Legally Start A Church

How to Legally Start A Church

The state of the church is changing. According to a Barna Group study on how Americans relate to Christianity, there were more non-practicing Christians in 2021 than ever since 2000. Practicing Christians declined from 45% to 25%, while non-practicing Christians grew from 35% to 43%.

What does that mean?

There are more souls out there who need to feel the power of the community that is the church, which is probably why you’ve thought about starting one.

In this piece, we’ll look at the legal ways you can get your church up and running and win souls back to Christ.

When Is the Right Time to Start A Church?

The Barna Group study indicates that the right time is now. But that doesn’t apply to everyone who desires to start a church. The process is challenging. 

However, you should be up to the task if:

  • You have a set of core beliefs that are driving your ambition to start a church
  • You have some considerable experience as a preacher
  • You are already part of a community that believes in your vision
  • You are willing to put in the time, energy, and passion needed to have the church up and running

Ensure you’ve honestly evaluated whether you’re the right person for the job and in the proper phase of your life to undertake this massive task.

The Difference Between Starting A Church and A Ministry

These two undertakings usually are confusing. However, they have some stark differences.

To start a church, you need a comprehensive strategy that covers all the aspects of a Biblical church. You need to figure out how you’ll carry out your services and teachings and provide room for the growth of all members.

On the other hand, a ministry is usually tied to one specific mission. This may be helping the homeless, reaching a particular set of people with the Gospel such as street kids, athletes, artists, or serving single moms.

These differences make the entire process different between starting a church and starting a ministry. However, you’ll still need to obtain nonprofit status, craft a leadership structure, and create a donation process.

different between starting a church and starting a ministry

Steps to Start a Church Legally

Starting a church involves receiving and accepting the calling and following what Caesar legally requires. The following are the general steps you can take. 

Start with A Small Group, Then Turn It into A Launch Team

All churches start from a community. These are a small group of people who share your vision and are committed to growth.

You can often meet with this small group for prayer and spiritual meetings. As you meet, start defining things such as:

  • Who we are
  • What’s the story behind our existence?
  • How can we use that story to invite people into our community?
  • What makes us unique?

Finally, transform this small group into your launch team. This launch team will perform like an informal visionary leadership for the church. Each person will have a role, responsibility, and investment in the church.

Draft a Mission Statement

The mission statement you draft should carry forward from the discussion and identity you set for the church with your launch team. Discuss in detail the core beliefs that direct your church. What do you want to accomplish and bring to the community? Which kind of programming will your church offer?

Combine the answers to all these questions into a mission statement. Make sure it is clear and concise. It should guide you in future decision-making.

Draft Bylaws and Think of a Name

For a church or any other entity to be legally registered, it needs a name. This name will also make it identifiable to the congregation. 

Take some time also to draft a set of church bylaws. These will act as the governing principles of your church. The bylaws should be aligned with your church’s overall mission, albeit a bit more formal. You will use these bylaws to incorporate the church.

bylaws to incorporate the church

File the Appropriate Documentation

You need several documents filled and filed before your church can be legally registered. Depending on your state, you may be required to file a Certificate of Formation, file for an employer identification number, and apply for federal tax-exempt status as a nonprofit.

These documents are straightforward to fill. However, it helps to consult a lawyer and an accountant, especially those well-versed in religious organizations, to reduce the risk of making errors during the filing process.

File as A Nonprofit and Become a 501c3

There are many misconceptions surrounding the financial status of churches as per the law. You can avoid most of these misconceptions by obtaining a 501c3 organization status that formally registers your church as a federal tax-exempt nonprofit organization.

501c3 organizations are taxed differently. Nonprofit organizations that can apply for this status include charities, private operating foundations, private foundations, and churches. The rules surrounding being a 501c3 organization are drafted and managed by the U.S Treasury and IRS. 

Understanding what it means to be a 501c3 organization will help you better manage the church’s finances.

Non profitable

Get the Employer Identification Number and Open a Bank Account

For most banks, a church needs an employer identification number (EIN) to open a bank account. The EIN is obtained by filing the IRS SS4 form. You’re eligible to file this form after the IRS grants you the 501(c) status.

The employer identification number helps you do more than open a bank account. You can also hire and pay employees in the church out of that bank account. Some online church financial management platforms also require an EIN for registration and membership. 

Invest in Proper Church Management

All churches need proper organization. For a small church, proper organization allows you to keep your calendar tidy, your donations organized, and the church members engaged. And if you invest in proper church management software, you’ll be strategically positioning your church for frictionless expansion.

A proper church management software will allow you to communicate and manage church events and retreats, competitions, contributions, giving, and information about your congregation.

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