What are the guidelines for establishing minimum pass vote percentages?


In our Council, we're looking at establishing minimum pass vote percentages for various issues. One that has caused some discussion is the vote by the congregationn on office bearers. Currently, Council prepares a list of candidates to present to the congregation. The congregation then votes on these names. In the case where the number of names approved by the congregation is more than the number of vacancies, the vacancies are filled by lot from the names approved. currently the required pass is 50%+1. However, it was brought up that perhaps this is too low. At 50%+1, is this enough confidence shown by the congregation in the candidate? We are thinking to raise the requirement to 66.7%. Are other congregations thinking about this?

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Councils set their own rules about this based on their own discernment of what is best. In our council, we have had members complain that a motion did not pass by a 2/3 majority, and they thought that the issue was important enough to require such a majority, but the fact of the matter is that the council has to decide beforehand if a larger majority than 50% +1 is required to pass any particular motion. The complaint was invalid for that reason. In addition, abstentions do not count toward the total number of votes in a congregational meeting; abstentions by definition are non-votes. This should also be made clear, because persons can (invalidly) claim that an abstention really is a vote for (or against) a candidate. Council can set whatever percentage it deems best for the affirmation / approbation of candidates. Making council's policy clear and clearly communicating it are essential for avoiding or at least reducing grumblings and conflict over controversial votes.


I agree that a simple majority should be the norm for most things, though for the method you're using for choosing elders/deacons, you may want to consider something else. If you do, however, this should be explained ahead of time, even before the nominees are approached and asked to consider. Any time you change the process, or a part of the process, it's best to let everyone in on the change as early as possible - and it's best to not change the rules in the middle of the process.

If there is a problem, and a large block of people who feel a nominee is not qualified to serve, they should be speaking with the elders (at least) before the vote -- this is why it's require to publish the names of the nominees 2 weeks prior to the meeting (in most churches). This gives the council the opportunity to review the issues and either withdraw the name, or resolve the issue, or postpone the vote so it can be resolved.

Just a little pet peave: I don't like the 50% +1 rule, and prefer a simple majority rule instead. Why? Well if you have a group with an odd number of participants, a simple majority may not qualify as 50% + 1. For example, if you have 21 votes and 11 are in favor, you have a simple majority and the motion passes, but using the 50%+1 rule, the motion is defeated, since you only had 50% + 1/2. It's true that the smaller the group, the more problem this is (in a group of 3, only a unanimous vote = 50%+1), but in a tie, which could be broken by the chair voting, one could never achieve 50%+1. If we mean simple majority, we should say 'simple majority.'


Requiring anything more than a majority vote for anything institutes rule by minority.  Why should the minority rule?

Since 1957 synods have defeated twenty overtures asking that decisions on weighty matters (the Confessions, the Church Order, etc.) be made by a two-thirds synodical vote or approved by a majority or two-thirds of the classes or by a majority of the consistories.   Wise decisions!  Congregations should take note!

In spite of this history, there are still those who want rule by minority and who attempt to convince folks that this is the way to go.  It's not.




When bylaws and constitution of many organizations are up for change it is common to require a two-thirds majority for substantial change.   This is the same reason why Canadian and US governments also have a senate to balance off a mere majority rule by a democratically elected House of Commons or Representatives.   For smaller organizations this is particularly important so that the initial intent of an organization cannot easily be subverted by a change in its population or membership.   That is why consensus is often the practice for many substantive decisions, in order to maintain peace and order and good government, and a sense of ownership of the decision by all. 

In terms of supposed rule by minority, this ignores the previous decisions made in an opposite direction by several or numerous previous bodies.   If those were legitimate decisions, then they should carry some weight.  If a present differing approach/decision is legitimate, then it should not be difficult to achieve a two-thirds majority to overcome the historic weight of previous contrary decisions.   

But the argument will be on what is substantive and what is not.  

Obviously the adoption of a confession or "testimony" is substantive.   Other things may or may not be. 

Whether synodical decisions on this have been wise since 1957 is a matter of opinion. 


