Frequently asked questions
The World Council of Churches is a worldwide fellowship of churches in search of Christian unity, common witness, and service to all people. As a global expression of the modern ecumenical movement, the WCC’s member churches all “confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour according to the scriptures,” and therefore seek to fulfil together their common calling, "so that the world may believe" (John 17:21). For more information, see About us.
Churches in the fellowship of the WCC pursue the ecumenical vision of visible unity in one faith and one eucharistic fellowship. They seek to address historic differences through dialogue and theological reflection. They promote common witness in work for mission and evangelism. And they engage in Christian service by meeting human need, breaking down barriers between people, seeking justice and peace, and upholding the integrity of creation. For more information, see What we do.
The WCC is a global fellowship of churches whose relationship with one another and activities together are an expression of their common faith in Jesus Christ and their common calling to the glory of the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Through this common faith experience, the WCC encourages the fellowship of churches toward unity in Christ, a common voice for justice and peace, and service to others as an expression and fulfillment of Christ’s love. For more information, see About us.
Although its roots go back to 1910 and before, the World Council of Churches was formally inaugurated in 1948 at its first assembly in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. There, 147 founding church bodies, mostly from Europe and North America, pledged their fellowship. For more information, see WCC history.
The WCC currently has 349 member churches. Together, they represent well over 550 million people in 120 countries and are found in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Europe, Latin America, North America, the Middle East and the Pacific. Within the membership are most of the world’s Orthodox churches, scores of Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, and Reformed churches, as well as many charismatic, independent, united, and uniting churches. For more information, see member churches.
No, although there is no constitutional reason why the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) could not join; in fact it has never applied. The RCC's self-understanding has been one reason why it has not joined. The WCC has close links with the RCC, highlighted by the 2018 visit of Pope Francis to the WCC to reaffirm the ecumenical endeavour. Since 1965, the WCC/RCC joint working group meets annually. The WCC commissions on Faith and Order as well as on World Mission and Evangelism include Roman Catholics who are members with full voting rights. Sponsored by the Vatican, a Roman Catholic professor is part of the faculty at the Ecumenical Institute Bossey. For more information, see Roman Catholic Church.
This WCC symbol portrays the church as a ship afloat on the sea of the world with the mast in the form of a cross, the central symbol of the Christian faith. The symbol of the ecumenical movement was in use before the inauguration of the WCC in 1948. It is likely that the ecumenical boat has its origin in the gospel stories of the calling by Jesus of Galilean fishermen and the stilling of the storm by Jesus on the lake of Galilee. For more information on the logo and its use, see Logo.
The highest decision-making body is its assembly, which meets approximately once every eight years. The 10th Assembly was held in Busan, Republic of Korea, in 2013, under the theme "God of life, lead us to justice and peace." WCC assemblies are both business events and celebrations. Some 3,000 participants, representing the then-345 member churches of the WCC, including youth, WCC staff members, stewards, co-opted staff, interpreters and more than 1,000 Korean day visitors, attended the 10th Assembly. The WCC’s next assembly has been announced for 31 August – 8 September 2022, in Karlsruhe, Germany.
Between assemblies, a 150-member central committee (elected by the assembly) meets every two years to oversee the work of the WCC, supervise its programmes and budgets, and develop policies set by the assembly. In turn, it selects an executive committee, consisting of 20 of its members and the four officers of the central committee, to meet twice each year and monitor the WCC’s programmes and budgets.
The WCC general secretary is the ex officio secretary of the central and executive committee and meets often with the leadership of the central committee to coordinate the council’s work. The general secretary of the WCC is Rev. Prof. Dr Jerry Pillay from the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa. Bishop Dr Heinrich Bedford-Strohm of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria is the moderator of the WCC central committee, which oversees the work of the World Council of Churches in the years between the WCC assemblies. Vice-moderators of the WCC central committee are Rev. Merlyn Hyde Riley of the Jamaica Baptist Union and H.E. Archbishop Dr Vicken Aykazian of the Armenian Church of America
The work of the WCC’s governing bodies is guided by consensus. For more information, see Organizational structure.
Applications for membership are submitted to the general secretary and are reviewed by the WCC central committee. There are various criteria to be met, as described in the WCC Constitution: Churches which agree with the WCC basis are eligible to apply for WCC membership.
Applicant churches are asked to give an account of their faith and witness as they relate to the purposes and functions of the WCC. A prospective member must evidence "sustained autonomous life and organization" and "constructive ecumenical relations" with other churches in its country. An applicant church must ordinarily have at least 50,000 members. Churches with more than 10,000 but less than 50,000 members are eligible for membership without the right to participate in decision-making in an assembly.
Applications may be formally accepted by the central committee through consensus for an interim period during which the WCC member churches are consulted. Following this process, the central committee assess whether a consensus of member churches has developed in favour of the application, in which event the applicant church shall be considered a new member church.
As a fellowship of churches, the WCC is not a humanitarian agency. Rather, it collaborates with the member churches, whose own programmes and agencies direct humanitarian aid. In 1995, the WCC took part of the efforts that created ACT Alliance and has since then worked closely with this global alliance of more than 145 churches and related organizations working together in over 120 countries, especially through disaster relief and development aid, to create positive and sustainable change in the lives of poor and marginalized people.
Child rights, among the newest of the WCC’s many programmes, is at the centre of a worldwide network of churches, allied with UNICEF and pledged to safeguard children and their rights, encourage their participation, and support their building their own future by fostering climate justice. Learn more about child rights and the Churches' Commitment to Children.
The administrative work of the WCC, its roughly 100-person staff, and the coordination of its programmatic work for the fellowship take place in the Ecumenical Centre, at the heart of the international zone of Geneva, Switzerland, and close to the World Health Organization, the International Labour Organization, and United Nations headquarters. For more information, see Visits to the Ecumenical Centre and the WCC.
Other sites of WCC work include:
- The Ecumenical Institute at Château de Bossey, Switzerland, on the shores of Lac Léman, is home to its graduate school, conference center and hotel.
- The WCC maintains the Ecumenical United Nations Office in New York City in partnership with ACT Alliance.
- The council is present in Jerusalem through the Jerusalem Interchurch Centre and the coordinating office of the WCC’s Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI).
- The WCC’s Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy (EHAIA) maintains five regional offices with consultants and two theological consultants in Africa.
- The WCC’s Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network (EDAN) has a coordinating office in Nairobi, Kenya, hosted by the All Africa Conference of Churches.
The Ecumenical Institute at Bossey offers graduate degree programmes in ecumenical studies, in association with the University of Geneva, in a unique environment and a multicultural ecumenical community. To learn more about its programmes and financial aid, click here.
The WCC derives its income from its member churches and from ecumenical partner agencies, who contribute to its many programmatic initiatives.
In 2019, the WCC reported total income of CHF 29.7 million, total expenditure and transfers of CHF 29 million and a resultant net increase in funds and reserves of CHF 0.7 million. Contributions income totaled CHF 17.8 million.
For more information, see the WCC's Financial Report for 2018.
All WCC member churches are expected to make an annual financial contribution. These membership contributions enable the WCC to speak and act on behalf of and in solidarity with the fellowship of churches when and where interventions are most urgent. Please contact our membership income coordinator for more information.