How to Start A Church A Step-By-Step Guide

Getting a calling to start a church is one of the most exciting things any minister of the Gospel can experience. A church is a great conduit to spread the word of God in your community and make an impact locally and beyond.

However, the process of getting your church up and running can be daunting. You have to conduct a lot of research to ensure you have all the moving parts ready and your legal documents in order. Failing to fit one cog correctly can make the entire plan crumble.

But not if you’ve read this piece. You’re going to learn how to start a church and the most critical steps you need to take to make sure you’re up and running smoothly.

Why Start A Church?

Before diving into the paperwork and fundraising needed to have your church up and running, you need to make peace with yourself and your calling to ministry. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are there people in your community who haven’t heard the Gospel, and you wish to reach them? Consider if an existing church is trying to do the same and whether you can join hands.
  • Is there a need for ecclesiastical revitalization in the area you intend to plant your church? Despite other churches existing in your area, there may be a need to bring in fresh energy and make the congregation livelier.
  • Is there a group of supporters who already want to become their own church? Sometimes, members of a bible group or other small gathering may want to expand into a church.
  • Has God really called you to start a church? If you have a compelling desire to start your church, God has most likely placed that calling in you.

How the IRS Defines a Church

A church is more than a place of worship. In the legal world, it is identified as a legal entity.

Conventionally, the terms “church” and “ministry” are used interchangeably. However, legally, the IRS defines them differently, albeit with a few similarities.

For instance, both churches and ministries are identified as nonprofits and are exempted from tax under section 501(c)(3). However, a ministry must apply for the status within 27 months after its formation. On the other hand, churches don’t have to apply since they’re automatically given a nonprofit status.

Churches and ministries also make their annual filings differently. Ministries with a 501(c)(3) status must file form 990 annually. On the other hand, churches don’t have to make any filings not unless they officially applied for 501(c)(3) status.

In general, the IRS lists fourteen characteristics it attributes to churches. These include:

  • Legal existence
  • A recognized form of worship
  • A defined ecclesiastical government
  • A formal code of doctrine
  • Specific religious history
  • A membership that’s not associated with any other denomination or church
  • An organization of ordained ministers
  • Ordained ministers who’ve completed their courses of study
  • Own literature
  • Established places of worship
  • Regular congregations
  • Regular religious services
  • Sunday schools to provide religious instruction to the young
  • Schools to prepare members

You don’t need to have all these qualities to be defined as a church. The IRS typically uses a combination of some of these qualities and other circumstances to establish whether you qualify to be a church.

The General Checklist

Apart from the legal definition of churches and ministries as provided by the IRS, the registration process of churches varies from state to state and is influenced by other factors. However, there are essential steps you need to take across the board.

Form A Church Building Team

You need a team of leaders to help you start a church, grow it, and make it prosper. You thus need to identify what your role will be in the church leadership and have other qualified individuals take up the remaining positions.

The church leadership looks different depending on the denomination and style of the church. More commonly, you’ll have positions such as bishops, sessions, ushers, elders, or councils.

Deal with Legal Formalities

Since a church is a nonprofit, you must take a few legal steps to ensure the church is in good standing with the law and the banks. You need to take care of the following:

  • Craft a mission statement – come up with a clear mission statement that explains why you’re starting the church, the core beliefs of your church, what you intend to accomplish in society, and what kind of programming you will offer. You can also consider drafting a belief statement or statement of faith
  • Come up with a name and draft bylaws – your church will need a name for the congregation to identify with and address your legal documents. The church bylaws will act as the governing principles of the church. They should be aligned with the church’s overall mission.
  • File the appropriate documentation – you’re legally required to fill out and file various documents before starting a church. The required documents vary from state to state. Generally, you’ll need to file a Certificate of Formation, file for an Employer Identification Number (EIN), and apply for federal tax-exempt status as a nonprofit. These documents are easy to file. However, it is best you consult an accountant and lawyer well versed in religious organizations to avoid any hiccups.

Open A Bank Account for The Church

You require some funds to get your church started. There are fees to pay, salaries, and other miscellaneous expenses. You thus have to open a bank account.

Answering the following questions will help you decide on the best bank.

  • Do I want to bank locally and use cash deposits or cheques, or am I okay with driving out of town?
  • Will I need a loan in the future?
  • Are the monthly fees of the bank within my budget?
  • Do I meet the required minimums to open an account with this bank?

Most banks will require an Employer Identification Number (EIN) to open an account.

Apply for Official 501(c)(3) Status

This is a technically optional step. Your church can be automatically granted tax-exempt status if it meets the requirements of section 501(c)(3). However, there are compelling reasons why you should officially apply for 501(c)(3) status.

  1. Confidence boost – having the paperwork to prove that your organization is tax-exempted is better than second-guessing yourself most of the time.
  2. Financial transparency – churches automatically granted the 501(c)(3) status are not required to file the IRS form 990 annually, unlike those that have applied for it. IRS form 990 allows organizations to disclose their financial information, which can be a major confidence booster among donors. 

Remember to Consider Church Management

Once you’ve started your church and you’re having new congregants stream in, remember to invest in proper church management software

With good software, you’ll have less paperwork to deal with, better ways to communicate with the church leadership and congregants, and better financial management. Moreover, you won’t have to spend extra money hiring a massive administrative staff.

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