Ensuring that your congregation’s constitution is up-to-date is an important part of your life together. The review process is a time of careful consideration of how your congregation is church in your particular setting. However, it can also feel like a lengthy and tedious endeavor. To that end, the synod office has organized these resources to aid you in keeping this essential document in the best possible order.
Constitutions ensure that our common life and work follow the principles of good governance. They also may help identify issues that need to be addressed in the life of a community. Consider thoughtfully and prayerfully the changes you are proposing and whether they are matters of governance (and therefore should be addressed by revisions to your constitution) or if they are indicative of other conversations your congregation may need to have. Changing your constitution is rarely the best way to navigate a disagreement or difference of opinion within your congregation.
Resources from the Office of the Secretary, ELCA
The Office of the Secretary at ELCA churchwide exists to help all three expressions of this church (churchwide, synod, and congregations) maintain good governance. Their “Constitutions” page has a host of resources:
- ELCA Model Constitution for Congregations, which will be the template for your constitution. Be sure to use the most recent version.
- Guide for the Use of the Model Constitution which explains some of the key terminology and policies relevant to this task. Note: A percentage of the constitution is made of required provisions, which cannot be altered. Pay attention to the sections marked with an asterisk (*) in the model!
- Amendments passed at the triennial ELCA Churchwide Assembly (CWA) are posted here following the meeting and it is a good practice to vote on these amendments regularly at congregational meetings in CWA years.
Constitutional Review Committee
To help our congregations through this process, we have a Constitutional Review Committee (CRC) made of volunteers who have been trained in reviewing constitutions. You will want to request a meeting with a committee member early in your review process; because the synod must approve your constitution before it can be ratified by your congregation (see *C16.03), the best way to ensure a smooth process is to get organized (see the sample timeline for constitution review process here) and to take advantage of the committee’s guidance from the outset. Contact the synod office if you wish to schedule a consultation.
- Claire Hoyum, Gloria Dei, St. Paul
- Jason Langworthy, Saint Anthony Park Lutheran, St. Paul
- The Rev. Chris Hagen, Light of Christ, Delano
- The Rev. Tanner Howard, All Saints, Cottage Grove
- Anna Marsh, Saint Paul Area Synod
Constitutional Review Workshops
Members of the CRC often host a workshop at Tool Kit for Congregational Leaders. Other times may be offered if needed. Watch the synod’s News and Events email for further information.
Steps in the Process
This is for revising the main provisions of your constitution; it is easier to amend bylaws (and easier still to amend continuing resolutions). See chapters 17 and 18 for more information.
- Form a team to work on this and locate your current governing documents.
- Download the most recent version of the Model Constitution for Congregations from the ELCA’s website.
- Create a timeline for your process (here is a sample).
- Contact the synod office! A brief conversation at the outset can save you a lot of time later on.
- Draft your revised constitution, tending to the required provisions (*), updates in the Model Constitution, and other changes your congregation would like to make. Note: bylaws and continuing resolutions are to be incorporated into the constitution and are no longer advised to be separate documents.
- Send an electronic copy of the draft to the synod office.
- Your draft constitution will be assigned to a CRC member, who will review it and notify you of any changes that need to be made before your council review and congregational vote. (Note: this is not the synod review described in C16.03, but is a step added in to help you ensure that the document you approve as a congregation is in good order.)
- You will be notified of any changes that need to be made.
- Once the changes are made, your congregation may vote at any legally called congregational meeting to approve the updated constitution (30 days advance notice to the congregation is required; see C16.02a).
- Following an approval vote, your constitution will be reviewed by the bishop (see C16.03).
- Once the bishop has approved your constitution, your congregation may vote to ratify the updated constitution at your next regularly scheduled annual meeting (see C16.02b).
- Following the ratification vote, send a final copy to the synod office; both the synod and your congregation should have a current copy on file.
How long will it take to update our constitution?
It depends on how organized you are, what kind of changes you are making, and when you start. A full revision takes six months on average, but it can go faster or slower. See the sample timeline for more information.
Is there any way to move through this process more quickly?
The best way to ensure that the process goes quickly is to 1) meet with a member of the CRC at the beginning of your revision process; and 2) to chart out a timeline with deadlines you will need to meet along the way so that you can stay organized. Work backward from the date of the annual meeting at which you hope to ratify your updated constitution.
Is the Model Constitution available in any languages other than English?
Right now, the ELCA has only made the Model Constitution available in English and Spanish. Both versions can be found on the webpage of the Office of the Secretary. There are members of our CRC who are bilingual, so Spanish-speaking congregations should feel free to reach out for assistance throughout the process.
Are we giving up our autonomy as a congregation or our property by following the Model Constitution for Congregations?
Not at all! This is a common question; you are in no way relinquishing any of your autonomy by following the Model Constitution. In fact, keeping your constitution up-to-date is a good way to remain a congregation in good standing with the ELCA, which can help protect you in the event of serious matters. While the Model Constitution includes a certain number of “required provisions” it also leaves room for congregations to determine many aspects of their own governance and ministry.
Do we need to update our constitution every year there is a Churchwide Assembly?
It is a good practice to do so. However, this does not mean that you need to go through the entire synodical review process every three years. Section C16.04 of your congregation’s constitution allows for amendments from the Churchwide Assembly to be adopted by a simple majority vote at any legally called meeting of the congregation.
I love this kind of work! Can I join the Constitutional Review Committee?
Yes, absolutely! The CRC’s work is essential and more volunteers are always welcome. If you are interested in joining the committee, contact the synod office.
With questions about your congregation's governing documents, contact Anna Marsh at firstname.lastname@example.org or 651.224.4313.