World Council of Churches

Reference work entry
Part of the The Statesman's Yearbook book series (SYBK)

The World Council of Churches was formally constituted on 23 Aug. 1948 in Amsterdam. In Feb. 2017 member churches numbered 348 from more than 110 countries.

Origin. The World Council was founded by the coming together of Christian movements, including the overseas mission groups gathered from 1921 in the International Missionary Council, the Faith and Order Movement, and the Life and Work Movement. On 13 May 1938, at Utrecht, a provisional committee was appointed to prepare for the formation of a World Council of Churches.

Membership. The basis of membership (1975) states: ‘The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of Churches which confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour according to the Scriptures and therefore seek to fulfil together their common calling to the glory of the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.’ Membership is open to Churches which express their agreement with this basis and satisfy such criteria as the Assembly or Central Committee may prescribe. Today, Churches of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Old Catholic and Pentecostal confessions from all over the world belong to this fellowship. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member of the WCC but works closely with it.

Activities. The WCC’s Central Committee comprises the Programme Committee and the Finance Committee. Within the Programme Committee there are advisory groups on issues relating to communication, women, justice, peace and creation, youth, ecumenical relations and inter-religious relations. Following the WCC’s 8th General Assembly in Harare, Zimbabwe in 1998 the work of the WCC was restructured. Activities were grouped into four ‘clusters’—Relationships; Issues and Themes; Communication; and Finance, Services and Administration. The Relationships cluster comprises four teams (Church and Ecumenical Relations, Regional Relations and Ecumenical Sharing, Inter-Religious Relations and International Relations), as well as two programmes (Action by Churches Together and the Ecumenical Church Loan Fund). The Issues and Themes cluster comprises four teams (Faith and Order; Mission and Evangelism; Justice, Peace and Creation; and Education and Ecumenical Formation).

Organization. The governing body of the World Council, consisting of delegates specially appointed by the member Churches, is the Assembly, which meets every seven or eight years to frame policy. It has no legislative powers and depends for the implementation of its decisions upon the action of member Churches. The 10th General Assembly, held in Busan, South Korea from 30 Oct.–8 Nov. 2013, had as its theme ‘God of life, lead us to justice and peace’. A 150-member Central Committee meets annually to carry out the Assembly mandate, with a smaller 26-member Executive Committee meeting twice a year.

  • Headquarters: 150 route de Ferney, CP 2100, CH-1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland.

  • Website:

  • General Secretary: Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit (Norway).

Publications. WCC Annual Review.—Directory of Christian Councils. 1985.—Dictionary of the Ecumenical Movement. 1991.—A History of the Ecumenical Movement. 1993.—Ecumenical Review (quarterly).—International Review of Mission (biannual).

Further Reading

  1. Castro, E., A Passion for Unity. 1992Google Scholar
  2. Van Elderen, M. and Conway, M., Introducing the World Council of Churches. 1991Google Scholar

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