Which Bylaws Are Harmful?

By Christine Bove

Who really loves bylaws? There are a lot of details involved, and to some, the process can be very stressful and daunting. 

Here at StartCHURCH, we we have a saying ‘Other than the scriptures, your bylaws are your most important document’. They describe the vision, whose in charge, how to handle conflict, what you believe and much more.

With churches getting sued more than ever, churches need to take every precaution to make sure their bylaws are created in such a way as to help them protect what God has called them to lead. 

This is where the bylaws come into play. While they may not be fun to write, they are what free pastors and churches to effectively do the work God has called them to do. Bylaws, when done well, protect everyone involved--pastors, congregant members, and the organization itself. 

For those of you  who are new to the idea of bylaws, bylaws are a set of rules, guidelines, and regulations designed to influence and govern the daily affairs of the organization and those involved with it. Because bylaws carry weight, pastors and leaders must overcome the temptation to “copy and paste” someone else’s bylaws or adopt a generic set of bylaws.

However, doing this can cause issues for your church or ministry, for your pastors or leaders, and the members of your congregation in the long-term.

“But how do I write bylaws that protect my church or ministry?” you may ask.

Some would say, “God will protect me. I don’t need to create the bylaws.” This is a very dangerous position to take. The courts have shown repeatedly that having no bylaws or insufficient bylaws leaves the church vulnerable in the the instance of litigation.

He does instruct us to be wise, especially since He has entrusted us with His church. Proverbs 4:6 says, “Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you.”

The truth is, there is a wisdom for this hour in leading your church or ministry with personalized, vision focused bylaws that were created for you. The alternative can be harmful to your ministry. 


Three reasons to not use generic bylaws:

1. They don’t fit the mission and vision of your church 

Bylaws should be unique to your organization. They are rules and guidelines tailored specifically for your church and your congregation. You want your bylaws to reflect the core beliefs and values of your church. This is your opportunity to clarify the purpose and mission of the church and to break down how decisions are made in your organization. 

Questions to consider when building your bylaws:

  • How will your church handle decision making and conflicts? 
  • What are the scriptures that form the bedrock of your church? 

Generic bylaws will not address those things, nor do they help build toward the vision and mission of your church. So it’s important to have bylaws that are specific to your church.

2. They are not specific to how you want your church to operate

Generic bylaws will not specify how you want your church to operate, whereas well-defined bylaws will. These specifications are found in the clauses that make up the bylaws. When these clauses are added, a church is able to specify:

  • Church operations
  • Doctrines 
  • Beliefs
  • Membership 
  • Ordination processes 
  • Voting power 
  • Policies

These clauses are highly customizable--tailoring your own bylaws and structures for your church. 

Feeling Overwhelmed? Don’t worry, StartCHURCH is here to help!

An example of a clause we see many pastors add in their bylaws is an accountability board for the protection of their senior pastor. 

Accountability boards are useful for pastors by ensuring a healthy system of checks and balances within their church leadership. This type of board is separate from the board of directors and can be called upon to make unbiased decisions about the pastor if there are any questions of misconduct. This particular clause prevents the pastor from getting voted out if there is a disagreement between him/herself and their board of directors. 

3. Generic bylaws could leave you and your congregation exposed

Because the clauses in your bylaws can be specific, you can tailor some of them to not only deal with your church structure and beliefs, but also to create guidelines for your congregation to thrive under. 

One clause you can add to protect your congregation concerns church records. 

In your bylaws, you can determine if church records are able to be viewed by the congregation. Church records contain membership details and information, tithing information, and other personal details about your members. 

In your bylaws, you can specify a system for requesting the records. Those requirements protect the private information of your members.

Without a detailed process in your bylaws, your members’ personal information is not protected. Confidentiality and privacy should be cherished, and members want to feel that their information is safe.  

Creating bylaws that work

Unfortunately, there have been cases of churches that did not create well-defined bylaws, and it cost them in the long run. In some of these cases, the churches were challenged in court and were overruled because of their undefined bylaws. 

A few tweaks to your bylaws could save you and your church. It’s a lot to take in, but we serve an incredible God. His wisdom guides us to build things in excellence so that we can stand strong. 

“For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will fill you with joy. Wise choices will watch over you. Understanding will keep you safe.” Proverbs 2:10-11

StartCHURCH has had the privilege of partnering with over 1,000 Pastors and Ministry leaders this year to assist them in developing bylaws that are best for them. It’s out passion to make it easy for you to protect what Got has called you to lead. 


Strengthen Your Bylaws Today!

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