Constitution and Bylaws Considerations for the Local Church

by Jody Dean | Oct 31, 2022

In the book “Church Administration” the definitions provided for a church constitution and bylaws are relevant for your consideration. A church constitution should have the definitive name, location, doctrinal purpose, and rules of conduct of the church. It is the way the organization is structured. It includes basic beliefs, dogma, and polity. It describes the covenant under which the membership  operates.i 

A few considerations for the church constitution: 

  1. 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.
  2. What is the polity framework for conducting the church? Each congregation is autonomous in  Southern Baptist life so the polity of the church should be articulate and clarified.
  3. 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 that provides the lens through which the church is based.  

Bylaws: These rules should describe the rights and privileges of membership, the responsibilities and  powers of church officers and how they become officers and the length of their service. Also the  outline for doing business which should include how meetings will be conducted. Committees, councils, and leadership groups that are polity groups should be explained. Also how finances are  received and dispersed should be outlined and explained.ii 

A few considerations for Bylaws: 

  1. What is the staffing and leadership structure for the ministries of the church as well as the  business process for these should be defined with the oversight details for each position or  ministry area explained in the policy and procedures manual. Who can be a minister and what  their function is and purpose within the church is one key aspect for the bylaws that should be  articulated. You should be sure to state in these documents that you are a “religious, not for profit” entity.
  2. What are the assigned ministries of the church that should be outlined from a polity, doctrinal,  or practice in a broader sense that deals with worship, missions, etc…? You will need to define  these and list them with overview in the bylaws. It would be helpful to also identify the  ordinances the church will observe and how. Outline the details in a policy and procedures  manual for which specific ministries and how they function from children, student, college,  media, etc… Also it is appropriate 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.
  3. Place business details like office hours or processes for ministry in a policy and procedures manual and streamline the bylaws to governing oversight and direction for purpose, doctrine, polity, ministry, and basic church business instructions and clarifications.
  4. 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 being appointed defined which should explain these are not  lifetime appointments.
  5. Decisions regarding finances, staff, membership, and other vital aspects to the church work  including partnerships with other organizations i.e. associations, conventions, and missions work  should be included. i.e. 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. This is  one example of identifying partnerships that help declare an umbrella of organization and  beliefs.
  6. Decisions about special worship services in regard to funerals and wedding should be defined in  regard to the purpose in regard to who can and why under the umbrella of the church. The specific details for planning and using facilities should be outlined in your policy and procedures manual.
  7. What is the process for meetings in the church? Define what is a quorum for decisions whether  a committee or business meeting. You should articulate that a quorum is 1 plus majority or a  percentage of those in attendance for example should be defined. You need to clarify quorum  for a committee or church business meeting and have a record system for their actions which  involve staffing, finances, and property decisions as well as other transactions of governing.
  8. Finances can be tricky if you do not identify what can be received and how in regard to forms of  gifts that are not just cash. Also identify a stance on designated giving and how all funds of the  church will be dispersed and addressed. Policy and procedure manual can deal with an audit  process, purchasing approval process, etc…
  9. Church discipline: Any given church will have leadership struggles with staff, lay leaders, and  church members and as a result a process for dealing with conflict, moral failures, and matters  that place people in a positon to be held accountable for their actions or removed from their positions or relationship with the church should be articulated. A process for restoration as well  as removal should be provided.
  10. A process for amending or updating these documents should be outlined.
  11. Every organization needs a dissolution plan for if at some point the church and their assets  needed to be distributed due to a closure.  

These considerations are provided as a guide to help you start a conversation about your guiding  documents for what should be articulated and how to address updating the documents. This guide is not  a legal advice or authority for your documents but intended to help a church review their documents.  

 NOTES

i Robert Welch, Church Administration: Creating Efficiency for Effective Ministry. Nashville: TN, Broadman and  Holman, 2005, 52. 

ii Ibid., 52. 

Jody Dean
Faculty at NOBTS

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.