Advantage Member Exclusive

Do Your Church’s Governing Documents Allow Virtual Business Meetings?

Answering this crucial question can help legally validate decisions made during the coronavirus outbreak—and beyond.

Editor’s Note. This article is part of the Advantage Membership. Learn more on how to become an Advantage Member or upgrade your membership.

The law governing business meetings for churches is state-specific, meaning that whether your church can hold a virtual business meeting through a video conference or other technological means is ultimately governed by the law of the state where your church is incorporated. Once you have gained an understanding of what applicable state laws say about virtual business meetings for your board or membership, you then need to check your bylaws and any other organization-specific rules applicable to business meetings.

Step one: Find bylaw language relevant to board and membership meetings

First, look at the section in your bylaws that discusses the church board and its meetings. Find language that discusses when and how the church leaders or officers may meet.

Next, look for language in your bylaws that discusses membership meetings. That language might be in the section titled “Members,” or it could be in a section titled “Meetings” or “Annual Meeting.”

As you look at the bylaws language regarding board meetings and member meetings, you are looking for language that indicates “yes, you may have a virtual meeting”—wording that addresses whether the board or membership may meet other than when the members are physically present in the same room.

If the bylaws allow virtual meetings, the language describing this permission could take various forms:

  • An explicit provision allowing participation via communication equipment that allows for simultaneous participation; or,
  • Language that states a quorum is present either through the physical presence of a specific number of members, or presence through remote communication technology.

Alternatively, the bylaws may not address virtual or remote meetings at all. They might simply say something general, such as, “Meetings may be held at a place determined by the board.”

Step two: Evaluate how the relevant bylaw language relates to applicable state law

Once you have identified the bylaw language that is relevant to how your board and membership may meet, you need to fit that language together with the applicable state law.

Understanding how the law and your governing documents fit together on the issue of virtual meetings is one of the most important parts of my virtual church meetings toolkit. The section below explains three possible—and common—scenarios. The toolkit also contains a useful decision tree that can provide you with a visual guide. If you are unsure of how to proceed, consider contacting qualified legal counsel for help.

Three common scenarios

These are the three most common scenarios churches encounter when interpreting state law and bylaws to determine whether they can validly conduct business or membership meetings through virtual technology:

  • If applicable state law expressly allows virtual business meetings but only if your bylaws also allow virtual business meetings, your board or membership cannot meet virtually unless your bylaws include language that expressly allows virtual business meetings.
  • If applicable state law expressly allows virtual business meetings unless your bylaws expressly disallow them, your board or membership can meet virtually unless your bylaws expressly disallow virtual business meetings.
  • If applicable state law is silent about virtual business meetings, your board or membership cannot meet virtually unless your bylaws include language that expressly allows virtual business meetings.

Excerpted from Your Complete Guide to Virtual Church Meetings: A toolkit for legal and compliant business meetings, by Sarah Merkle. Used with permission.

The downloadable, step-by-step toolkit helps churches determine whether virtual business meetings are permitted, make decisions when virtual business meetings are not an option, and prepare to hold a legal and compliant virtual business meeting. It also offers easy-to-reference resources, such as a guide to state laws addressing virtual meetings and a detailed list of the special rules necessary for holding a compliant virtual meeting. Get your copy today at

Sarah E. Merkle is a professional parliamentarian and presiding officer. One of five lawyers worldwide to have earned the credentials Certified Professional Parliamentarian-Teacher (CPP-T) and Professional Registered Parliamentarian (PRP), she helps boards, associations, corporations, and public bodies navigate rules applicable to governance and business meetings.

This content is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is sold with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. "From a Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations." Due to the nature of the U.S. legal system, laws and regulations constantly change. The editors encourage readers to carefully search the site for all content related to the topic of interest and consult qualified local counsel to verify the status of specific statutes, laws, regulations, and precedential court holdings.

ajax-loader-largecaret-downcloseHamburger Menuicon_amazonApple PodcastsBio Iconicon_cards_grid_caretChild Abuse Reporting Laws by State IconChurchSalary Iconicon_facebookGoogle Podcastsicon_instagramLegal Library IconLegal Library Iconicon_linkedinLock IconMegaphone IconOnline Learning IconPodcast IconRecent Legal Developments IconRecommended Reading IconRSS IconSubmiticon_select-arrowSpotify IconAlaska State MapAlabama State MapArkansas State MapArizona State MapCalifornia State MapColorado State MapConnecticut State MapWashington DC State MapDelaware State MapFederal MapFlorida State MapGeorgia State MapHawaii State MapIowa State MapIdaho State MapIllinois State MapIndiana State MapKansas State MapKentucky State MapLouisiana State MapMassachusetts State MapMaryland State MapMaine State MapMichigan State MapMinnesota State MapMissouri State MapMississippi State MapMontana State MapMulti State MapNorth Carolina State MapNorth Dakota State MapNebraska State MapNew Hampshire State MapNew Jersey State MapNew Mexico IconNevada State MapNew York State MapOhio State MapOklahoma State MapOregon State MapPennsylvania State MapRhode Island State MapSouth Carolina State MapSouth Dakota State MapTennessee State MapTexas State MapUtah State MapVirginia State MapVermont State MapWashington State MapWisconsin State MapWest Virginia State MapWyoming State IconShopping Cart IconTax Calendar Iconicon_twitteryoutubepauseplay