Church Planting

Church Planting

We live in an era where entrepreneurs are launching businesses hand over fist. From freelancing solopreneurs to major seed-funded startups, a combination of tech tools and internet information means it’s never been easier to get a company off the ground.

 

But what about church planting? Have modern tools enhanced the church starting experience? 

 

The short answer to that is absolutely yes. Practically every stage of the process of church planting in 2022 is easier than it was a decade or two ago.

 

Even so, there are still a lot of steps involved, steps that you don’t want to skip over — especially where the law and taxes are concerned. If you want to start a church, in the eyes of the government, you’re legally creating a nonprofit organization. That means you still need to jump through all of the hoops to make sure your new church is set up to thrive far into the future.

Church Planting Networks

Tithing is the act of giving a set percentage of what you earn to your local church. Biblical tithing happens when Christians give ten percent of their income back to God, which He promises to repay many times over. The Biblical meaning of tithing is to be a cheerful giver who gives back to the Lord what He has given you.

Soma Church Planting Network

Soma Network: https://wearesoma.com/ 
Churches Planted: 48
Soma Church Planting Network Mission: "We’re a family of churches. We make disciples, strengthen one another and plant churches of Missional Communities towards Gospel Saturation."

radiant church planting network

Radiant Network: https://www.radiant.network/
Church Plants: 42
Radiant Church Planting Network Guiding Values: 

 

1. PRESENCE

"There is one thing that distinguishes the people of God from all other people: The presence of God in our midst (Exodus 33:16). We believe that in order for us to walk in the fullness of our calling, we must be fully submitted to the work of the Holy Spirit in all that we do." 

 

2. THEOLOGY

"The Word of God alone has the power to renew the mind and reveal the will of the Father. We believe that in order to fulfill Christ’s call to live as Salt and Light, we must build our ministries upon a strong, doctrinally-sound, biblical foundation."

 

3. CULTURE

"We have been set in place by God as missionaries to our cities, nations and this generation. In order for us to make disciples in our culture, we must be able to reach our culture. Central to our methodology is a commitment to communicate and proclaim the Gospel in creative and innovative ways so that we may have the greatest amount of impact on the greatest amount of people as possible."

 

4. PRAYER

"Every great move of God has been in response to a renewed commitment to corporate prayer and intercession. We are devoted to cultivating and fostering a strong culture of prayer within our churches and leaders."

 

5. RELATIONSHIP

"God designed us to thrive most in the context of healthy relationships. We believe that our ministries are at their best when sons are covered by spiritual fathers, when comrades link arms and labor together, and when we bind our hearts together as on Heavenly family."

 

For a full and comprehensive list church planting network options visit Plant Matcher


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The DIY Church Planter

Are you the lead pastor, senior pastor, or church planter? Almost like church planting networks this guide is designed to help lead you through the nitty-gritty legalities that go into launching a church two decades into the 21st century. 

 

Just to be clear, we’re not going to dive into other nuanced aspects of running a church, like church finances or the difference between a church and a ministry. We’ll save those for another post and another day. 

 

For now, the goal is to focus on what steps you need to take to incorporate your church as a legal nonprofit organization.

 

But first, we’re going to answer one very important question: is going through the legal steps to church planting actually worth it? 

Is Formally Setting Up a Church Worth It?

The thought of bringing structure and vision to your new church can sound nice on the surface. And then there’s the added benefit of not having to fork over a boatload of taxes that could do more good if they went straight into your staff’s efforts. 

 

The benefits of church planting as a nonprofit entity are very real and are definitely hard to ignore. 

 

However, the overwhelming and complex number of steps that go into starting a typical nonprofit can be enough to quickly cause your eyes to glaze over and your thoughts to go numb. 

 

Intimidating things like bylaws, articles of incorporation, and 501(c)(3) status can tempt you to simply throw your hands up in despair and go back to shelling out that cash every time the tax man comes around each year.

Taking the Leap

The truth is, though, in spite of the upfront effort involved, unless you want your local church to remain forever small, at some point or another, you’re going to need to cross that nonprofit threshold, even if it means opening up a can of worms in the process.

