How Churches Can Protect Themselves Through Bylaws
One of the most important things a ministry can do is protect itself through established bylaws and policies. Here are three points to guide your organization in establishing clear guidelines which will be an invaluable deterrent against escalated conflict.
1st Step: Become Incorporated
Before bylaws can be put into place, every church should be organized as a corporation to help protect its pastor, elders, volunteers, and members from liability. There are two ways to incorporate churches in Illinois: One is as a not-for-profit corporation (NFP) and the other is as a religious corporation. Both are tax exempt. Most new churches choose to be NFP’s.
Churches incorporated as religious corporations are usually more than 100 years old because this was the only choice at the time when they were founded. A religious corporation is created by filing an affidavit with the Recorder of Deeds in the county where it is located. Nothing more needs to be done to stay incorporated.
A NFP is created by filing Articles of Incorporation with the Secretary of State. To stay incorporated, each NFP must file an annual report each year. There are very specific statutory protections for officers, directors, and other volunteers that will be lost if the NFP loses its status as a corporation.
2nd Step: Create Proactive Bylaws
The second step in protecting a church, after becoming incorporated, is to establish bylaws and current member lists. These help everyone know the rules and stop disagreements from becoming legal cases or a split in the body. You will want to draft bylaws that clearly state your church’s position on things such as employment, marriage, and other potentially arbitrary issues within the Church. Consider all things you want to stand for and where your stance is different from the common culture today. This is one of the ways you can preserve your religious rights. We recommend ministries especially amending their bylaws to clarify their church’s policy on marriage with many churches differing on such policies.
3rd Step: Enforce Bylaws
The final thing to consider in the creation of bylaws is perhaps the most crucial of all. Once a policy is written down and made into a bylaw, it must be enforced. Failure to enforce a policy, if brought into court, may serve as an admission of guilt, or show that the position was not really held by the church.