How to Start a Church

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A church is a spiritual community that comes together in common fellowship. If you’re dissatisfied with your local options and have a group of like-minded thinkers and believers, you may be interested in branching out on your own to worship in your own way. Where to start? You can learn to begin the early informal processes and plan for an incorporated community, apply for legal status, and expand your church in the community. See Step 1 for more information.

Steps

Part 1 Part 1 of 3:Beginning Fellowship

How to Start a Church

Start a home spiritual discussion group. Before you attempt to file for non-profit status and make your church official, it’s best to establish a somewhat sizable and united fellowship of people with similar beliefs to undergo the process together. Start talking with like-minded people and getting together on a regular basis.

  • The IRS requires you to have three founding members who are not related by blood or marriage.

How to Start a Church

Define the scope of the church. You can establish a church at varying levels and the better you define your aims for the church, the easier it will be to establish your tax-exempt status. Establishing a ministry, for example, is somewhat different than forming a corporately structured church, housed in its own building. Consider:

  • Your possible membership. How many do you reasonably expect?
  • Your location. Where will you worship?
  • Your commitment. Will this be a part-time job, or a full-time calling?
  • Your financial aims. Will your church collect funds? How? How much will be necessary?

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How to Start a Church

Draft church bylaws and a statement of belief. Why are you starting a church? What core beliefs will govern your ministry? What distinguishes your church in terms of doctrine and creed? These are questions to take up in a statement of belief. Think of this as the “Declaration of Independence” for your church.

  • To form a religious organization, you need to also establish a series of bylaws by which your organization will be governed. Think of this as the rule book for your church’s operations. Will you perform weddings and funerals? Under what protocol? What community outreach programs will your church participate in?
  • Sample outlines of bylaws are available online that you can use and modify for your purposes.

How to Start a Church

Assign corporate officers. You’ll need corporate officers, a board of directors, and a membership to file for incorporation with the state. Make sure ahead of time you’ve got willing participants to fulfill the various procedural and accounting roles necessary to make a church run smoothly.

  • These roles will be different than church staff. You don’t necessarily need to think about janitorial and secretarial roles just yet, but make sure you’ve got some idea of the board of directors, visiting and youth ministry, music, and fundraising. The decision-making players need to be in place before you move forward.

How to Start a Church

Name your church. A commonly overlooked step. Give some thought to naming your church something distinctive, unique, and descriptive of your niche in the ministry. Also make sure you’re not repeating a commonly-used name.

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Part 2 Part 2 of 3:Forming a Non-Profit

How to Start a Church

Consult a lawyer. It’s perfectly possible to apply for incorporation and tax exemption without consulting a lawyer, but it’s not the most straightforward process in the world and it would be beneficial to consult a lawyer after preparing the paperwork to the best of your abilities. Always get your work double-checked, but try to save money by doing as much of it as possible yourself.

How to Start a Church

Understand the guidelines and rules of tax-exemption and structure your corporation accordingly. Your church must satisfy the following requirements:

  • The organization must be organized and operated exclusively for religious, educational, scientific, or other charitable purposes.
  • Net earnings may not inure to the benefit of any private individual or shareholder.
  • No substantial part of its activity may be attempting to influence legislation and may not intervene in political campaigns.
  • The organization’s purposes and activities may not be illegal or violate fundamental public policy.

How to Start a Church

Get incorporation documents in your state. Obtain the documents of incorporation from the Business Bureau in your state. If you’ve already configured your corporate offices, composed a belief statement, and meet the proper requirements, you’re halfway there.

  • Get a few copies of the same documents to practice on. If you mess up, just start over.

How to Start a Church

Confirm your 501(c)(3) status. At the regional IRS office, ask for a formal revue of your documentation and a notice of exemption. As long as you meet the requirements, all churches should automatically qualify for 501 status without more action.

  • It’s not necessary to take any extra step to ensure tax exemption. However, many churches take the extra step of IRS recognition to ensure to church leaders, members, and contributors that the church is recognized, exempt, and in good legal stead with the state. This is especially important when a church is just starting out and hoping to promote legitimacy.
  • You can also fill out IRS form 1023, found here: http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f1023.pdf

How to Start a Church

Fill out the SS4 form with the IRS to get an Employer Identification Number (EIN). Regardless of whether or not you hire employees, it’s important to acquire an EIN from the IRS to allow you to open a church bank account and also to file returns with the IRS.

  • Find this form here: http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/fss4.pdf

How to Start a Church

Open a church bank account. Use your EIN and other documentation to open an account used specifically for the church’s funds. To open an account, you’ll typically be asked to provide:

  • Proof of your EIN
  • Photo ID, and social security numbers of the principal signers
  • Master list of the church’s board of directors and corporate officers

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Part 3 Part 3 of 3:Building Your Church

How to Start a Church

Find an appropriate place to worship. Eventually, as your church grows, you’ll probably want to take it out of the living room and into the world. Find an appropriate location that will be easy to grow in, and easy for new followers to find and make it to. Find somewhere you can afford and take the time to organize and decorate it according to your particular aesthetics and core beliefs.

How to Start a Church

Develop a compelling message. Why should people come listen to your interpretation of your common beliefs? What do you bring to the table? How can you enrich their spiritual life in a way that other churches and communities can’t? These are important questions to consider as you build your program and begin holding services. Address basic questions:

  • Who will preach?
  • What sort of music will be included?
  • How will a service be structured?

How to Start a Church

Consider joining a district office in your denomination. If you’re within the umbrella of a pre-existing denomination, consider joining up with the regional office and sending representatives to the yearly meetings in your area. This can be a good way to make connections in your area and attract new members.

  • In general, be careful about “leeching” off the memberships of established churches in your area. It’s probable that people who attend your church might be dissatisfied with their options, and you should create a welcoming space for those people. However, don’t actively preach against other local churches, or attend their services and sow dissent. Create harmony rather than strife.

How to Start a Church

Establish your unique personality and presence in the community. When you’re first getting started and have built a small group of followers and regular attendees, set a regular time for services and actively seek new members. Hold informal functions like cookouts and street festivals to attract neighbors and other potential members, and maintain an open door policy to build your church.

  • Regularly hold open-house events to attract new members. Advertise your church regularly in local weeklies and maintain an open-door policy to cultivate a welcoming presence. If you want to gain a membership and a solid community, get the word out.

How to Start a Church

Include a time of fellowship and get to know your members. A church without a community is just a building. People will continue to come if they feel welcome and cared for, and you want to make sure that your church is a place people feel free to worship and come together.

  • Take a personal interest in each person and their family. Visit or call during the time between the meetings, taking an honest interest in their beliefs, their lives, and their needs from the church.

How to Start a Church

As the group grows, make decisions together as a group. As a founding member, you may have a great idea about having a Christian Metal festival with a pop-up skatepark, but your congregation may not be thrilled about the idea. Discuss it openly and come together to make the decision. It’s not your job to push legislation through–it’s your job to build up a community that worships together.

  • If funding or charitable needs increase find ways to encourage giving in your church.

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Warnings

  • Have a lawyer double check your work to make sure that you’re in full compliance. Thanks! Helpful 61 Not Helpful 16

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