 

But wait! Don’t close out the window in frustration just yet. There’s hope in the midst of all of the bureaucratic, red tape-induced madness. 

 

It turns out that the "legal side of church planting really is quite a bit easier than it looks at first glance.

 

Now, don’t misunderstand, I’m not saying incorporating a church is a cakewalk. Properly forming an organization of this nature is a big deal that takes time, effort, and money. But, once you break it down, it’s not the impossible task it seems at first glance.

 

That’s why I’ve gone ahead and created this resource. I want to bring a method to the madness. I want to organize everything into a relatable, understandable process. 

 

I want you to walk away from reading this with actionable steps in mind that will help take you from one end of the church planting journey to the other. 

 

With that said, let’s go through this process step by step together and see how it all plays out. Let’s start by defining what makes a business a “nonprofit” in the first place. It may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s really important to understand if you’re going to try to form a legal entity based on the fact that you’re running a “nonprofit” ministry.

 

Once we’ve gone over that definition, we’ll break down the various steps that go into formalizing your church into an officially recognized nonprofit entity.

 

I’m willing to bet that once you come out of the other side of the process, you’ll find it wasn’t half as bad as you might have expected.

What is a Nonprofit?

I’m assuming that you’re at least semi-familiar with the term “nonprofit” if you’re already looking for information on how to start a church.

 

However, as I already mentioned, it doesn’t hurt to go over the basic definition right off the bat in order to make sure that we’re all on the same page.

 

Part of the reason I like to start anything like this with a thorough understanding of a nonprofit is that unlike the causes they typically represent, understanding how the nonprofit nature of a church works on a legal, structural, and internal level can tend to be a bit confusing. 

 

According to usda.gov, the short and simple definition of what a nonprofit is boils down to performing “some type of public or community benefit, without the purpose of making a profit.” 

 

“Profit” is the keyword there. Paying a member of your church’s staff a salary is perfectly fine. However, there cannot be any private shareholders or individuals profiting from your church’s success.

 

If you dig a little deeper, there are also several quite natural sub-categories that nonprofits fall into. The .gov site formally lists out the following categories:

 

  • Charitable or religious organizations (like your soon-to-be church!)
  • Social welfare organizations
  • Labor and agricultural organizations
  • Business leagues
  • Veterans organizations

 

It’s good to be aware of these differences. While they all fall under the umbrella of a “nonprofit,” some of the restrictions, requirements, and benefits that come with being a nonprofit religious organization can vary compared to the other categories. 

 

Since a lot of those differences can depend on things like the state you live in, we won’t break each one down here. Just make sure to do your homework on a state and local level, so that you have an answer ready if and when it comes up. 

Planting Churches in 2022

Alright, now that we’ve gone over the basics of what a nonprofit is, it’s about time we took a look at how to create one. For the sake of clarity, I’ve broken the process down into two versions. 

 

The 10,000-Foot View Edition paints the process in broad strokes. I’ll go over each step briefly, without going into detail to help establish the basic road map that goes into formally turning your church into a legal nonprofit organization.

 

The Digging Into the Details section that follows is much larger and, well, it digs into the details! I break down the nitty-gritty elements of each step, things to keep in mind as you go along, frequently asked questions, and so on.

 

I wanted to go over the process from these two angles because it’s easy to drown in the sea of steps and paperwork — especially as you’re just getting started.

 

However, having that big picture focus in the back of your mind before you wade into the thick of things can do wonders to keep you focused and on track ...not to mention the emotional and mental peace it can provide, as well.

 

As a final note, I just want to make it painfully clear that I’m not a lawyer. While I work in the fundraising world and am comfortable with the details of church planting and nonprofit work, this article is not in any way whatsoever supposed to serve as legal advice. 

 

Remember how the pirate’s code in Pirates of the Caribbean is more guidelines than set rules? You’re going to want to adopt a similar mindset here.

