Helpful guidelines and processes for developing a church constitution and bylaws are provided in “Church Administration” by Robert Welch. The constitution and bylaws provide the church with an organizational structure in addition to core beliefs, dogma, and polity.
A few considerations for a church constitution:
- Where is the church located? You need to be sure the church location in regard to the physical address and name is the recorded name with the local and state governments. If the church has relocated or changed names over the years, then the name and location on record may not be valid. You should be sure to state in these documents that you are a “religious, not for profit” entity.
- What is the polity framework for the church? Each congregation is autonomous in Southern Baptist life, so the polity of the church should be articulate and clear.
- What are the doctrinal positions of the church that give direction to salvation, marriage, ordinances, worship, etc.? The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 is one example unless you desire to craft a church specific doctrinal statement of beliefs that addresses the basic beliefs and doctrinal umbrella to provide the lens through which the church is focused.
A few considerations for Bylaws:
Bylaws: These rules should describe the rights and privileges of membership. The bylaws should describe the responsibilities of church officers, how they become officers, and the length of their service. Also, the bylaws should contain the outline for conducting business meetings. Committees, councils, and leadership groups that are polity groups should be explained. How finances are received and disbursed should be outlined and explained.ii
- What is the staffing and leadership structure for the ministries of the church? The business process for leadership structures should be defined with oversight details for each position and/or ministry area explained in the policy and procedures manual. Qualifications, purpose, and functions of ministers within the church are necessary components of the bylaws.
- What are the assigned ministries of the church that should be outlined from a polity, doctrinal, or practical perspective in a broader sense that deals with worship, missions, etc.? You will need to define the various ministries with an overview in the bylaws. It would be helpful also to identify the specific ordinances observed by the church as well as the process for observing. Outline the details in a policy and procedures manual for specific ministries and how they function from children, student, college, media, etc. Also, it is appropriate and necessary to state based on any dogma or doctrinal stance why a male can only occupy a leadership position like senior pastor or why weddings are for heterosexual couples that are Christians.
- Place business details like office hours or processes for ministry in a policy and procedures manual.
- Who are the legal signatures for church business in regard to trustees (or other defined people) for executing contracts, loans, etc. for church? Trustees should be considered a legal group, and their function and process to be appointed should be defined, which should also state that these are not lifetime appointments.
- Decisions regarding finances, staff, membership, and other vital aspects to the church work including partnerships with other organizations (associations, conventions, and missions work) should be included. One example of identifying partnerships that help declare an umbrella for organization and beliefs could look like the following: “First Baptist Church (You Name It) exists in the (any name association) in partnership with the Georgia Baptist Mission Board and the Southern Baptist Convention.”
- Decisions about special worship services such as funerals and weddings should be clearly defined. The specific details for planning and using facilities should be outlined in your policy and procedures manual.
- What is the process for meetings in the church? Define a quorum for a committee or business meeting. You should articulate that a quorum is 1 plus majority or a percentage of those in attendance.
- Finances can be tricky if you do not identify what can be received and the process for receiving gifts other than cash. Also, identify a stance on designated giving and how all funds of the church will be dispersed and addressed. Policy and procedure manuals can deal with an audit process, purchasing approval process, etc.
- Church discipline: Any given church will have leadership struggles with staff, lay leaders, and church members. As a result, a process for dealing with conflict, moral failures, and matters that place people in a position to be held accountable for their actions or removed from their positions or disfellowshipped from the church should be articulated. A process for restoration as well as removal should be provided.
- A process for amending or updating these documents should be outlined.
- Every organization needs a dissolution plan in the event that the church and their assets need to be distributed due to a closure.
These considerations are provided as a guide to help you start a conversation about your governing documents. This guide is not legal advice or an authority for your documents but intended to help a church review their documents.
i Robert Welch, Church Administration: Creating Efficiency for Effective Ministry. Nashville: TN, Broadman and Holman, 2005, 52.
ii Ibid., 52.
Jody Dean's research has focused on ministry leadership specifically in the area of church administration, discipleship, and risk management. He is married to Emily and they have two children Lydia and James.