How to Start a Church

Business.com / Starting a Business / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

If you have a calling from a higher power to start a church, consider these 7 steps.

Starting a new church or ministry can be an incredibly rewarding and fruitful line of work. Some churches are started and expanded upon by people who want to further the word of an existing faith, and some are built upon brand new religious beliefs.

It can be very challenging in starting a small business such as a church, but tapping into your entrepreneurial spirit and surrounding yourself with like-minded supporters can help you forge through to fulfill your calling.

Consider the seven following steps to start a church:

1. Incorporate

Filing the Articles of Incorporation is the first step to starting a church. Articles of Incorporation spell out the legal and financial structure of your church. At the end of the day, a church is a type of business, and this process asserts your church as an official, legally-recognized corporation. Incorporating helps you to protect yourself from legal action, thereby limiting the liability and risks of the individual members. Each state has its own requirements for filing Articles of Incorporation. Review your state's requirements and incorporation documents, which can typically be found on your State's Secretary of State website.

2. Apply for EIN

On behalf of your church, should request an Employer Identification Number (EIN), which is issued to all formal organizations for the purpose of tax administration. You can get an EIN by calling 1-800-829-4933, or you can by submit the necessary forms online at the IRS website.

3. Create Bylaws

The constitution and bylaws of your church are governing documents for your ministry. Bylaws generally include an extensive declaration of faith, which is a statement of your beliefs and an explanation of virtually everything when it comes to the church's conduct. In addition to being a manual for how your church carries out your beliefs, bylaws might serve as a source of defense in a court of law (should you ever find yourself in a lawsuit).

4. File 501(c)(3)

A recognized church is not required to file the Form 1023 to be tax exempt. Churches are automatically tax exempt without having to ask the IRS for something in writing (The Exemption Ruling Letter).  There are certain benefits in having this designation, so if you do want to apply for tax exempt recognition under 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, find the application form at the IRS website.  You may find it's helpful to get an attorney to help with this if you can afford one.

5. Build a Team

If you're starting a church off an existing religion, find people from outside the church or ministry to serve as a "board of directors," otherwise known as your church's elders. These should be people that you know, trust, are familiar with your faith, and have experience leading others. As you get underway, you'll want to look for members of your congregation whom you can rely on to serve as evangelists for your ministry and help you bring the message to others.

6. Find a Space

It's been said that a church is "not the building, but the people." You may agree, but you may still want a designated building or space in which to practice your faith and to serve as a gathering space for your followers. If you're not in a place to build from the ground-up, consider renting existing space, such as a local school or office meeting room. You can also hold meetings at your own home. There may be local zoning ordinances against churches, so be sure to check with the mayor's office in the town or city you're located.

7. Spread the Word and Solicit Donations

Spreading the word and soliciting donations are not one in the same, and you'll want to balance the two wisely. Finances are generally going to be limited when starting your new church. Unless your members and followers are willing to fund the ministry from the start, you'll have to get into the practice of raising funds. It's helpful to reach out to friends, family, other believers, and other ministries to invite them to your faith and ask for financial support.

In addition to soliciting donations, you'll want to actively, and continuously, recruit members and continue sharing your faith. If you can, spread the word via social media, and consider taking out ads locally or sending flyers or postcards to let others in your town to let them know more about your church. You may be able to take advantage of offerings and special pricing for non-profits from companies that create marketing materials.

Photo source: myshilohumc.net

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