Church Members: Who is coming to your church?Posted on August 22nd, 2011.
According to this recent MSNBC article, the dynamics of who is coming to (and staying in) church is changing.
It is optional for a nonprofit corporation, such as a church or other religious nonprofit organization, to have or not have members. The existence of membership is, however, one of the fourteen factors the IRS considers in determining whether an organization is a church for tax purposes. If a church establishes a voting membership structure in its articles of incorporation, then voting members of the corporation will be granted fundamental rights to participate in the affairs and governance of the entity.
For most religious nonprofit organizations, freedom to determine the selection criteria and manner of membership recognition are afforded the entity with very limited, if any, constraints. Some courts might review the selection and removal decisions of members in cases where civil, contract, or property rights were violated, as well as cases alleging fraud and collusion, or perhaps the unusual case where statutes protecting fundamental rights might be contradicted by the organization’s practices.
Members are typically expected to fulfill predetermined criteria for membership to maintain their membership in good standing by conforming to a set of continuing requirements. The criteria for ongoing membership are designed so that the member necessarily advances the purposes of the organization, and is eventually dropped from the membership if circumstances and compliance change in that regard after membership status has been conferred.
Your church should be asking itself the following questions:
- Does your church have members?
- Do you have a list of qualifications that must be met before a person may become a member?
- Are those qualifications enforced?
- Has your church experienced any shifts in who is attending your services?
- Should your membership qualifications be amended?
- Do your members have voting rights?
- If so, does your church maintain membership lists?
When a church makes the decision to allow its members to vote on corporate issues, it is imperative that accurate membership lists be maintained. While not common, if a complainant or the government can prove it has a compelling interest for demanding the release of membership lists, organizations must release this information. Therefore, they should be updated on a regular basis and coordinated efficiently. This also assists in effective voting procedures.