Bylaws as They Relate to Incorporating Churches

Some states require that bylaws be attached to the Articles of Incorporation.

The bylaws of a ministry are intended to guide it in how it operates as an organization. The first step to take when incorporating a church is to contact an attorney who is familiar with nonprofit laws in your state. The attorney will first prepare a document known as Articles of Incorporation.

After the ministry has its Articles of Incorporation and has established a statement of purpose, the procedure of organizational operation must be defined. This is done through a separate document, most commonly referred to as bylaws. Some states require that bylaws be attached to the articles of incorporation. According to Michael Allison, chief corporate counsel at Brotherhood Mutual, the church bylaws should address:

  • The purpose of the ministry.
  • The structure of the organization (relationship between the church members and church leadership).
  • The role of pastors and their relationship to other church leaders.
  • The election process for church leaders.
  • How and when membership meetings are held, and what will happen during these meetings.
  • What issues require leadership approval and what issues require membership approval.
  • Committee roles and responsibilities.
  • The process required to amend the bylaws.

What can happen if the bylaws aren’t followed?

Once the bylaws are established, they should serve as a guide by which the ministry operates. Failure to follow the bylaws can create legal problems, especially if a decision is made that is inconsistent with the bylaws. For example, if the bylaws say that a certain type of decision requires congregational approval and this approval is not obtained, the decision likely wouldn’t hold up if challenged.

How often should bylaws be reviewed?

Ministries should make it a point to evaluate their bylaws at least every three to five years. The best way to do this is to appoint a task force whose specific purpose is to review the bylaws for necessary changes or additions. The task force should follow the guidelines spelled out in the bylaws for making changes to them, and ensure that all church documents reflect all changes. It is a good idea to have an attorney review the proposed changes before they’re finalized.