Church Bylaws can be incredibly important both in times of crisis (e.g. situations involving the termination of a pastor, termination of a member, employment crisis, etc.) and in helping churches function properly on a day-to-day basis.
If your church is writing or updating its constitution and bylaws, this sample may provide some helpful ideas.
The following answers to FAQs will help you better understand some of the basics of Church Bylaws.
In a crisis situation (e.g. situations involving the removal of a pastor, termination of membership, etc.) how should we use our Bylaws?
Bylaws set a governing structure for church operation. Bylaws benefit churches by articulating church direction, promoting unity among church members, increasing church efficiency, and reducing church liability.
Bylaws provide direction for the church by articulating the church mission. Specifically, bylaws define the roles of pastor, staff, deacons, committees and other church leaders.
Bylaws increase efficiency by explaining what the church believes and how the church operates. Church bylaws help the church maintain continuity and order even in the midst of transitional periods (e.g. changes in church leadership).
Bylaws increase church unity by removing confusion and misunderstanding about how the church operates. Effective bylaws should include a process for becoming a church member and describe what the church expects of its members.
From a legal standpoint, bylaws are the most important document a church can have. Adopting and consistently applying good bylaws can reduce the likelihood of a lawsuit against the church. Bylaws also allow churches to maximize the religious freedoms and protections provided by law.
As churches grow and develop through the years, so do their needs. It is important to modify and update your church bylaws to address both changes to your church and changes in society. Some of these changes are straightforward and simple. If your church has moved locations or changed its name, it is time to amend your bylaws.
Many churches have grown, and growth leads to change. For example, when your church was founded, it may not have seemed necessary to require new members to complete a new member orientation when joining the church or your church may not have had the pastoral staff to lead such an orientation. As your church has grown so has the importance of new member orientations. It is time to update your bylaws.
In Obergefell v. Hodges, the United States Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states. Because the church's definition of marriage may differ from the national definition, it is important for churches to proactively define marriage in their bylaws. Bylaw language defining marriage, in the biblical sense, doesn't mean that the church is immune from a lawsuit or complaint, but it reduces the likelihood of a lawsuit or complaint and places the church in a much better legal situation should a lawsuit be filed against it. If your church hasn't updated its bylaws in several years, it is time to include a biblical definition of marriage and human sexuality in your bylaws.
Even if your church has an existing constitution and bylaws, it may be time update them in order to deal with changes within the church and in society. Check to see what your bylaws say about making amendments to the bylaws, and be sure to look at our Sample Church Bylaws for provisions you may want to include.
- Name and Address
- Nonprofit Status
- Statement of Purpose
- Statement of Religious Belief
- Membership Policy
- Church Staff Basics
- Church Officers Basics
- Dissolution Clause
- Amendments Provision
Please see the Sample Church Constitution & Bylaws for examples of each of these.
The Free Exercise Clause of the United States Constitution recognizes that churches are entitled to religious liberty and should be allowed to operate without secular interference, control, or manipulation. To ensure that the church is exercising its religious freedom, it is important that the church bylaws state a clear path to church membership. These membership provisions need to include membership eligibility, the process for acceptance as a church member, and the rights and duties of church membership. These provisions should also include the process for removing, revoking, or terminating church membership. Include how to reinstate inactive or former members and the method by which members may rescind their membership.
Church bylaws should specifically address the process of nominating/calling a pastor for church employment. If a church prefers to form a special committee to search for and nominate a Senior Pastor in the event of a vacancy at the position, the process for forming the special committee needs to be included in the bylaws. The bylaws need to be specific about the percentage of voting members necessary to hire the Senior Pastor. As with any other ministerial position, the church bylaws should describe the Senior Pastor's duties. Church bylaws should also state a definitive method for the termination of a Senior Pastor's employment. This method needs to be specific about whether the decision is made by the church governing body or a percentage of church members. The bylaws also need to be specific about the length of notice required by the Senior Pastor and/or the church before termination becomes effective.
A church's bylaws should clearly identify the church's governing body (deacons, elders, executive committee, etc.) and definitively state that the governing body is the sole authoritative interpreter of scripture for the church. A church cannot anticipate every doctrinal dispute that will occur and cannot include every single doctrinal belief in the Statement of Religious Beliefs. By including this provision, the church can ensure that a governing body is in place to issue a definitive interpretation of scripture for the church. This will provide guidance if the church ever faces a crisis situation.
Church bylaws should include provisions that address how offerings are counted and secured until the funds are removed from the building. The bylaws should also address record keeping, receipts, and annual reports. We also recommend including a method in your bylaws for forming a finance committee to be overseen by church leadership.
Well drafted bylaws provide clarification and direction in times of crisis. If the church is dealing with the removal of a minister or a termination of church membership, for example, the bylaw provisions on these matters provide the steps to be taken. Of course, the bylaws cannot anticipate every instance that may cause church conflict. This is why it is critical to identify a governing body, within the bylaws, as the authoritative interpreter of scripture for the church. If your church is in a crisis situation and you are not sure if your church bylaws provide direction on how to proceed, do not hesitate to give us a call.
The Texas State Legislature meets during February in odd numbered years. As a result, it is beneficial to review your bylaws biennially (every two years) as applicable state or federal laws may change. Remember that the key to using your bylaws in an effective way is to update those bylaws before a crisis situation occurs. We recommend reviewing your bylaws any time your church is going through a transition period (e.g. between pastors) in order to have effective bylaws in place at the end of the transition.
Disclaimer: The information contained on this website is general in nature and is not intended to provide, or be a substitute for, legal analysis, legal advice, or consultation with appropriate legal counsel. It is always best to utilize the help of a professional legal counsel who can assist you based on your church's specific situation and needs. By posting these Sample Church Bylaws, the Baptist General Convention of Texas is not providing legal advice, and the use of this document is not intended to constitute advertising or solicitation and does not create an attorney-client relationship between your church and the Baptist General Convention of Texas or between you and any Baptist General Convention of Texas employee or independent contractor.