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  • Drafting Effective Church Bylaws: A Guide for Nonprofit Leaders

    attorney helping nonprofit draft bylaws

    Churches must incorporate as non-profit organizations under the laws of their states. Any incorporated entity, even a non-profit, must have a number of governing documents. One of the key requirements is that a church has bylaws that specify how it will be run. Not only must churches pay close attention when drafting their bylaws, but they must also be careful to follow them.

    Churches may be subject to legal liability if sued by a member. One thing that may be an issue in the lawsuit is whether the church had bylaws it followed. The failure to adhere to bylaws could expose the church to additional legal liability.

    The Components of Effective Church Bylaws

    Bylaws should address the key people who are involved in leading the church and spell out their roles and responsibilities. Effective church bylaws will detail the roles of:

    • Officers
    • Board of directors
    • Committees

    With regard to committees, effective bylaws will reference and detail an entity’s permanent committees. They should also specify procedures for appointing special and new committees.

    In addition, the bylaws should also specify who may become a member and how. Members have certain rights and responsibilities. They also may have their own voting power as a member of the church.

    Bylaws Should Be Adaptable to Many Situations

    While its bylaws should clearly spell out the procedures that the church must follow, they should be flexible enough that they can be amended when times or circumstances change. Churches may need to add bylaws or change current ones, and existing procedures should not be so restrictive that it makes it impossible to amend bylaws.

    Unfortunately, both disputes and misconduct happen more often than is hoped for in a church. As a result, the church may need to discipline members or staff. The bylaws should have detailed procedures for when discipline is necessary and what form it may take.

    In addition, bylaws should lay out procedures to resolve disputes within the church. These bylaws can be a combination of actual procedures and principles that incorporate the values of the church and denomination.

    Bylaws Should Instill Transparency and Respect Due Process

    Perhaps the most important part of a church’s bylaws is due process for anyone who is facing discipline. The church needs to be as transparent as possible. Otherwise, it could be difficult to attract and retain members. They may grow frustrated when they cannot make sense of what is happening at the church. When the church can point to clear procedures, its leadership can better explain what they are doing in response to certain situations. Unfortunately, churches are not immune from controversy. At least well-written bylaws can give the church guidance when difficulties arise, and lend some predictability to a difficult situation.

    Churches should not have off-the-rack bylaws. There is no such thing as one-size-fits-all bylaws for churches. A church should work with an attorney who has specific experience helping churches devise the proper bylaws for their unique situations. Before drafting or amending bylaws, churches need to put a great deal of forethought into anticipating some of the challenges they may face.

    Contact Our Virginia Beach Church Lawyers at Anchor Legal Group, PLLC Today

    Our Virginia Beach church lawyers at Anchor Legal Group, PLLC work with religious organizations, helping with incorporation, governance, and tax-related issues. To schedule an initial consultation, you can send us a message online or call us today at 757-LAW-0000. Located in Virginia Beach, we serve clients in Chesapeake, Norfolk, Suffolk, Portsmouth, Newport News, Hampton, and Eastern Shore, Virginia.