Suspension or Termination of Church Membership
Dear Clients and Friends,
We all know church membership plays a key role in growing a church. It provides opportunity for those who wish to become part of a local church family to feel accepted. It also provides a fishing pool for church leaders to handpick members to grow in leadership. Usually I am not involved in such decisions. But occasionally I get consulted on what to do when something goes wrong and the member becomes more of a liability. Here are a few suggestions to help when this happens. Keep in mind the following holds true whether you are a church or a community nonprofit.
Review your Governing Documents. Usually membership requirements are found in the Bylaws. I have not seen many Articles of Incorporation address this issue. Most Articles I see simply state membership will be addressed in the Bylaws. Does your Bylaws cover this topic? Does it state the requirements for membership and their subsequent removal? If so, great then all you need to do is make sure these provisions comply with Florida law. If not, you may want to contact my office to fix this oversight.
Florida Law on Proper Suspension or Removal Process. Here in Florida there is a state statute which addresses suspending or terminating a member of a nonprofit corporation. Florida Statute 617.0607(1) states ” A member of a corporation may not be expelled or suspended, and a membership in the corporation may not be terminated or suspended, except pursuant to a procedure that is fair and reasonable and is carried out in good faith” . Please focus on the above underlined language. Your governing documents must be fair and reasonable when it comes to suspending or removing a church member. If it isn’t it may run be struck down by the court. There is a process for the member to appeal within the law but I will not address it in this blog.
In Illustrate what this language means we need to look at a couple recent Florida court cases. In NLRI v. Wycoki (Fla. 4th DCA 2019) the Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled that a nonprofit removal of a member was fair and reasonable when the corporation had the member sign a card agreeing his membership may be suspended when his actions violate the trust of the nonprofit. The opinion references the Rewolinski v. Fisher (Fla. 3d DCA 1984) case wherein it held “It is well-established that the governing body of a private membership organization is the final albiter of the sufficiency of causes for suspension of member and that courts may not properly conduct a collateral inquiry into the merits of such an organization’s decision to suspend a member.” In the Wycoki case the Court said two inquiries need to be made by the Court: First, whether the Board complied with its own governing documents, and Second, whether the defendant’s membership was suspended and terminated pursuant to a procedure that was fair and reasonable and carried out in good faith”.
Takeaway: Make sure your governing documents addresses clear requirements for membership and a process to suspend or remove any member who violates these provisions. Then verify your process to suspend or remove complies with Florida law. Contact my office if you are not sure. Then, above all, follow your governing documents.