Membership Policies

Part of A Guide to Creating a Board Policy Book

A person in a dark suit with white shirt and cuff-links signing a book.

While the minimum requirements for congregational membership are stated in your bylaws (usually minimum age and signing the membership book and/or covenant), you will also want to have policies in place that define things like active participation and financial support.

Categories of Membership

If your bylaws don't include categories of membership, you can define them in your membership policy.

Possible categories include:

  • Voting members (when distinguishing from other categories)
  • Friends (has some privileges of membership, but cannot vote or hold significant leadership positions)
  • Associate members (under 18 and having limited voting rights or possible leadership roles)
  • Inactive members (wants to be a member of record, but not contributing and has no voting privileges)
  • Legacy¬†Members (unable to contribute or participate due to age or health but are entitled to all of the care and support offered to members of the congregation, with voting privileges upon approval of the board)
  • Honorary members (unable to contribute or participate due to age or health but are entitled to all of the care and support offered to members of the congregation, without voting privileges)

Membership Requirements

You will also want to have thoughtful discerning conversations about what should a potential member need to do or show (if anything) before signing the book. Do they need to attend a new member class? Do they need to meet with the minister or other designated leader? Do they need to make a financial contribution of record or an annual pledge, or be visibly engaged in other ways? Does the board need to approve new members? What if someone has been active in another UU congregation and has moved to your area?

Privileges for (Pledging or Engaged) Friends

Sometimes people want to be a part of the life of the congregation, but don't want to be an official, voting member. They may be giving money regularly, or even agreeing to an annual pledge. They may be serving on a committee, or showing up early to make coffee on Sunday mornings. By creating a formal category for active non-members, and clearly communicating what is expected to qualify for that category, you will be providing healthy boundaries, and will avoid playing favorites.

You will want to have thoughtful discerning conversations about what constitutes a "Friend," and what privileges they will be granted as party of your policy. Are they accountable to the covenant? What metrics do you use for their financial contribution or level of engagement? Could they be a covenant group facilitator? Do they get access to the members-only section of the website? Do they get access to the online church directory? Do they get member's rates for rentals or rites of passage?

Beyond "Pledging Friends"

Some congregations are moving away from only using money as a determinant for inclusion, and also are considering a person's engagement. This is especially important for young adults, young families, and people from marginalized communities. People who are under-resourced financially need community too!

Removal from Membership

There are three typical reasons your leadership might want to remove someone from membership. One reason would be because of unresolvable destructive behavior. Another would be because the member resigned.

The other reason would be due to inactivity. Membership numbers impact important metrics such as quorum or UUA salary recommendations, so you want to keep your numbers accurate.

You will want to have clear guidelines about inactivity, and whether someone should be moved to legacy member status or removed completely.

Sample Policies

Eligibility for New Membership

A person is eligible to sign the membership book when they:

  1. agreed to the congregational covenant
  2. have been active in the life of the church for at least __ months
  3. have made an annual financial pledge and have been paying it for at least __ months
  4. have (completed a new member class / met with the minister / other prerequisite)
  5. Previous members, or UUs who have been active in other congregations may waive #2 and #3 upon approval (of the minister / of the congregational president / by a vote of the board).

Termination of Membership

A person may be removed from membership when:

  1. The person resigns, either in writing, or verbally to the minister or a board member.
  2. The person is inactive and has not made a financial contribution for at least ___ months.
  3. The Destructive Persons Policy has been implemented and has reached the termination of membership point.

Legacy Members

Members with at least ___ years of membership who are unable to participate or donate but are entitled to all of the care and support offered to members of the congregation. They also want to retain their voting privileges are eligible to be a Legacy Member, upon endorsement of the membership committee or minister, and a vote of approval of the board.

Honorary Members

Members with at least ___ years of membership who are unable to participate or donate but are entitled to all of the care and support offered to members of the congregation. They may not hold office or committee chair positions, and may not vote at congregational meetings.

Active Friends

A person who declines to sign the membership book, but has been active or pledging and contributing for at least ___ months is eligible to be an Active Friend, upon agreement to the covenant, endorsement of the membership committee or minister, and a vote of approval of the board. Privileges of active friends include ( access to member directory / member pricing for rentals / certain non-fiduciary or non-critical leadership positions).