 

Remember, while this resource may feel long, it’s really only scratching the surface of a complex and intricate subject that can vary from state to state and even year to year. My goal is to summarize the legal journey of incorporating your church in as short yet specific terms as possible. 

 

However, there are still many nuances and state-level rules that are impossible to fit into a resource like this. You’ll want to take the time to acquaint yourself with these as you prepare to start your church — don’t worry, I’ll try to warn you whenever we get to the steps where the local and state stuff really kicks in.

 

While we’re on the topic of legal advice, I’ll make a final recommendation. Once you get your head around the steps, if you still feel overwhelmed by the task at hand, it never hurts to find a lawyer that your church can trust in order to help with any questions or concerns as you go along. 

 

Okay, we know what a nonprofit is, we’ve outlined how the article will flow, and the disclaimers are out of the way. 

 

Are you ready to learn how to start your church? Let’s do this!


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Church Planting — 10,000-Foot View Edition

10,000 foot view on Church Planting

Understanding how to set up a church so that it can legally function as a nonprofit is a critical part of ensuring its ultimate success. That said, I humbly present to you, your streamlined, 10-step quick start guide to starting a church. 

Planting churches - Setting the Stage

When you launch into forming your church there are a few steps that are worth doing before you even start to gather and fill out documents or put a call in to your lawyer.

Step 1 - Form Your Mission Statement

The first thing I strongly suggest you do is to gather your core group, inner team, church leaders, the people that are truly committed to your new congregation and its purpose and goals, and then draw up a formal statement. While I’m sure you have or will have things like doctrinal beliefs and similar faith-based elements in place as you start your church, a practical mission statement is also a good idea.

 

It’s incredibly helpful to go into the incorporating process with a clear, concise, and uniform message of your beliefs and goals in place beforehand. Not only that but eventually you’ll need to convey your local & global missions in specific, concise terms when you go for tax-exempt status. Getting it set in stone beforehand is a good first step.

Step 2 - Create Your Leadership Team

The next thing you want to do is to define your initial leadership team. In other words, who will officially be on your church’s board of directors?

 

It’s tempting to include everyone that shares your interests and has helped in your church (and this is a perfectly fine pool of candidates to recruit your directors from). However, it’s important to selectively choose individuals that are committed to the success of the church and are willing to put in the legwork to help oversee and shepherd the fledgling organization.

Step 3 - Prepare Your Finances

Another step that can be immensely beneficial before beginning the incorporation process is going over your financials.

 

Eventually, you’ll need to pull together a detailed budget if you’re going to file for 501(c)(3) status, so the more financial information you have pulled together when you start, the better. In addition, you’ll want to budget out what financial costs you’ll incur along the way, such as incorporation fees and lawyer fees.

Step 4 - Choose Your New Churches Name

This one might sound obvious, but before you start filling out forms, make sure you have your official church name worked out.

 

This isn’t just coming to an agreement internally, either. You need to make sure the specific name you want to use isn’t already taken and that it conforms to any rules your particular state may have regarding naming nonprofits.

 

Once you’ve got your name, mission statement, financials, and board of directors all sorted out, it’s time to finally, at long last, begin the actual incorporating process.

 

Just as a side note, I know this feels like a lot of preparation beforehand, but it really is important to go into the process with everything in order. It’ll save you time scrambling for paperwork, forming teams, finding legally permissible names, etc. when the rubber finally hits the road and your hands are already full with other things.

 

Alright! Here are the six remaining steps to get through forming the nonprofit properly. Some are shorter, others longer, but once you get through them, your church should be a bonafide nonprofit organization.

Step 5 - Write Your Bylaws

When you’re ready to start the process, the first thing you’re going to want to do is to gather your board of directors and formally create your church’s bylaws. This is the part where you write down the basic rules and regulations that will govern how your church will function as a legal organization. 

 

Once you have your bylaws created, voted on, and affirmed, you’ll have a solid foundation to go to any time a question arises about how things should be done within your church’s operations.


