Religious nonprofit organizations need bylaws to ensure the organization runs smoothly, and to help prevent harmful arguments. Bylaws regulate the board, officers, meetings, financial organization and other vital executive subjects. Nonprofits are state-regulated and therefore church bylaws must comply with state laws. Charitable organizations also often apply for 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service and must be incorporated to gain those benefits.
Hold a board meeting for the purpose of ratifying the bylaws and other formal documents. Take minutes of the meeting.
Ratify the official documents such as the articles of incorporation and application for nonprofit status. Address questions regarding the mission of the church; tax-exempt applications require statements of purpose and goals.
Confer on officers. Officers are the president, vice president, secretary, treasurer and other official officers that compose the signatories of the nonprofit corporation. Their identities, duties and replacement procedures are important to record.
Discuss the church board. The bylaws outline the minimum and maximum number of board members, their term limits and their indemnification -- or personal liability limit. Check state laws to ensure you meet the state-mandated board minimums.
Meetings and Members
Confer on board meetings. The number of meetings, emergency and remote meetings, quorums and committees are set forth in the bylaws. A quorum is the number of board members required to be present in order to vote or hold meetings. Note which topics are necessary to discuss in board meetings and how often. Topics might include staff updates, financial updates and congregational events such as clothing drives. Also outline rules for the dissipation of board arguments.
Specify the difference between board members and officers and the members of the congregation you serve.
Describe who the congregational members are and what is required to belong to your church. Detail donation procedures, such as where the church will receive donations and how it will utilize them. Also discuss the voting rights and other rights of congregational members.
Congregation and Ministries
Delineate the separate ministries within your congregation and their procedures. Some denominations are more focused on the poor or women's ministries, and some churches start a school. Each separate issue needs its own definition and procedural documentation, even if it is as simple as outlining that separate bylaws for that ministry exist.
List the church's assets, such as its property, land, automobiles and organizations that are state-compliant. State laws often require the church to be incorporated to own land.
Record the procedure for bylaw amendment and maintenance. This outlines the quorum needed and how the changes will be recorded and referenced.
Outline the procedure in case it is ever necessary to dissolve the church. Address the distribution of assets, congregational communication and ministerial communication.
Hold a vote by board members to ratify the bylaws. This approval binds the document legally and all recorded procedures must be followed from that point on.
Distribute copies of the approved bylaws to each board member and include one copy in the official minute book.
Review the bylaws at least every three years to ensure the growth and regulation of your church and congregation.
Check state laws before compiling bylaws.
Do not make bylaws overly specific or you'll constantly be having to amend them.
- Do not make bylaws overly specific or you'll constantly be having to amend them.
- Check state laws before compiling bylaws.
Annelies de Groot was first published in 2007. She has contributed to local east coast papers and has worked for environmental and educational nonprofits. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree from St. John's College in Maryland.