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Categories of Membership: Writing Congregational Bylaws
Governance for Congregations, Bylaws & Policies

Some congregations have only one category of membership, whereas other congregations maintain several categories of membership (for example, voting, associate, student, and inactive). If you decide to have more than one category, you must clearly spell out the requirements, rights, and responsibilities for each category, with provisions that determine how people move from one to another; for example, how does a person move from voting to inactive, from associate to full voting, and so on? Where more than one category exists, it is particularly important to specify the requirements for being a voting member. In considering categories, your congregation may wish to examine underlying biases against particular groups, such as youth.

Sample Provisions

Example 1: A Voting Member is any Member who has attained the age of sixteen (16) years and has been a Member of the Church for at least ninety (90) days. Only Voting Members may vote at congregational meetings. A Pledging Friend is any person who is in general sympathy with the purposes, goals, and programs of the Church, and who makes a pledge or contribution of record thereto, but who chooses not to sign the membership book.

Example 2: Individuals may become "Voting Members" thirty (30) days after having signed the membership book, having been acknowledged by the Steering Committee, and having pledged a contribution of money to the Church within the guidelines as approved by the congregation. Individuals between the ages of fifteen (15) and eighteen (18) may become "Associate Members" upon fulfilling the requirements for Voting Members. Such Associate Members will have full voting privileges and may be elected as a Trustee as described in these bylaws. An Associate Member may not be elected as an Officer described in these bylaws.

Example 3: Each member shall be entitled to one (1) vote on each matter submitted for a vote in accordance with the policy and procedures established in the Articles of Association and By-laws. However, because a piece of paper cannot listen to and reason with meeting participants, proxy voting shall not be allowed, although the Committee of the Whole may consider and defer to the opinions, concerns, or objections of absent members to the extent that they are made known.

Example 4: Voting members are those members of the Fellowship who have attained the age of twelve (12) years and have experienced an educational process, as outlined above, about Unitarian Universalism. Any person may be designated an associate member of the Fellowship if:

  • in the past they met the requirements of membership; and
  • presently they are neither supporting the Fellowship through consistent financial support nor through personal participation, and;
  • the Governing Council has made the determination for a report submitted to it by the Membership Committee detailing the previous items.

The Governing Council may change the status of a member to the non-voting status of associate member only after a report from the Membership Committee recommends such action. Any person whose status has been changed from member to associate member may change that status by written notification to the Governing Council and by supporting the Fellowship through financial or personal participation.

Example 5: Any living person who has signed the membership book and not resigned is a member of the church. Voting members are members who are at least sixteen (16) years of age and who have made a financial contribution of record to the church within the last twelve (12) months. Each member of the church shall have all the rights and privileges of church membership. Members who are voting members at least forty-five (45) days before a church business meeting may vote at that meeting. However, on matters pertaining to purchase, sale or mortgage of church property, only voting members who are eighteen (18) years of age or older may vote.

Example 6: Individuals may become "Voting Members" thirty (30) days after having signed the membership book and having made a financial contribution of record during the current church year.

Example 7: A member of the Society shall be qualified to vote at any meeting of the Society at which a vote is taken if the member (a) is at least sixteen (16) years of age, (b) has contributed to Church expenses, apart from morning offerings, for the year preceding such meeting, (c) has attended on divine worship with the society for at least one year before such meeting. A member who has so attended four (4) or more times in such year shall be deemed to have met the attendance requirement of this section. No proxy shall be recognized at any meeting of the Society.

Example 8: Honorary Membership. A member who is no longer able to participate in the activities of the church but who wishes to retain an affiliation may be elected to an Honorary Membership in the church upon recommendation of the Membership Committee, favorable action by the Board of Trustees, and notification to the person that Honorary Membership has been conferred.

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