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Step 6 - Create Your Articles of Incorporation

This intimidating-sounding step is actually quite simple. In its essence, it’s the certification of all of the things you’ve been gathering, preparing, and organizing. 

 

The articles of incorporation revolve around the task of formally writing down things like your church’s name, officers, location of operation, and so on in order to make everything official. Once again, this can vary quite a bit state by state, but it doesn’t tend to be too complicated in most cases.

Step 7 - Incorporate With Your State

Once you have your articles of incorporation gathered and signed by the required members of your Board of Directors, it’s time to incorporate with your state.

 

You’ll want to go online and find your particular state’s Secretary of State website. It should have instructions for how to mail or fax in your information in order to legally incorporate your church, along with any accompanying fees and how to pay them.

Step 8 - Your EIN Number, First Meeting, and Record Book

Next up, you need to get your newly minted church entity some proof that it exists in the form of an EIN number. Basically, this boils down to a social security number for your ministry. 

 

Head onto the IRS website, look up the application form, and you should be able to get an EIN number within minutes. Next, you’ll want to hold your first meeting as a corporation where you can ratify your bylaws and corporate officers. You’ll also want to create a record book in order to track the meetings and decisions made by your organization.

 

At this point, you’re incorporated! Your church is officially an entity of its own ...and even has an EIN number and record book to prove it. Your church may not be a nonprofit quite yet, but you’ve cleared a major hurdle along the way.

 

You should take a deep breath and give yourself (and your church planting crew) a high five. After you’ve taken a rest, it’s time to move on to the last two steps and make the whole “nonprofit” part of the deal a reality.

Step 9 - Apply for 501(c)(3) Status

Okay, this next step is one of the more dreary ones of the entire process. However, all it takes is some grit and determination (and a ton of coffee) and before you know it, the 28-page form will be filled out.

 

What form? Why, the IRS form 1023, of course! This is the famous (or infamous, depending on if you’re talking to someone who’s had to fill it out before) form that allows you to officially request nonprofit status as a charitable organization. You may want to plan in a few days to work on this one, but I promise it won’t last forever!

 

PRO TIP: Once you receive your 501(c)(3) status, check with your state to see if you need to fill out a further form confirming your tax exemption on the state level as well. This isn’t always required, but if it is you don’t want to skip that step!

Step 10 - Clean Up

Once you’ve submitted form 1023, you’re going to have a period of waiting while it’s processed. Use that time to set up a bank account (if you haven’t done so already) using your church’s new EIN number.

 

Also, take time to ensure that there aren’t any further permits or licenses required by your particular state in order for your organization to operate. Some states, for example, require registration as a charitable organization in order to be able to do things like run fundraisers — and yes, that requirement is on top of all of the other hoops you’re already jumping through.

 

And that, my friends, is it. 

 

If you can get through these ten steps (and your 501(c)(3) status is approved) you will have established your church as a legal nonprofit entity. Of course, that doesn’t mean your work is done. Getting to this point is really akin to gearing up to start a race rather than end one. 

 

Nonprofit status isn’t the end goal of your church, after all. However, it is an empowering factor that allows your mission to proceed with that much less friction or resistance. It enables you to start pursuing your goals on a larger, sanctioned, tax-exempt level.

 

Once you finish the legal church starting process, the journey really begins. It’s time to start truly growing your church through good teaching, building a website, consistent meetings, tithing, and providing a rock-solid faith-based community.

Now it’s time to circle back around to the ten-step process, as I promised, this time diving into the details, providing resources where possible, and helping answer common questions that arise along the way.

Starting a Church — Digging Into the Details

If you read any of the steps above and glazed over, don’t worry, you’re not alone. It’s easy to say things like “fill out a form” and “create bylaws” as if it’s the same thing as answering an email. 

 

But again, let me encourage you, often all that’s needed with any of these steps is a little deconstructing of the concept or requirements in order to show how simple it is. While some things certainly are a bit more confusing than others (especially when you have to take into consideration things like state laws, too) many of them simply require a little research, some basic knowledge, and the ability to follow instructions.

 

Let’s start back at the beginning and break this down, shall we?

