As we on the Board have worked to refine the governance structure at Foothills, we have kept an eye on our bylaws. They are, we’re told, unusually specific and restrictive. There are areas where our practices have drifted away from the structures prescribed in the bylaws – in some cases, years ago. We have not kept a Church Council since before I began my time on the Board, for example, and we long ago began calling our Canvass Committee by the new name of “Stewardship Committee” instead. The bylaws were not kept up to date as these practices evolved.
More recently, we’ve come to realize that there are some other ways the Bylaws mandate a structure that poorly suits our needs as a large church experimenting with different ways of operating. When Rev. Keyes arrived, he pointed out that we might not want to continue to have a Committee on Ministry or Personnel Committee. He suggested that we might find we were able to get more accomplished with a smaller Board – perhaps 7 members, rather than the 11 that our bylaws mandate? And as we have begun to adopt what’s known as policy governance, where the Board focuses on questions of purpose and mission rather than day-to-day operational decisions, it’s become clear that the bylaws suit this new structure poorly.
In short, our bylaws need a thorough rewriting.
The changes you’ll see below do not represent that thorough rewrite, however.
In some cases, we’ve felt that we wanted to delay action on questions that we don’t feel confident we’ve decided yet. Our Committee on Ministry, for example, has spent most of the past year in recess, but neither the COM nor the Board has comfortably decided what that committee’s future should be, so we’ve retained the language in our bylaws requiring that there be a COM, for now.
In other cases, we on the Board have felt that changes suggested by Rev. Keyes, or practiced in other churches, might not suit the needs of our church well. For instance, we have decided to reduce the size of our Board of Trustees, but have settled on a 9-member Board rather than the 7-member size that’s been recommended by David and others. We may yet decide that 7 is the right number, but the composition of the Board seems like an area where caution and gradual change is called for.
Above all, we’ve tried to adopt a slate of bylaws revisions that do not make drastic, sweeping changes to the way this church is operating right now. Some of the changes we’re recommending impact the elections at the upcoming Annual Meeting on May 17th, and need to be made as soon as possible so that our Nominating Committee can know what is required of them. But there simply hasn’t been time for adequate discernment, adequate engagement with the congregation, adequate debate about the content of any broader changes that might be needed some day.
So… what you see below is a set of bylaws revisions that change only what really needs to be changed now. These are edits that seek to protect the church from dangerous practices, reasonably increase our flexibility and efficiency as we experiment with our governance structure, and – critically – leave for another day the biggest potential changes that will really require more debate than we have time for in the waning months of this church year.
I’ve detailed the exact changes below, along with line numbers referencing the most recent (May 2014) edition of our bylaws, and a brief explanation of the thinking behind the change.
Thanks are due to Trustees Elizabeth Stanley and Nate Donovan for their hard work and attention to detail on this project, and to David, Gretchen, and the rest of the Board for their insightful questions and suggestions on the drafts we’ve considered along the way. If you have questions about the revisions we’ve proposed, please feel free to contact me via the Board of Trustees address, firstname.lastname@example.org. We will vote on these revisions in a Special Congregational Meeting, to be held on Sunday, April 19th, between services. That meeting will follow the typical parliamentary procedures, with space for questions and comments as usual. But in the interest of time, I’d welcome a chance to publicly address any common questions beforehand, so I hope you won’t hesitate to reach out to me if you’re confused about the rationale behind anything we’ve proposed.
Thanks for taking the time to read about this. I’ll see you Sunday,
President, Board of Trustees