Churches are subject to many external laws and rules but the law, and the Church’s constitutional rights, give a church the ability to define for itself how it will be governed. Another way to put this is to say that churches have the right to set up the rules they will abide by as they go about their business as a church. This self-definition is generally laid out in what are referred to as “bylaws.”
Arizona Statute section 10-3140(9) defines “bylaws” to mean “the code of rules adopted for the regulation or management of the affairs of the corporation irrespective of the name by which those rules are designated”.
These rules describe the rights and responsibilities of church members or congregants, as well as the directors, clergy, and lay staff. They also lay the groundwork for how the church will manage its affairs and its internal government. Once the bylaws are established, they must be followed until they are formally repealed.
Often included in a church’s bylaws are elements such as the following:
- Membership qualification, member discipline, and member removal;
- Voting rights and requirements of church members as well as how and when church business meetings will be held;,
- The responsibilities of clergy and how the church’s leaders are selected;
- The responsibilities and duties of church board directors, as well as the ways in which the directors are chosen, how long they may perform their duties, and how they may be removed from their positions;
- The property procedures for how church property may be bought, sold, or conveyed;
- Procedures for creating and staffing committees; and
- Procedures for adopting and amending the bylaws.
These bylaws should be easy to understand and follow. If a church’s bylaws are overly complicated, then a church may be tempted to not follow its bylaws which can open the church to legal liability in a number of situations.
If you are pondering what to include in your church’s bylaws, Provident Law’s church and nonprofit attorneys are here to help. When a church or nonprofit organization in Arizona needs legal advice, we stand ready. We also counsel and serve ministries, charities, foundations, and other types of nonprofit organizations—providing broad transactional and general counsel services. Contact us to learn more.