Step 1 - Form Your Churches Mission Statement

As I think I’ve made abundantly clear by now, starting with a clear and concise vision of what you’re trying to accomplish is key to the success of any church. If your mission is muddled, it will quickly complicate things as you begin to put everything officially in ink.

 

Before you ever touch a government form, sit down with your peers and create a clear and concise mission statement for your church.

 

In summary, your mission statement should aim to define your church’s unique and compelling purpose and objectives. It should create clear paths for how to make major decisions and make it easy to understand the value that your church aims to provide. 

 

Make sure to stay actionable and focused on the here and now as you write. This isn’t a vision statement, but an expression of your church’s overarching goals and how you intend to accomplish them. Questions to ask include:

 

  • What do you do as a church?
  • Who do you serve as a church?
  • How do you serve your intended audience as a church?

 

Throughout this process, remember that your mission statement should aim to encourage, inspire, and focus your planting team. It should orient your church members and leadership in the same direction. It should be a tool to motivate outsiders to support your cause, as well. 

 

Oh, and did I mention that it should be short? I’m not saying it needs to be an elevator pitch or anything, but you should make sure that your mission statement is both information-filled as well as clear and concise. 

 

In other words, don’t rush it. Take your time, write it down, and then condense, condense, condense.

 

You can see World Vision’s mission statement here. While it isn’t exactly a church, the gospel-based ministry’s mission statement is a great example of a document that is detailed and structured yet simple and easy to understand. It takes into account readers both in and out of the organization and has actionable steps to back up its larger goals.

 

PRO TIP: Make sure to draft your mission statement with others if you can. Collaborating is an excellent way to make sure you dot all of your “i’s” and cross all of your “t’s” as you go.

 

You can find an excellent breakdown of how to draft a quality nonprofit mission statement here.


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Step 2 - Create Your Launch Team

building a team

Forming a leadership team for a nonprofit organization like a church can be a little bit tricky. When it comes to for-profit organizations, the objectives are fairly easy: which candidates will help the company succeed and net a greater profit. 

When it comes to a church, though, the end goal is intangible, emotional, and spiritual.

 

Churches also often operate with razor-thin margins, budgetarily speaking, which means you want to recruit a leadership team that is committed to your church because they believe in what it stands for more than because they benefit monetarily from the organization. 

 

If you’re church planting with a team, you’re likely to be able to recruit the bulk of your board of directors from the very same founders you started with. If you’re alone when you start, you’re going to want to look for business-savvy individuals that are passionate about similar goals and causes.

 

Because this group will serve as your board of directors, you also want to make sure that you’re selecting members that are willing to jump through all of the legal mumbo jumbo you need to deal with along the way. 

Step 3 - Prepare Your Finances

A major factor to consider as you prepare to kick things off is finances. One way or another, starting a church is going to cost you some cash, and likely you’ll end up paying a price in more ways than one. However, you do have options as you go along. 

 

For instance, while you’re going to need to pay for things like incorporating and applying for 501(c)(3) status, if you’re resourceful and are willing to research, you may avoid the need to hire a lawyer throughout the process, which can save quite a bit of money as you go.

 

PRO TIP: Even if you plan on not using a lawyer, I would personally suggest that you incorporate legal fees into your budget as a fall-back measure if things get too complicated. The last thing you want to do is move heaven and earth to set up your nonprofit only to mess everything up because you filled out a box on a form incorrectly somewhere along the way. 

 

In addition to the actual setup fees, you want to have many other financial factors in mind as you start out. Especially if you’re starting from scratch, you’re going to want to consider things like:

 

  • Insurance. If you have a brick-and-mortar presence, for instance, you’re going to need general liability insurance.
  • Website fees. Creating a website doesn’t have to be expensive, but even the simplest church websites require a chunk of change. And if you decide to have a site created for you, it can certainly add to your budget.
  • Registering a trademark. While this isn’t necessary, if you do decide to register your corporation’s trademark you can bet it’ll come with a fee.

