For church leaders: ‘Brush up your bylaws’

Brush up your bylaws,

Start changing them now.

Brush up your bylaws,

And the members you will wow.


With apologies to the lyrics from the great musical ‘Kiss Me Kate,’ some congregations are not exactly up to date on their bylaws (or Shakespeare for that matter). Church leaders need to know that they must develop a Manual of Operations and Sexual Misconduct policies, and should start doing it now (G-3.0106). Although bylaws are not required by the Book of Order, they provide a good starting point and a brief administrative tool useful to all members.

These required directives are not make-work orders. Because our new Form of Government is streamlined and supposedly more efficient and flexible, many of the procedural guidelines that were in the 2009/2011 Book of Order are no longer there. If congregations do have them in place, church leaders could find themselves in uncomfortable and difficult situations when issues formerly considered routine come up and unexpected problems arise. Some presbyteries already provide suggested processes that can be accessed through their websites or stated clerks.

For those who do not know where to start, Genesee Valley Presbytery and its stated clerk, the Rev. Val Fowler, provide a valuable outline of tasks that need to be accomplished sooner rather than later (see their website pby-, click on “Documents”; the navigating document is under “Clerks of Session”.)

A summary of their guidelines indicates some of the session actions required for a Manual of Operations and/or bylaws.

1. Determine the quorum for session and congregational meetings (G-3.0203; 1.0502).

2. Determine how membership rolls shall be organized (G-1.04).

3. At the next congregational meeting adopt Robert’s Rules of Order, (Newly Revised) as the parliamentary authority.

4. Determine the length of terms for ruling elders, deacons, and trustees (G-2.0404). Under nFOG the maximum term of office is still six consecutive years but the minimum term is not automatically three years and three annual classes of leaders are not required.

5. Recommend to the congregation the size and composition of the Congregational Nominating Committee (G-2.0401).

6. Determine the examination process for candidates for office (G-2.0402). The session has the responsibility to examine, approve and prepare all candidates for church office.

7. Elect and establish a term for the church treasurer and clerk of session (G-3.0205; 3.0104).

8. Develop and approve a sexual misconduct policy, if one does not exist (G-3.0106). Recently I worked with one session that discovered a serious personnel problem, and without an established policy it found itself in conflict with some members, the presbytery, and local and state laws.

9. Develop or amend your Manual

of Administrative Operations (G-3.0106). It may be more extensive than bylaws and contain materials such as Originating Documents (original covenant, articles of incorporation, mission statements, etc.), Procedures for Installing and Ordaining Church Leaders, Lists and Job Descriptions of Committees, and Policies for personnel, finances, and worship and sacraments.


Samples of church bylaws and a Manual of Administrative Operations can be found on the website or via this direct link:

For resources about the changes in nFOG see