Are you looking to plant a church? There is a lot that goes into starting a church such as legal requirements, the location of your church, and so much more. By staying organized and keeping a checklist of what all needs to be done, you’ll be able to answer the questions on how to start a church.
Estimated reading time: 12 minutes
Table of contents
- Requirements to be a Church
- Step 1: Define your church’s identity
- Step 2: Create a visual identity
- Step 3: Build your online presence
- Step 4: Start your church legally
- Step 5: Fostering community outreach
- Step 6: Track & measure your results
- Portable Church
- FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)
Requirements to be a Church
The IRS (Internal Revenue Service) requires you to have three non-related members by blood or marriage. To form a religious organization, you must establish a series of bylaws by which your organization will be governed. You will then need corporate officers, a board of directors, and a membership to file for incorporation with the state. Be sure ahead of time you’ve got willing participants to fulfill the various procedural and accounting roles necessary to make a church run smoothly.
A major component of being a church is having an official name and location. We’ll talk more about this later on, but having a name is important when filling out all of the required forms.
It is possible to apply for incorporation and tax exemption without consulting a lawyer, but it’s not the easiest 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.
- 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.
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 met the proper requirements, you’re halfway there!
At the regional IRS office, ask for a formal review of your documentation and a notice of exemption. As long as you meet the requirements, all churches should automatically qualify for 501 status without any further action.
- It’s not necessary to take any extra steps to ensure tax exemption. 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
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.
- Find this form here: http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/fss4.pdf
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 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
Step 1: Define your church’s identity
This is a crucial step when you begin starting a church. The identity of your church is how people will find you, perceive you, and talk about you. With your core founding members, develop your core beliefs and mission statement for your ministry. This is where you may come up with the name for your church if you haven’t already. The name is very important, and it’s good to take note of other local churches’ names in the surrounding areas so as not to copy them to make it confusing.
Use these seven steps below as a guideline for developing your church:
- Identify Your Church’s Style: Is your church traditional, contemporary, or a mix? Your worship style should resonate with your target congregation while staying true to your foundational beliefs.
- Determine the Order of Service: Outline the sequence of events, such as the opening prayer, hymns, scripture readings, sermon, and closing benediction. This helps ensure a smooth flow and keeps the service engaging.
- Select Musical Elements: Whether you have a full choir, a worship band, or simple acapella hymns, choose music that aligns with the day’s message and evokes the desired emotional and spiritual responses.
- Prepare the Message: The sermon is a focal point of most services. Pastors should invest time in studying, praying, and crafting a message that’s both biblically sound and relevant to modern lives.
- Incorporate Multimedia: Consider using visuals, videos, or slides to complement the message, especially if catering to a younger audience.
- Engage the Congregation: Incorporate interactive elements like group prayers, testimonies, or moments for reflection. This makes the service more immersive.
- Rehearse: Especially in the early stages, hold rehearsals with all participants – from the choir to the ushers. This ensures everyone knows their role and can help identify any potential issues before the actual service.
- Gather Feedback: After the service, encourage feedback from attendees. This can provide valuable insights to improve future services.
Step 2: Create a visual identity
Think of this as branding and how people view your church. This will be the color of your logo, your website and anything you put your name on that needs a certain look. Do you have several letters in your church name that can form an acronym? Put those on coffee cups, pamphlets, pens and anything you think you’ll need. Keep your branding consistent and not overly complicated.
- Evaluate Accessibility: If starting a church in your home, ensure it’s accessible to your target community, considering parking and public transportation.
- Assess Size and Capacity: Begin with a space fitting your initial congregation, but plan for future growth as your congregation expands.
- Consider Ambiance: Whether at home or elsewhere, the atmosphere should foster worship, reflection, and connection.
- Weigh Costs: Starting in a home can be cost-effective, but factor in potential expenses like seating or sound equipment.
- Ensure Safety and Compliance: Check local regulations on gatherings in residential areas, including safety standards and parking.
- Plan for Growth: If you outgrow your initial location, be prepared to transition to a larger space or venue.
Step 3: Build your online presence
A church’s online presence might not be the first thing you think of, but nowadays it’s vital. A website is where you will ask church members to visit to send in tithes, sign up for events and small groups and so much more.
Using a church website builder removes the stress and worries of creating the website. Having a great website will ultimately increase church attendance. There are so many amazing church website builders who take away the stress of building a website. Take a look at our step-by-step process of how to create a church website!
Step 4: Start your church legally
As mentioned before, the legal requirements are extremely important when starting a church. As a religious organization, you must follow every step to ensure your church can stay open. While it is not the fun or exciting part of opening a church, these rules are put in place to protect you.
