How to Start a Church

A small white church with steeple Starting your own church is a serious undertaking but one that offers many benefits to both body and soul. This page will offer a brief overview of the necessary legal requirements for starting a church. For more in-depth information, we suggest checking out our catalog of church supplies. Unfortunately, the Universal Life Church cannot counsel you or offer legal advice regarding your endeavor. However, we will be happy to point you in the right direction and let you know, from experience, some of the best resources available to help you realize your goal.released through Zondervan Publishing. If you are serious about starting your own church you need to purchase this book - it answers a lot of questions in a very concise and detailed manner that is also easy to follow. It is very important that you do this because there are some very important steps to take that will affect the legal status of your new church and if you do not take the proper steps up front, you will not be able to change or reverse the status of your church without a lot of time and money invested. The Universal Life Church Monastery cannot counsel you or offer legal advice or strategies though we can point you in the right direction and let you know, from experience, some of the best resources available to help you realize your goal.

If you are serious about starting your own church, it is very important that you do proper research, get organized, and carefully follow the necessary steps. You will likely need to hire an attorney to check that you’ve filled out the paperwork correctly and are in compliance with all relevant rules/regulations. We recommend that you do most of the paperwork beforehand in order to save a significant amount of time and money when meeting with the attorney. Doing the paperwork yourself will also allow you to understand the legal structure of your organization from the ground up.

Corporate Structuring

Ornate church in a courtyard To start a church, the first thing you’ll need to create is a set of bylaws - the governing principles of your organization. There are many sample sets of bylaws available online which can act as a framework for constructing your own. You can simply adopt the clauses you deem appropriate and re-write them to reflect your exact circumstances. You will also need a "belief statement" that outlines your religious belief systems and practices. In addition, remember to look at your state’s business/corporations website and find the appropriate incorporation documents. We recommend getting several backup copies. These are not overly-complex documents, but it can be easy to make a mistake or two. Practice filling out the extra copies and then present the final version to the attorney. You will also need to have a list of people who will serve as officers of your corporation. Yes, churches are corporations - though they generally fall into the 501(c)(3) non-profit status category. Even under this status you will still need a board of directors to list when incorporating.

Now, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What are your reasons for starting a church?
  • Will your new church be a full-time or part-time professional calling?
  • Are you creating a new organization from an existing informal church?
  • Will your church be active in fundraising?
  • Will you be performing weddings, baptisms, funerals, or other services?
  • Will your church be involved in community outreach programs and support?

These are just some of the questions you will be required to answer when filling out the forms to start a church.

Rows of pews in a small church Basically, you need to determine if you are forming a basic informal ministry or a formal church corporation structure with plans for new building(s) to act as a home for your church. This will determine corporate tax-exempt status. Some of the variables to consider are the size of your church and the number of members that you expect to attend your services. Remember that the appropriate corporation structure and formation is the foundation for your success.

Finally, you need a name for your church. This is an often-overlooked, but crucially important step. There is a big difference, legally, in determining whether your organization will be a church or a ministry. A ministry can be something as simple as a regular gathering in a coffeehouse, whereas a church has greater legal requirements (and benefits).

The IRS and Your New Church

When starting a church, you must ensure compliance with the IRS. First, you need to get an Employer Identification Number (EIN). The Internal Revenue Service will issue you one after your paperwork has been approved. You’ll also need to fill out an SS4 form. This form can be found at the Internal Revenue Service website or by visiting your local public library for a paper copy. The Employer ID Numbers help page is a good resource for learning more about the EIN process and its requirements.

Church in the winter time After a formal and detailed review, call the IRS Business and Specialty Tax Line: 1-800-829-4933. They will assist you with any remaining questions you may have, and clarify any of the fields that require an answer. Once you have been issued your EIN (you will receive a formal document from the IRS within a few business days) remember to store it safely in your business formation file. Make several copies of these papers. You'll need to reference and provide this information often in the remaining step.

Opening a Business Bank Account: Here is what you will need to open an account in the name of your church or ministry: your Articles of Incorporation, Bylaws and Opening Resolutions or the company, EIN, Statement of Faith, and Statement of Beliefs, 501(c)(3) status certification (if you are planning on being tax-exempt), and funds for an opening balance. Not all banks require every one of these items, but some may require even more. We recommend giving your preferred financial services provider a call. Find out what they need to set up the account and then schedule a meeting to accomplish everything in one sitting.

It may seem like a lot to do, but by following these steps carefully you can realize the dream of starting a church! We wish you the best of luck!