While the legal entities founded by Charles Taze Russell (the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society and the International Bible Students Association) have always remained grouped, various congregations and individuals in the Bible Student movement have broken away to form their own fellowships. The vast majority of these splits occurred following Russell's death in late 1916 and the subsequent power struggle for control of what was then known as the 'International Bible Students Association'.
Most of these groups split off before the group adopted the name "Jehovah's Witnesses" in 1931. Many of those who broke away continued to call themselves some variation on the name 'Bible Students', including 'Associated Bible Students', 'Berean Bible Students', 'Independent Bible Students', and the like.
In 1909 Charles Taze Russell more pointedly expressed that Christians were not developed under the New Covenant, but that the New Covenant was a future arrangement made between God and the nation of Israel during the millennial reign of Christ for the purpose of teaching the world his plan. Controversy over this and other similar doctrines led some to leave, resulting in the formation of the New Covenant Bible Students. M.L. McPhail, a member of the Chicago Bible Students, also disassociated himself from the Bible Student Movement at that time, and led the New Covenant Bible Students in the United States, founding the New Covenant Believers in 1909 informally referring to themselves as the Free Bible Students.
After Russell's death on October 31, 1916 a struggle ensued for the control and management of the movement and its legal organs. In January, 1917 Joseph Franklin Rutherford was elected second president of the Watch Tower Society under a great deal of controversy. He immediately began an intensive work of restructuring and redefining the movement which by 1928 had resulted in nearly three-quarters of the membership choosing to sever their association with the Society. The most prominent elders and deacons who had left attempted to regather those discontented Bible Students at the First Annual Bible Student's Reunion Convention held in Pittsburgh in 1929, but had very limited success. Rutherford, in an effort to draw a clear and distinct line between those who supported him and those who continued to support Russell's views and organizational style, proposed a new name for the movement, Jehovah's Witnesses, which was unanimously adopted by the attendees at a national Bible convention held in Columbus, Ohio in July, 1931.
One of Rutherford's first and most controversial moves following his election as President was the expulsion of four members (R. H. Hirsh, I. F. Hoskins, A. I. Ritchie, and J. D. Wright) of the seven-member Board of Directors appointed by Russell, and replacing them with his own appointees on July 17, 1917. After their expulsion two of them eventually formed the Pastoral Bible Institute, and began publishing The Herald of Christ’s Kingdom, edited by R. E. Streeter. At this same time, and closely connected to the controversy over the Board, Rutherford had just completed publication of the book The Finished Mystery which he proclaimed to Bible Students was the long-awaited seventh volume of Russell's Studies in the Scriptures Bible textbook series, and began widely advertising it to the public as "the posthumous work of Pastor Russell". These acts were strongly criticized by the old Board, and many Bible Students around the world, as not only untrue but that its production under the auspices of the Society was a violation of the original Charter as well as the terms of Russell's Last Will & Testament. Due to the lack of ability to convey all of the details of the schism to all Bible Students equally, for many years the controversy over the so-called seventh volume was far more widespread than the trouble within the Board.
The Australian Berean Bible Institute formally separated from the Watch Tower society in 1918. Also known as the Bible Student Tract Society, they published the monthly journal The People's Paper. Their most widely distributed work proved to be directly connected to the emerging Watch Tower schism. Entitled Notes and Comments on The Finished Mystery, printed in February, 1919, it contained 48-pages outlining why many Bible Students rejected The Finished Mystery and its claims.
In December 1918, Charles E. Heard and several others, considering Rutherford's recommendation to buy war bonds to be a perversion of Russell's pacifist teachings, founded the Stand Fast Bible Students Association in Portland, Oregon.
In 1917, Alexander F.L. Freytag, who had been Branch manager of the Swiss Watchtower Society since 1898, founded the Angel of Jehovah Bible and Tract Society (also known as the Philanthropic Assembly of the Friends of Man and The Church of the Kingdom of God, Philanthropic Assembly) and began publishing his own views in opposition to those of Rutherford. He was expelled from the Society by Rutherford in 1919.