Every state might have slightly different requirements, so be sure to double-check these. This is where having a lawyer who understands church bylaws can come in handy to help out with all the confusing legal jargon.
The IRS website has useful information about tax requirements such as being tax exempt.
Step 5: Fostering community outreach
A major part of any new church when church planting is building up the local community. You must foster community outreach programs in order to bring members to your church. For one, you’ll need funding for buildings and staff salaries, this is where tithes come in.
- Conduct a Needs Assessment: Clearly identify your church’s immediate financial goals to guide your strategies.
- Organize Traditional Fundraisers:
- Community Events: Host bake sales, dinners, or auctions (possibly with other churches).
- Talent Shows: Showcase church member talents for a fee or donation.
- Tap into Modern Avenues:
- Crowdfunding: Use crowdfunding platforms like GoFundMe for specific projects.
- Prioritize Publicity:
- Digital Outreach: Use social media, your church website, and email newsletters.
- Local Media: Engage local newspapers or radio stations.
- Maintain Transparency: Post-fundraiser, share amounts raised, and it’s uses with your community. This trust-building step ensures future support.
- Assemble a team of foundational members to brainstorm core beliefs, visions, and missions. Try to come up with a belief statement that encapsulates your religious organization.
- Use religious doctrines and other church missions to shape your statement.
- Document your foundational beliefs, making sure they’re both aspirational and grounded in your chosen spiritual tradition.
- Host Varied Events: Diversify the activities you offer. While spiritual events like Bible study sessions are pivotal, recreational ones like picnics or talent shows can foster camaraderie and showcase diverse talents within the congregation.
- Promote Small Groups: By creating specialized circles or groups – be it for new moms, singles, or hobbyists – you’re providing an avenue for members to bond over shared experiences or interests. These intimate settings can lead to deeper conversations and connections.
- Empower Church Members: Let your congregation take the lead on certain initiatives. By assigning responsibilities or encouraging them to spearhead events, you not only lighten the leadership’s load but also give members a sense of purpose and belonging within the church.
- Establish Support Systems: Whether it’s a mentorship program or counseling services, ensure members have channels to seek support during challenging times.
Step 6: Track & measure your results
SMART goals are the key here! Make sure you have specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound goals. The more specific your goals are in the church planting process, the better time you’ll have to complete these goals.
Once you have come up with your goals in a timeline, make sure to implement one or all of these strategies to track your results:
- Introduce Suggestion Boxes: Whether physically in the church or digitally on your website, allow members to a place to provide anonymous feedback.
- Conduct Regular Surveys: Use online platforms like SurveyMonkey to create surveys that gauge member satisfaction and solicit ideas for improvement.
- Host Town Hall Meetings: Organize monthly or quarterly meetings where members can openly discuss their concerns and suggestions or provide feedback on recent events or services.
- Review Feedback with Church Leaders: Schedule regular review sessions with the church’s leadership team to discuss feedback and decide on actionable steps.
- Implement Feedback Mechanisms for Volunteers: Ensure that there’s a separate channel for volunteers to communicate their feedback, ensuring they feel valued and heard.
- Celebrate Successes: When you make positive changes or achieve milestones based on feedback, celebrate them with the congregation, reinforcing the importance of their input.
Planting a church, but don’t have a permanent building yet? Maybe you’re in a library, a school, or another business that has allowed you to use their space temporarily. Thankfully, there are amazing companies that can help you in this process. Portable Church Industries has everything you need to set up in a temporary location. They even have a checklist to make sure you’re getting what you need.
FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)
The costs associated with starting a church can vary significantly based on the location, size, and other factors. Expenses may include renting or purchasing property, legal fees for nonprofit formation services, initial outreach efforts, and costs related to worship services. Using a nonprofit formation service can make the process more efficient and cost-effective.
Yes, anyone can initiate the process of starting a church. However, it’s essential to follow the specific legal and administrative steps required in your state. Additionally, having a clear spiritual vision, mission, and foundational beliefs will greatly aid in its success.
The timeline for starting a church can vary widely depending on a number of factors. Some churches start within months, while others might take years to fully establish. Factors that influence the timeline include legal procedures, building or renting a space, gathering a congregation, and securing funding.
Churches that have secured 501c3 tax-exempt status are indeed exempt from federal income tax. However, churches might still be liable for other types of taxes, such as payroll taxes for employees. It’s crucial to ensure all legal requirements are met to maintain this tax-exempt status.
Building a thriving church community requires a good mix of outreach, engaging worship services, and fostering genuine connections among members. Regular events, community involvement, and digital presence through websites or social media can also help in growth.
Yes! Many churches begin in small groups or utilize rented spaces before acquiring their own property. In fact, starting a church in your home can offer a more intimate setting for building initial relationships before finding a permanent location.