A Guide To Starting Your Own Church

No matter its size, starting a church is a complicated endeavor. While there are many spiritual matters to consider, there is also a host of practical and legal challenges. In fact, for many, the spiritual issues are among the easiest subjects to deal with. Starting one's own church requires a positive attitude, strong conviction, and deep dedication to the cause.

We here at the Universal Life Church Ministries can offer some helpful guidance to get you pointed in the right direction. While we don’t offer legal advice or counsel we are happy to suggest some helpful resources. First of all, we suggest you take a look at our catalog of church supplies. One resource worth reviewing is Launch: Starting a New Church From Scratch by Nelson Searcy and Kerrick Thomas. This book provides helpful information on getting a new church started.

No matter what resources you choose to consult, know that success is often determined by the quality of planning and preparation you put into your project.

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What Type of Church?

In the initial stages, it is critical that you ask yourself a number of questions. The answers to these will determine in large measure the direction your church will be headed. Here are some of the questions that you should be asking yourself.

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  • Will your church be full-time or part-time?
  • Will your church be full-time or part-time?
  • Why are you interested in starting a new church?
  • Will the church be active in the community with outreach programs?
  • Will the church be involved in fundraising?
  • What type of services will be offered?
  • Will baptisms, weddings and funerals be performed?

The answers to these questions will determine the scope and practice of the church, some legal requirements and more. It is important to know the direction you are headed before making any permanent moves. If you have to make changes later, it can cost a lot of time, money and energy—resources better used to strengthen your church.

What Are the Legal Issues?

At the Universal Life Church Ministries we recommend that you consult with a qualified attorney early on in the process. There is a lot of paperwork to fill out, much of it with important legal ramifications. It can be desirable to work on the paperwork by yourself or with your team, as this will familiarize yourself with much of the terminology of starting a new church. This process will educate you on legal requirements, regulations, licensing and financial rules. Eventually, though, it is probably a good idea to have a lawyer look over your forms to make sure everything is in order. In the best of worlds, you will understand all of the steps to getting your church going, and the lawyer will serve as your backup on complicated legal matters.

What Will You Call the Church?

Surprisingly to many, the name of your church is an important starting point. At this stage, you should also decide if you will be opening a new church or only a ministry. A ministry is much simpler and has fewer rules to follow, while a church holds a higher threshold of legality. Without a name, you will be unable to proceed with a number of steps in the process, such as registering with the authorities, meeting IRS requirements and setting up the corporate structure of the church. Essentially, every piece of paperwork filled out will need the church’s name on it. If you change the name of the church, all of the paperwork associated with it will need to be redone.

What Is the Corporate Structure?

This is one area where a lot of work needs to be done. The better you are prepared and the more organized you are the smoother this process will be. You will likely have to do some research as well on the different types of corporations that might apply to your church. In general, most churches belong under the non-profit category of a 501(c) category. This is the moment where you set up the governing principles of the church, commonly known as the bylaws. Since most people are not familiar with this process it is a good idea to look for outside help. Sample sets of bylaws can be found online that provide a workable framework for a new church. From this framework you can rewrite the sentences to accurately portray your goals.

This is also a good time to craft a belief statement, or vision statement. This will be the core principles that your organization will follow at all times, as well as outlining the religious beliefs and practices of the church.

To learn more about corporate structure, consult your state’s website and follow the instructions on paperwork needed to be completed. Once you have filled out the appropriate documents, make copies and allow your attorney to look them over. Also, as a corporation, you will likely need to form a board of directors to make decisions about the church.

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How Will You Comply With the IRS?

With the proper corporate structure, your new church may qualify for tax-exempt status. The IRS will be interested in the size of the church, the number of members, the amount of buildings and assets and a number of other factors. Another aspect of compliance is obtaining an EIN or Employer Identification Number. This important number will be issued once your paperwork is completed and approved. The next step is to fill out an SS4 form. To get help with this, log on to the IRS website IRS website and follow the prompts for EIN. If you need assistance, there is an EIN help page to guide you through the process. A final step with the IRS is to call the IRS Business and Specialty Tax Line at 800-829-4933. If you have any remaining questions, this will be a good time to ask. Once the process is completed, you will be issued your own unique EIN. It is important to safeguard this vital piece of financial data. At this time, you will be able to open your Business Bank Account. Each bank is different, but you may need to show your EIN, ylaws, belief statement, articles of incorporation and non-profit status certification before being allowed to deposit funds.

Opening a new church is a big step and requires a lot of information. It will take some effort, but doing it right the first time will pay off in the long run.