Writing Effective Bylaws: Emerging Practices

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The Bylaws provide the formal structure of your congregation and allow for maintaining and changing that structure. Bylaws hold the highest level of authority of congregational guiding documents.

Some state laws require that congregations have a constitution, charter, articles of incorporation or other legal document that contain some of the items that are mentioned below. If one of these documents is require, its authority would supersede that of the bylaws. Contact your UUA Regional Staff for guidance.

Minimum Components for Congregational Bylaws

  • Who you are
  • Why you exist
  • How you relate to the UUA
  • The rights and responsibilities of membership
  • Congregational meetings and and responsibilities
  • Board structure and responsibilities
  • How ministers are called and dismissed
  • Provisions for amending or dissolving

Characteristics of Effective Bylaws

  • 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

Avoid Putting Too Much in Bylaws

Bylaws do not need to include every matter of policy. Because bylaws are generally amended only through congregational meetings, nimble congregations will create policies, operating guidelines and procedures that stand apart from the bylaws to govern day-to-day matters. These can be amended more easily as needs evolve and change.

Items That Should Be Described Using Policy

  • All committees of the board
  • Path to membership details
  • Methods of notification for meetings
  • Anti-discrimination statements
  • Description and hiring of staff other than called ministers
  • Individual responsibilities of officers
  • Defining and executive committee
  • Rules of procedure for meetings (e.g. Robert's Rules, Democratic Rules, Roberta's Rules, Consensus, Sociocracy)

Philosophical and Theological Implications in Bylaws

  • 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 and historically marginalized voices are heard?
  • How will change be made?

About the Author

UUA Congregational Life

The regional Congregational Life staff are congregations' local connection to the UUA. All of the program Congregational Life staff have expertise in most aspects of congregational life and each also has a few program areas of expertise. See the...

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