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Organizational Structure and Bylaws: Writing Congregational Bylaws

This guide is designed to help you consider your bylaws and assist you in creating the clearest and most concise set possible. Bylaws provide the formal structure of your congregation and allow for maintaining and changing that structure. They guide your membership by defining the way things are done, and they are a means of relating your congregation to the UUA (Unitarian Universalist Association) and to the law governing church institutions within your jurisdiction.

To be effective, bylaws should have the following characteristics:

  • be brief and clearly stated
  • cover only the bare bones of the organizational structure
  • be reasonably easy to amend
  • comply with the laws to which the organization is subject
  • be readily accessible to all members

Bylaws do not need to include every matter of policy. Because bylaws are generally amended only through congregational meetings, congregations often create operating guidelines and policies that stand apart from the bylaws to govern day-to-day matters. These guidelines and policies can be changed more easily as situations warrant, thereby eliminating a cumbersome journey through bylaw amendment. Things that could be included in operational guidelines and policies include limitations on building use, no-smoking policies, limitations on alcohol use, acceptance of earmarked funds, staff hiring, and personnel issues.

Also, bylaws should cover several important philosophical and theological questions:

  • Who can be a member, and what rights and responsibilities do members have?
  • Who leads the congregation, for how long, and with what rights and responsibilities?
  • How are decisions made in the congregation? Are different methods used, depending on the type of question?
  • Are provisions made to ensure that minority voices are heard?
  • How will change be made?

Many of these issues are discussed in Belonging (PDF, 166 pages): The Meaning of Membership, a report from the UUA's Commission on Appraisal. This book is available online or in a paper version by contacting the Office of the Executive Vice President at the UUA's Boston address. The book is no longer in print in its bound format.

For more information contact growthresources @ uua.org.

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Thursday, February 7, 2013.

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