The matter is quite debatable, and is not black and white. Unity is a key factor that is missing, I suggest, from George's suggestion that simple majorities should always be the norm. How much ownership of a confession, for example, would be reflected if it were adopted by 50.5% of the church, and rejected by 49.5%? I was just speaking with one of my colleagues in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, which adopted by just over 50% a report on human sexuality which, in the view of a number of leading North American Lutheran theogians, was seriously lacking in biblical-theological reflection, and which defines "family" in terms of whatever an individual chooses to call a family. Now that the door is opened to ordaining homosexual and bisexual couples, Lutherans are facing the painful prospect of leaving that denomination--which is already happening in their American counterpart, the ELCA. Requiring a two-thirds majority would have at least allowed the church to continue dialoging together, but now schism is inevitable, and a new denomination has come into being, the North American Lutheran Church. I am not at all convinced that insisting on a simple majority is wise, discerning, or pastoral, or that it is good leadership. But I don't think everything has to be 2/3 either. In matters of great import, such as confessions or major issues of change, it may be wise to go that route. Trying to build consensus among God's people is the route of wisdom, not power politics. On the other hand, if a Synod or council does not agree to the 2/3 majority, there is really no room to object to any vote that is made, though the results may be divisive and potentially alienating those those who may feel their voice is not being heard. Also, it should be pointed out that Synod does have something like this in place, in that certain decisions have to be ratified by a subsequent synod. It's good to have checks and balances.

The fact that simple majorities should be the norm does not neglect unity.   A congregation I pastored passed the council's motion to call a second pastor by one vote.  The council was concerned about unity, dragged its heels a bit on implementation, did a bit more explanation and consensus building, etc.  After a bit of time, the council implemented the congregation's decision with no negative consequences.

Asking for anything more than a simple majority establishes rule by minority, and rule by minority does not insure unity.  It makes people, who live in a society where majority decisions are implemented, believe the council is pulling a fast one to maintain the status quo or to resist change.

All of us know there's a natural human tendency to resist change.  Sometimes it's hard to get even a simple majority because a number of people, who really have no strong feelings about a matter either way, tend to vote to maintain the status quo.  After a vote, people who voted 'No' frequently say something like, "Well, I want to support the decision of the council/congregation.  The majority voted 'yes' so that's what we ought to do."  Generally, they trust their leadership.  

The practice of certain synodical decisions being proposed by one synod and adopted by another resulted because some folks didn't want women in office and tried everything they could think of (including the proposed/adopted scenario) to prevent change.  The result was seesaw synods that were disdained by both "sides" and a profound bleeding of the church on both "sides."   The ongoing result, of course, is that the denomination has to wait an entire year before it can implement some synodical decisions.  "Like a mighty turtle moves the church of God."   Not counting the issue of women in office, someone ought to research how many succeeding synods have not approved a decision of a previous synod in the last twenty-two years.  I don't recall a single one, but there may have been one.  This synodical procedure ought to be rescinded.

Typically, calls for super-majorities are made by those who are opposed to what is being proposed.  Wise leadership is a better solution than super majorities or schemes to maintain the status quo.







As I reflected on our discussion of this issue, I wondered if we had drifted from Hans’ initial request that was focused only on the matter of the (s) election of elders and deacons.  Here are some (subjective) comments about that.

I suspect that the request for a 2/3 majority in order for a person’s name to get into the lot is coming from people who don’t believe the most capable/experienced people are being selected.  Elder x who had never served before was selected while Elder y who had previously served a number of terms was not.  Perhaps elder x would not even be in the lot if the congregation had to approve each person by a 2/3 majority and that would increase the chances of elder y being selected.

It’s this kind of thinking that made people unwilling to let their name stand in nomination when elections were held by straight congregational votes.  They were repeatedly “defeated” by people who had served previously or who had been in the congregation for more years or who had lots of relatives in the church.  After a few “defeats,” they declined nomination again because they were not going to be “rejected” once more by the congregation.  When a congregation goes to a lot system, these people are willing to stand in nomination.  However, some people still regard them as less qualified and are disappointed when the name of the person they favor is not drawn. 

