Q&A: Church Bylaws

What problems could we create by amending them?

Although our church has bylaws in place, we do not operate strictly according to these as a body. If we amend them to reflect how we operate now, will that create any problems?

A church that is not following the provisions of its bylaws could certainly run into trouble. Bylaws are a critical component of church operations. Yet, in many churches, they are filed away, forgotten and ignored. Church bylaws spell out who will run the ministry and how it will operate. Key organizational issues typically addressed in the bylaws include:

  • Who in the church is authorized to make various decisions, including major financial decisions;
  • How the governing board is organized;
  • The relationship between the governing board and the congregation;
  • Who has authority to make hiring and firing decisions involving pastors and staff;
  • When and how meetings of the governing board and the congregation will occur;

…And much more.

An initial set of bylaws is generally adopted when the church is first formed. As time goes by, however, ministry operations change, and a church can find itself to be out of step with its own bylaws. When this is discovered, one of two things should happen as soon as possible: The church should either revise its practices to conform to the bylaws, or the bylaws should be amended.

Because church bylaws represent an important legal document, any change should be done in consultation with an attorney. The bylaws will usually contain a provision stating how they can be amended. This sometimes involves a vote of the governing body of the church, sometimes involves a congregational vote, and sometimes requires both. Your attorney can help walk you through the implications of any suggested change to the bylaws, and the steps that should be taken to ensure that the bylaw changes are done in a way that is legal and binding.

Every ministry organization should review its bylaws every three to five years, or more frequently if it is growing rapidly or changing the way it operates. Again, having an attorney involved in the bylaw review is important to ensure that it’s done properly. Bylaws can be complex, and they differ dramatically depending on whether the church is incorporated, the type of governing approach it uses, the role that the pastor plays in the church, and numerous other factors. Since reviewing and amending bylaws is important to the life and health of the organization, having a legal professional involved in the process is a must. This is akin to having a physician involved in a medical assessment, whether it’s a regular check-up or a more significant medical procedure.

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