Why It's Important for You to Understand Your Church's Bylaws


Aside from the Word of God, your bylaws are arguably the most important document within your church.

Bylaws help your church establish governing order. They can also be used to protect the pastor, staff and the best interests of the church as a whole.

That is why the importance of understanding your bylaws and including strategic language in them cannot be stressed enough. If you are unsure about the intricacies of your church's bylaws, or the implications of not understanding them, please continue reading!

Anderson v. Truelove

At StartCHURCH, we want to focus all of our efforts on making your ministry succeed. We also want to prepare your ministry for the worst-case scenario. An important lesson about church bylaws can be learned from Pastor Anderson's legal case in Anderson v. Truelove.

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Pastor Anderson, the senior pastor of West End Church of Christ, called a church meeting to confess that he took church money to pay for his sick mother's expenses. The meeting was held the same day he called each member.

Once he confessed, Pastor Anderson asked those in attendance whether they wanted him to remain their pastor. The church had 16 members. Of the 10 members who attended the meeting, eight members agreed to forgive Pastor Anderson and keep him their pastor.

However, there was one member in attendance who disagreed with the outcome. The member objected to Pastor Anderson continuing as pastor and claimed that the meeting was held without proper notice.

The pastor called a second meeting for the following evening, and again, the members agreed that Pastor Anderson should remain pastor of the church. At this point, Pastor Anderson believed any issues related to his misappropriation of church money were settled through the two meetings. Yet three days later, upon arrival at the church, Pastor Anderson received a termination letter.

The Trial

Pastor Anderson sued the two board members who signed their names to the termination letter, claiming they had changed the church's locks and unlawfully excluded him from the church.

The trial was lengthy and even went to the appeals court. In its ruling, a state appeals court noted that under the First Amendment, the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine prohibits civil courts from "delving into matters focused on theological controversy, church discipline, ecclesiastical government or the conformity of the members of a church to the standard of morals required of them."

Furthermore, the appeals court noted the church bylaws contained provisions requiring seven days' notice be given at a regular worship service, in a bulletin, or within three days personally or by phone for special meetings of members. Pastor Anderson did not follow this regulation for either meeting he called. Based on the church bylaws, Pastor Anderson had no basis for his arguments.

In the end, the appeals court dismissed the case due to the absence of authority to make a formal judgment involving such ecclesiastical matters under the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine.

Know Your Church's Bylaws

The real issue for many pastors and church leaders is that they do not know what their bylaws say. Maybe at one time they did, but several years have gone by, and they are not even sure where their bylaws are currently located.

Other pastors may join the staff of an already existing church. During the hiring process, they were given a packet of information that included the current church bylaws. Of all of the new information pastors must consider when being hired, reading the bylaws isn't typically at the top of the priority list.

Whether you have been pastoring the same church for 40 years or have just been hired as the pastor of a brand-new church, do your due diligence in familiarizing yourself with your church's bylaws.

If you need assistance with crafting your church's bylaws, the team at StartCHURCH is here to help! Over 19,000 churches and ministries have trusted us to serve them in legally protecting their organization. Give us a call today to speak to a specialist at 833-827-3061 or click the link below to learn more!

Strategic Language

While it is vitally important to know and understand your bylaws, if your church does not have the proper language in its bylaws, merely knowing them may not be very beneficial.

The bylaws that StartCHURCH creates for most clients include four main strategic items that we recommend every religious organization address in its bylaws.

1. Proper notice of a meeting: Many states require that a notice of meeting be given before an official board meeting. Although the minimum notice varies from state to state, the most cautious minimum duration is 10 days. A notice of a meeting may be given orally or in writing. However, we suggest giving your notice of a meeting in a traceable way, such as a letter or email.

2. Waiver of Notice: At times, certain situations arise that require a board meeting to take place very quickly. In such cases, you cannot afford to follow the notice of meeting prescribed in the bylaws. When an emergency board meeting needs to take place, what do you do? A waiver of notice allows for such meetings to take place. However, some requirements must be met for the notice to be applicable.

—Provide your board members with as much notice as possible. Although you may not be able to give full notice, giving as much notice as possible can make a big difference for your board members.

—Establish a quorum. Any board meeting of the corporation must have a quorum to conduct business or vote on any item. A quorum is the minimum number of board members that must be present to conduct business officially. If you cannot meet the quorum, you will not be able to vote or conduct any official business.

—Have your board members sign a waiver of notice. If you have your board members sign a waiver of notice, regardless of whether they attend the board meeting, your board meeting is legitimate. Remember that the waiver of notice is only valid if the entire board signs one, including those who cannot be present.

3. Accountability Board—Create an accountability board made up of trusted individuals outside of the church who can serve as counsel for the pastor and hear accusations of wrongdoing against them. These accountability board members are not a part of the day-to-day activities of the church. The accountability board has nothing to gain or lose except to know the truth.

4. Establish a policy for hiring and firing—Consider establishing a hiring and firing policy that gives practical definition to the strategies listed in the bylaws.

This policy should include those who will be responsible for hiring and firing decisions, and it must agree with the bylaws. It should specify the measures to take to resolve an issue with a leader and how the leader's removal will take place if necessary.

Clear and Comprehensive Is Best

As important as it is to know your church's bylaws, it is equally important to have the correct strategic language to protect your ministry, leaders and congregation.

Your bylaws should be a document that lends order, support and guidance in the difficult times of your church's life and should not cause confusion.

The StartRIGHT Service empowers you to select the bylaws that protect your vision, your ministry and your members, adopting the governmental structure that reflects your ministry structure and allowing the pastor's vision to be kept clear. If you have questions or concerns about your church bylaws, give us a call at 833-827-3061 or click the link below to schedule a call with a specialist. We will be pleased to assist you!

Chaston Asbury is a phase two consultant at StartCHURCH. Every day, he helps pastors and ministers prepare federal documents so they can obtain tax-exempt status for their organizations. Chaston enjoys the atmosphere that StartCHURCH has cultivated.

For the original article, visit startchurch.com.

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