Hans, if your congregation has gone to the lot system, the council shouldn’t attempt to meddle with the system in an effort to please people who don’t think the right person was selected.  Instead, rejoice that a person willing to serve has an opportunity to serve and trust that the other council members and the Lord can assist this person so his/her service is fruitful.

Yes George, your example of synodical decisions was quite diversionary and inappropriate.  Your assumption or defintion of "wise leadership" is also merely an assumption, as in the road to hell is paved with good intentions.   Wise leadership would assume some agreement or buy-in, but you seem to assume it stands on its own, and that 51% agreement implies wise leadership.   That can also be perceived as tyranny by the majority.  

As far as how elders, deacons and preachers are elected or appointed, there appear to be various scriptural precedents and methods.   It is important that the method to be used is understood and accepted ahead of time, with the understanding and trust that God can use whatever method he chooses to bring about a result that He desires and that is edifying to the  church and glorifying to His name.   And the council and church ought to do this in prayer and seeking and trusting. 

Thank you all for your comments. We have received a pretty wide range. Now we'll have to consider all.

John, you say, "Yes George, your example of synodical decisions was quite diversionary and inappropriate."

I hope you realize that this example was raised by Randy who called it a "good thing."

George, sorry, yes, Randy did bring it up first.   He seemed to be a bit more balanced on it, while you referred to 2/3 requirement as rule by minority as a blanket concern, relating mostly to synodical decisions;  in any case, selecting elders is a bit different than making a confessional change at a denominational level.   Perhaps a better comparison might have been with deposing an elder, or with a single nomination.  Would a simple majority be sufficient for this? 

Hans, it would be interesting to hear what your council decided and how/if the discussion here influenced its decision.  Other people are evaluating the worth of the Network.  Perhaps they need to hear from folks like you.


You ask if a simple majority would be sufficient to depose an elder or in the case of a single nominee.

Yes, the majority, not the minority, should determine these matters.



Community Builder

@ George Vander Weit


You ask if a simple majority would be sufficient to depose an elder or in the case of a single nominee.

Yes, the majority, not the minority, should determine these matters.


Interesting answer, given that in almost all non-profit organizations that I've seen or helped create, their articles or bylaws almost always require a two-thirds votes to remove a director. I rarely see otherwise and would never advise my clients to use less than a supermajority rule for that.

It would be good for the local council to make the decision, given that technically the congregational votes are advice to council.   However, in practical terms, if the council has not decided otherwise ahead of time, it would generally feel obligated to follow a simple majority.   

Community Builder

It has been said in this thread about a greater than 50% vote requirement,

"It makes people, who live in a society where majority decisions are implemented, believe the council is pulling a fast one [by requiring a supermajority] to maintain the status quo or to resist change."

I don't think the premise is true at all -- that we "live in a society where majority decisions are implemented."  If, for example, one wants to amend the US Constitution, one have have a two-thirds majority assent from the House, from the Senate, and from all states.  Wow. That's a lot more than a simple majority from one body.

In sharp contrast, adding a fourth confession ("form of unity") to the CRCNA requires only the assent of only a simple majority of a body of representatives who sit in authority for only one week, during which it takes up dozens of of other matter as well. It we take the pattern of the "society we live in," we'd require a two-thirds assent by Synod, plus a two-thirds assent of all classes.

More examples in daily life.  In most business agreements, many provisions are subject to 2/3's (or other supermajority) vote.  Why?  In large part, to maintain unity. (I write these sorts of agreements). Indeed, in society around us, we have lots and lots of examples of super-majority requirements.  Most of them have "peace and unity" as a root motivation.

Within the church, it has been a very long time since I've seen a pastor called with less than a substantial supermajority vote requirement -- thankfully.

Finally, consider the tradition of the Friends (Quakers). I've had cause to provide legal counsel to some of their congregations (and greater bodies) in my area. Their tradition is to do things by full consensus. Thus, if a motion passes by a majority, they will further discuss and revote until there is consensus. Yes, that would be by 100%. Certainly, those who vote in the minority have a tradition based "obligation" to give serious thought about whether they should continue that vote in subsequent ballots, but I think that tradition could teach us a lot.