. Jehovah's Witness Elders are aware of this, and have reported the fact to the congregation (at least we did in our congregation). Most JWs believe in the religion, and do not mind the Society getting extra money in this way. I have also seen the Society reduce the loan rate on existing loans. In such cases, they have offered the congregation the opportunity to continue the existing payment, and pay down the loan faster, or reduce payments if they feel that it is needed.

    Secondly, the local congregation owns the Kingdom Hall with all rights, responsibilities, benefits, and control. About 20-years ago, after the Society lost the lawsuit in the Bonham, Texas case, they decided to be put on the deed ONLY in the event that the local congregation went into demise ... then, and only then would the property revert back to the Watchtower Society. Demise was defined if a majority of the congregation became appostate and attempted to take control of the Kingdom Hall, or if the congregation dwindled such that they were no longer viable. Most mainline Protestant churches operate this way, except for the apostate issue.

    So, if a congregation builds a new hall for $200,000 in materials and free labor, the Watchtower Society will not benefit. If the congregation decides to sell the Kingdom Hall, they will then use the proceeds to buy land and materials necessary to build a new facility. Because of the gain in value, they often do not need to borrow, or it they do, their loans are much smaller. Usually this is a trade off. Where excess proceeds result from a sale of a Hall, the congregation is free to save the money for future maintenance, repairs, and expansion, and/or donate some to the Watchtower Society.

    Third, the Society went into the quick-build program many years ago to meet a demand of a lot of growth. Later on this was expanded to include upgrading older Kingdom Halls. Some of the loan money does NOT come from the Society, but from a private arragement set up many decades ago in a trust account for King Hall contruction. The Society merely manages the fund and must return all proceeds to it. However, the fund did not keep up with growth, and the Society also set up its own loan funding. Since I have left, I lost tracl of the ratio of the private fund to the Society fund.

    Currently, their growth has greatly slowed in the United States. Any quick-builds now are likely due to expansion into a better building with better parking, or the congregation is responding to a re-zoning issue, and using the opportunity to build a better facility.

    I do not like the Watchtower Society, and left the religion years ago. I do believe that they have a lot of funds tucked away in various bank accounts, including foreign safe-havens. I have a record of some of these accounts and the account numbers. I also hold a list of about 100 of their corporations. But, we need to be realistic and honest about how we represent the claims we make against them. There is such a thing a liable, and the Witchtower has shown itself quite willing to sue ex-JWs.

    Stevenc: The Society holds a mortgage or trust deed, depending on the real estate laws in each state. Once the loan is paid off, the congregation is given a Grant Deed or Warranty Deed, depending on the laws in each state. The Society stays on the deed as a beneficiary in trust in the event that the congregation goes into demise ... as I explained to Under above.

    Jim Whitney

  • A Paduan
    A Paduan

    So inflation is an excuse to charge interest, so the society doesn't loose out - not too strict on that part of "the law" it would appear.


    You shall not lend upon interest to your brother, interest on money, interest on victuals, interest on anything that is lent for interest.

  • under_believer

    Amazing, thank you for the corrections, but I believe your information may be a decade or so out of date. I don't want to outright disagree, however, so I will try to get some more information on this before I speak further.

    On the first point, the fact that the Society charges interest at all is bad in my book, but the fact that they sometimes (or often) profit is even worse. I will see if I can find some information about loan rates used locally of late. Nevertheless, the point I made about disallowing other lenders is true and stands--you have to ask yourself why this is the case. Perhaps I see this effective loan monopoly, enforced by congregational sanction, as being more sinister than you do.

    Secondly, I was told by a local elder who was very close to the process that the Society continues to own our Kingdom Hall, held in trust, even after the loan is completed. Maybe the policy has changed since your time? Even if what you say is true, and the "decline clause" is the only way the Society can get their mitts on the Hall, you have to admit that the Society in the US is in decline and the scenario you outline (either widespread apostasy or, more likely, congregational desertion) is likely to be more and more common as time goes on, meaning the Society will come into direct possession of more and more Kingdom Halls.

    Third, regardless of the original reason behind the quickbuild program, I believe this is the reason it exists today. I've seen remodel after remodel--in my area, there is more than one going on in my circuit at any given time. My father in law, heavily involved with the program, has over the last 30 years worked on more than 150 Regional Building Committee projects--and he passed on quite a few. In many cases the many brothers did not feel their Hall even needed upgrading, they felt it was immodest--but they were overruled by the elder body and a rubber stamp "yes" vote, the reasoning being that we need to put forth a slick, beautiful effort in order to win converts.

  • 5go

    Quickbuilts are starting to go the way of the dodo most cities are requiring stricter inspections. That has happened where I live the building inspections usually slow it to two weeks if not longer. Besides three day quickbuilts really take weeks if you included the foundation and parking lots.

  • Deleted

    Ah, money! Close to my heart, next to my wallet. Good topic and points, xbros. From my years of mental incarceration (81-98) I recall hearing of a KH in Texas that "went apostate" (from a Texan elder circa 1995). Apparently the Society told the local DO and CO to leave them alone as the congo itself had the deed of trust and if its members (via the elders/officers of the corporation taking legal control of the congo and its property) voted the WTS out there was nothing anyone could do. The JW faithful had already moved to another KH by then, thereby the apostates were the majority - one raised a motion to split, and thay splat.. Of those left, according to what I assume must be a JW urban legend by now, were all apostates. If anyone has real info' on this I'd sure be interested to know.

    Anyway the bottom line was that the congregation as a legal entity owned the KH. As members of the congregation they voted for the congregation itself to stay in tact but to be disassociated from the WTS. I remember wondering who would get the dough if the congrgation actually dissolved and sold everything? Is it a distribution to all the members - membership evidenced by what, or is it a trust endowed to the city or state, surely not officers, or is the WTS the eventual beneficiary? Does anyone know what the rules actually are as to final disposition of the property or cash in dissolving a renegade congo?

    Despite the truth of this little story being suspect, I would think it be great social justice to see the WTS suffer legally from someone else for a change. Maybe there could be roving groups of undercover apostates roaming from congo to congo, taking over each one legally and selling it ... putting the money in a trust to support Free Minds and silentlambs, which will perpetuate the awakening of millions now dying that never lived!


  • jayhawk1

    Under_believer, your thread is excellent. There is just one small thing missing. In most Kingdom Halls (maybe all) there is a special donation box for the Worldwide Kingdom Hall Building Fund. Now that box does not get as much attention as the other donation boxes like The Worldwide Work (Watchtower money) or the Local Box (Kingdom Hall money) but that's still free money that the Watchtower Corp. gets for doing nothing. The average JW is told the Building Fund money is for Kingdom Halls in developing nations, and maybe the money does go there, but we can be certain that money is a loan and not a gift.

  • jam


  • LoverOfTruth

    I think they use "Quick-Builds" because members are leaving in great numbers (Espeicially the Smarter ones) The Society has get get as much out of them as possible while they can.

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