Four Keys to a Great Constitution

As I noted in a previous post, every church needs a constitution.  But what are the key elements to have in one?  Here are the two key areas to address as you draft your church’s constitution.

1. Identity

The first thing every Church Constitution needs is to identify the church.  Included in this is your church’s name, statement of faith, denominational affiliation(s), and purpose for existing.  If you are part of a larger denomination that has a statement of faith, you most likely will simply refer to that statement rather than spelling everything out again.  By doing this, you will avoid having to amend the constitution every time the denomination makes any changes to the statement.

Be sure to include here your church’s purpose for existing to satisfy the IRS 501(c)3 requirements.  You may also include your mission and vision statements and core values, but I would suggest not.  These may change over time, and it is easier to make changes to them if they are not in your constitution.

2. Structure

Second, your constitution needs to spell out the basic structure of your church.  Be sure to include who is able to vote on legal issues, how your church will be governed, and how you will handle your annual business meeting (a legal requirement).  Make sure you check your state laws and denominational requirements.  Some denominations may also require a dissolution clause that explains what happens to the church’s assets if the church dissolves.

Your constitution does not have to be a complicated document.  It only needs to address these two areas.  You can make it quite a bit more lengthy and complicated if you desire, but I recommend against it.  The simpler your constitution is, the easier it will be to use it to set direction for your church.  The simpler it is, the less often you will have to change it in the future.  And the simpler it is, the easier it will be to create.

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Why Your Church Needs a Constitution

As we move into a new generation of churches, I hear more and more church planters and lay leaders questioning the idea of a church constitution.  Whatever their reasonings (a constitution is  old-fashioned, restrictive, or they just had a bad experience with one), they are wrong.  Every church needs a constitution, and here’s why:

It Cements Your Tax Status

In order to be tax-exempt and receive tax-deductible contributions, an organization must apply for and be recognized as a 501(c)3 organization.  Churches, however, are automatically considered tax exempt and are not required to apply for and obtain recognition of tax-exempt status from the IRS if they meet the 501(c)3 requirements.  Among these requirements is:

  • The organization must be organized and operated exclusively for religious, educational, scientific, or other charitable purposes.

Your church’s constitution is its organizing document.  It shows the IRS what purposes you are organized for.  The other requirements have to do with how your church acts, but for this first requirement, you need a constitution.  Without a constitution, there is no proof that your church meets the requirements of a tax-exempt organization.

It Guides Future Ministry

How do you choose what direction to take the church?  How do you know what opportunities to move forward on and which need to be left well enough alone?  Your church’s constitution is its guiding document.  Taking the time to draft a constitution makes your choices in the future easier, since you have already laid down guidelines for what things your church does and does not do.

It Settles Disputes

When (not if) disputes occur in your church, a well drafted constitution will often help solve things.  It will already have spelled out how the church is run (no more arguments about who makes what decisions), what the church’s statement of faith is (no more questions about what we believe on what), what the church’s values are (no more wondering how we do things), and what the church’s mission is (no more arguments on what we should be doing).  A good constitution will no get rid of all your problems, but it will put an end to many potential issues, allowing everyone to focus their arguments on other things.

I’m convinced that constitutions still have value to the church.  How have you seen them have value or get in the way in your church?