Starting a church is an exciting opportunity and worth every amount of effort and money you put into it. A church not only provides a place for worship, it also provides a place for members of your faith to fellowship and encourage each other. However, you will need to do a little homework to make sure your church is legal and protected from potential lawsuits.
Before you head down the road of red tape and legal details, meet the very basic requirements of a legal church. Schedule at least one meeting with your church planting team to hammer out details such as church name, meeting location, mission statement and list of governing church members. Knowing these details will help you complete legal forms along the way.
Church incorporation lays the legal foundation of your church. It also protects church leaders and members from personal liability should another member or guest sue the church. To incorporate your church, you must submit your church's Articles of Incorporation to your secretary of state and pay a fee (usually under $200).
According to Church Planting Solutions, a leading support ministry for upstart churches, your state may require specific wording in your Articles of Incorporation to satisfy legal requirements down the road. Consider consulting an attorney to review your Articles of Incorporation before submitting them to your secretary of state.
After you incorporate your church, apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN). Your EIN serves the church in much the same way that a social security number serves an individual. Your EIN identifies your church on most federal, state and local legal documents. To apply for a church EIN, file and submit an SS-4 form, which you can get from the IRS government website.
The IRS offers 501 (c)(3) status to religious organizations, including churches. Under a 501 (c)(3) status, the government will not tax your church's donations and your church members can deduct their tithes and offerings on their tax returns.
To apply for tax-exempt status, you will need to fill out IRS Form 1023 which you can download from the IRS government website. This application process is tedious and costly, but keep in mind that it gives your church credibility that will quickly pay for itself.
A church constitution is an internal document that governs the church. A church constitution should outline your church's beliefs, policies and expectations for church membership. While the constitution is not a legal document, it is indispensable as a preventative measure against internal misunderstandings that typically lead to lawsuits. Write your constitution with much detail and a mind toward possible legal ramifications.