Paul S. L. Johnson, known as Russell's closest friend and confidant founded the Layman's Home Missionary Movement in 1919 following repeated vocal and written attacks by Rutherford who claimed that Johnson was the true instigator of the 1917 schism. Beginning in December, 1918 he began publication of the monthly journal The Present Truth and Herald of Christ's Epiphany. In November, 1917 he published his own pamphlet, Harvest Siftings Reviewed, and a second in August, 1918 entitled Another Harvest Siftings Reviewed, both in an attempt to address the many charges made against him by Rutherford, and to give his understanding of the true causes, effects and Biblical interpretation of the Watch Tower schism.
In 1928, Norman Woodworth left the Watchtower society to create the radio program Frank and Ernest with the help of the Brooklyn congregation of Bible Students. This eventually led to the founding of the Dawn Bible Students Association for the purpose of printing and distributing Pastor Russell's Studies in the Scriptures Bible textbook series which the Watchtower Society had officially ceased publishing in 1927.
Also in 1928, the Italian Bible Students Association in Hartford, Connecticut led by Gaetano Boccaccio also withdrew its support from the Watchtower Society and changed its name to the Millennial Bible Students Church, then to Christian Millennial Fellowship, Inc. In 1940 Boccaccio began printing The New Creation (magazine) for the Free Bible Students. The magazine continues to be published by Christian Millennial Fellowship to this day, led by Elmer Weeks.
The German Bible Students Association had stayed affiliated with the Watchtower Society but had no contact under the Nazi regime, who persecuted them severely. When contact was re-established, the German Bible students disagreed with the doctrinal changes that had occurred in the meantime, and disassociated themselves from the Watchtower Society with some establishing contacts with the various Bible Student groups.
Jesse Hemery, one of the most prominent Bible Students of England, had been appointed president of the International Bible Students Association by Pastor Russell in 1901, and held that post until 1946. In 1951 he was disfellowshipped by the third Watchtower President N.H. Knorr and founded the Goshen Fellowship. In December, 1917 he printed a small pamphlet to address some of the many claims that had revolved around P.S.L. Johnson and the 1917 Watch Tower schism.
In 1948, Jehovah's Witnesses in Romania came under ban from the Romanian government which lasted until 1989. They had limited access to changing Watchtower doctrines and studied largely from the books of Rutherford and older magazines. A prominent teaching was that the Superior Authorities did not refer to governments but to Jehovah. (Superior Authorities) After the ban was lifted they were in disagreement with the changes in teachings that had happened over the years and formed The True Faith Jehovah's Witnesses Association in 1992.
In 1962 some of Jehovah's Witnesses in the USSR had difficulty believing that a new explanation of who the "Superior Authorities" represented had actually been given by the leaders of the Watchtower Society, but surmised they were originated by the KGB. This led to their discontinuing use of Watchtower Society publications printed after 1962. Some of these splinter groups in Russia, Ukraine and Moldova still exist. They call themselves the Theokratic Organisation of Jehovah's Witnesses and claim to seek contacts with Witnesses in other countries.It is to be noted, however, that the membership of these splinter groups is still significantly smaller than the membership of Jehovah's Witnesses in those areas.
Most Jehovah's Witness splinter groups have very low membership, and few are commonly known. As cited by one of the splinter groups, The Herald:
"The most sizable movements, with over a thousand each, are in the United States, Poland, Romania, and India.
In contrast to the splinter groups, the 2008 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses shows a peak of Publishers in Kingdom Service of 6,957,854 referring to the highest number of active members in the Service Year (which runs from September 2006 to August 2007) who submitted a monthly report regarding time spent in the public preaching and teaching work. The tally for Average Publishers Preaching each month is shown as 6,691,790 for 2006-2007, and the Worldwide Memorial Attendance rose to 17,672,443 in 2007 (an increase of 997,330 or 5.98% over 2006).