Congregational Bylaws - An Overview
Congregational Bylaws - An Overview

Bylaws are important in laying the groundwork for any organization. Although written in legal language to satisfy governmental requirements, bylaws also tell the story of a congregation. They encapsulate the vision, hopes, and dreams of the congregation and are also a last resort in cases of disagreement on legal matters. They help the congregation govern day-to-day functions such as committees and board structure, as well as deal with infrequent situations such as the calling of a minister and the purchasing of real estate. For all members, bylaws provide a roadmap for getting involved in key decision making, which is particularly important to groups historically underrepresented in Unitarian Universalist congregations.

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 (see below). Because bylaws are generally amended only through congregational meetings, boards can 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. 

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 changes be made?

For more detailed information, see A Comprehensive Guide to Writing Congregational Bylaws.

About the Author

  • 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 UUA Congregational Life Staff...

For more information contact conglife@uua.org.

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