The inside cover page of each issue has the following mission statement:
THE PURPOSE OF THIS MAGAZINE, The Watchtower, is to honor Jehovah God, the Supreme Ruler of the universe. Just as watchtowers in ancient times enabled a person to observe developments from afar, so this magazine shows us the significance of world events in the light of Bible prophecies. It comforts people with the good news that God's Kingdom, which is a real government in heaven, will soon bring an end to all wickedness and transform the earth into a paradise. It promotes faith in Jesus Christ, who died so that we might gain everlasting life and who is now ruling as King of God's Kingdom. This magazine has been published by Jehovah's Witnesses continuously since 1879 and is nonpolitical. It adheres to the Bible as its authority.
This is the first number of the first volume of "ZION’S WATCH TOWER" and it may not be amiss to state the object of its publication.
That we are living "in the last days" "the day of the Lord" — "the end" of the Gospel age, and consequently, in the dawn of the "new" age, are facts not only discernible by the close student of the Word, led by the spirit, but the outward signs recognizable by the world bear the same testimony, and we are desirous that the “household of faith” be fully awake to the fact, that—
- We are living, we are dwelling
- In a grand and awful time;
- In an age on ages telling
- To be living is sublime.|30px
In 1909 the name was changed to The Watch Tower and Herald of Christ's Presence. In 1920, the Watchtower Society reprinted all the issues from 1879–1919 in seven volumes. This set is known as Watchtower Reprints, which has itself been reprinted through the years by other groups. Later on, in October 1939, the magazine was renamed The Watchtower and Herald of Christ's Presence, and, from March 1940 until the present, its full name has been The Watchtower Announcing Jehovah's Kingdom. In the past, The Watchtower and its companion Awake! were sold for a small charge, varying over time and from country to country.
However, on January 17, 1990, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that sales of religious literature were subject to taxation, which would have required the Watchtower Society to pay tax on the price of the magazines. The Watchtower Society filed an amicus curiae ("friend of the court") brief arguing that the sale of religious literature should be exempt from taxation.
From March 1, 1990, the journals were made available at no cost, on a freewill donation basis in the United States."Use Our Literature Wisely" which appeared in the May 1990 Our Kingdom Ministry stated, that "there are growing pressures against all religious elements" and it went on to say that their main concern was to move ahead in the worldwide Kingdom preaching work, "without hindrance."
The sale of the literature around the world was gradually eliminated soon thereafter. It continued until the early 1990s, and in some places until early 2000. The Watchtower is now distributed free of charge worldwide, its printing being funded by voluntary donations. Donations for the Watchtower literature were introduced in order to comply with the changing court positions regarding literature distribution and the new requirement that religious organizations must charge and collect sales taxes on the proceeds of their ministry.
The magazine is distributed by Jehovah's Witnesses. They consider their work a public service. Witnesses commonly offer these magazines in the course of their house-to-house ministry. They are also distributed by approaching people in public places or informally to doctors, academics, politicians and acquaintances. The Watchtower may also be seen left as reading material in public places, including bus terminals, laundromats or other places. Distribution practices such as mailbox drops and placing large stacks in public places are strongly discouraged by the Watchtower Society as they are generally less effective methods of arousing interest versus a personal presentation of the literature.
Every congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses throughout the earth discusses the same information each week at the Watchtower Study. In this meeting a designated reader will read each paragraph aloud, after which the conductor asks the question printed at the bottom of the page for that paragraph; a few minutes (depending on the subject matter) are allotted for the members of the congregation to answer the questions using the information read in the paragraph as a starting point. They are encouraged to put the information in their own words and also to "draw attention to scripture application, supporting arguments, or practical application of the material.
Regular sections include "Life Story" and "Our Readers Ask", "Imitate their Faith" (four times a year), "Draw Close to God", "For Our Young People" (every other month), "Did You Know?", "What We Learn From Jesus" (four times a year), "Teach Your Children" (every other month), "Keys to Family Happiness" (four times a year), "A Letter From..." (four times a year) and "Would You Welcome a Visit?" Every four months, a section entitled "Do You Remember?" briefly summarizes points from recent issues of the magazine. The November 1 issue contains an article outlining the various ways that donations can be made to support the activities of Jehovah's Witnesses.
"The annual report will no longer appear in The Watchtower. Starting in 2008, it will appear as an insert in Our Kingdom Ministry as well as in the Yearbook."
The issue dated the first of each month focuses on religious articles that are offered to the general public. The issue dated the fifteenth of each month contains congregational study articles for the month and other intra-organizational materials that are directed to current members and other interested ones and is not being offered to the general public actively like the public edition is. Additionally, the entire magazine is available for audio-download in MP3 and M4B format at jw.org