Starting a Church of Your Own
Have you considered founding your own church? We're not here to tell you it'll be easy, but if you have the motivation and fortitude to see it through, there are undeniable benefits to founding your own church after you have earned your ordainment. In the guide below, we'll offer a basic overview of what it takes to start a church – both the legal requirements, and what will be required of you personally.
Unfortunately, the Universal Life Church is unable to provide you with specific legal advice pertaining to starting a church. However, we are able to offer helpful pointers and get you connected with some valuable resources which could prove instrumental in allowing you to realize your goals. If you'd like a more comprehensive breakdown of the logistics behind founding a church, please browse the literature available through our online catalog.
Church vs. Ministry
Starting a church is undoubtedly an exciting endeavor, but before you run out the door to file a big stack of paperwork it's worth examining what exactly your aims are. For example: does your vision for this new organization fall more under the category of a ministry, or a legally-established church? This is an important consideration, as the requirements for starting a church are extensive. Though the rewards can be great, it's not the right path for everyone.
So, what's the difference between a church and a ministry? A church is a fully incorporated legal entity. There will be overhead costs required to operate it – such as salaries for employees and rental/lease costs for a physical location to hold services.
Meanwhile, a ministry is much less complex. Although ministries take many forms, it can simply be a group of like-minded people who agree to meet regularly at a park, coffee shop, or community center. There is little overhead, operations are more flexible and there is no paperwork required. However, ministries lack the tax advantages provided to churches.
Here are a few more questions to consider when deciding on a church vs. a ministry:
- How many people do you expect to attend regular services?
- Will you be working full-time on this endeavor, or only part-time?
- Are you forming a brand-new organization, or branching off from an established one?
- What types of activities will your organization engage in? (Fundraising, community service, outreach programs, donation drives, etc.)
- Are you planning to perform weddings ceremonies, funerals, baptisms, and other services?
- Is this an online church or an internet ministry? Or a more traditional organization?
Answering these questions honestly will help you decide whether it makes sense to opt for an informal ministry, or file the paperwork to formally incorporate as a church.
Filing for Church Incorporation
If you've assessed the available options and decided that starting a church is the best route to take, then your next step will be to file for incorporation. To do so, you must first draft a set of bylaws. These will be the governing principles of your new organization, so make sure to choose your words carefully. If you're unfamiliar with how to format bylaws, there are plenty of sample sets available online to use as a rough draft for your own finalized version. You must also craft a "belief statement" explaining your church's religious beliefs and faith practices.
As for incorporation itself, search online for the business/corporation website operated by your state. From there, it should be fairly simple to locate the appropriate documents required to file for incorporation. This is an important step, so take care when filling out these pages. If you have the resources, it's not a bad idea to have an attorney look over the documents before submission.
Finally, you'll need to choose a list of officers to serve on the board for your new corporation. That's right – although churches generally fall under the 501(c)(3) status as nonprofit entities, they are still corporations, and most corporations must have a board of directors.
Church Taxes: Dealing with the IRS
Ensuring you're compliant with the IRS is obviously a crucial aspect of starting a church. After your paperwork has been approved, the IRS will issue you an Employer Identification Number (EIN). There may be other forms you also need to complete and file. If you have any remaining questions or things you need clarified, your best resource is probably the the IRS Business and Specialty Tax Line, which you can reach by dialing 1-800-829-4933. They provide free assistance to anyone who requires it.
This might seem like a complicated process, but as a wise person once said: nothing worth doing is easy. If you work hard and follow the above steps carefully, you'll have your own church in no time. Good luck!