 

Another thing to consider is your budget. A portion of form 1023 (the one to apply for 501(c)(3) status) requires a fairly detailed financial breakdown, either of your past financials or your projected future income and costs. Gathering as much of this information as you can beforehand is a wise move.

 

Finally, while we’re on the topic of finances, it may be a good idea to take some time before you dive neck deep into formally turning your new church into a legal nonprofit to come up with a plan for tithing and fundraising once you have things set up. 

 

If you’re prepared to dive into your first fundraisers as soon as you can, it can help offset many of the costs you’re likely to incur as you go through the church launching process.

 

In addition, it might be a good idea to look for church grants to help fund your startup. Remember that these often come with rules and other “strings attached.” However, if the amount is significant, it may outweigh the concern of dealing with the red tape. We’ll touch on grants again later.

Step 4 - Choose Your Name

It’s easy to roll your eyes at the idea of choosing your church’s name. After all, isn’t that, like, the first thing you thought of when your team met at your initial planning meeting at the coffee shop that one time?

 

You really do want to take naming your nonprofit seriously, though. You’re not operating a boyband in high school, where you can just split up overnight and reform with a new moniker the next day. You want to pick something that you can stick with for the long haul.

 

Even then, just because you found a name you like doesn’t mean it’s automatically going to work. There are still a few things you’re going to want to consider before everything is set in stone.

 

For starters, make sure that whatever name you’ve picked is going to be helpful in communicating your church’s goals and purpose. Does it convey the right message? Is it confusing? Is it going to help or hinder your organizational efforts?

Next, check that the name hasn’t been taken in your state’s corporate database. Log onto the Secretary of State’s website and see if your particular church’s name is available.

 

After that, make sure that you can get a domain that will work with the name you picked. You don’t have to get the literal name as the domain, but you want to at least confirm that you can get a web address that is going to be both easy to promote and easy for people to find. 

 

Finally, check that the name (or an acceptable alternative) exists on the various social media accounts you want to use. While this doesn’t need to be a deal-breaker, having a unified brand across all of your online outlets is extremely beneficial, even when you’re starting a church rather than a business.

 

PRO TIP: As a final suggestion, I recommend doing a little bit of homework on whether your particular state has any name-specific rules regarding nonprofit entities. It can save you from needing to come up with another name on the fly if you run into a regulation of this nature as you go along.

 

Alright, we’ve gone in detail over the various things to have in mind before starting the process. Now let’s take a much closer look at all of that bylaw, incorporating, 501(c)(3) gobbledegook and see if we can get it to make a little bit more sense!

Step 5 - Write Your Bylaws

While the word “bylaws” may ominously sound like something a lawyer would say in a court hearing or a police officer might utter while making an arrest, the term is once again fairly simple — as is the case with so many of these steps when you break them down.

 

Your company’s bylaws are simply a specific, written document that outlines several important things about how your church will function. Often they’re referred to as an “operating manual” or “rule book” for how your nonprofit organization works. 

 

Now, this doesn’t mean you need to include the minutiae of everyday operations like service times and mid-week meetings in your bylaws. They approach things from a more backed-out view. 

 

Typical bylaws include things like:

The number, role, and duties of your board of directors and various company officers.

 

  • How your corporate meetings will be held.
  • How directors and officers will be chosen.
  • How to resolve conflicts.
  • How to change or amend the bylaws themselves.
  • How to set compensation.
  • A formally written mission statement.
  • How donations will be collected.
  • How committees or membership programs will be implemented or organized.
  • How money from grants will be used.
  • Any other policies that would have an important bearing on how the church is run.

 

Bylaws are less formulaic than other steps in the process, as they’re specific to the kind of nonprofit you’re setting up — in this case, a church. However, this natural flexibility doesn’t mean they should be flippantly written. 

 

It’s advisable to look for sample bylaws that fit your organization, in particular, to work from. It’s also important to keep word choices and phrases in mind as you write your bylaws. For instance, “shall always adhere to” is a very different statement from “may choose to.” 

 

Remember, these are the hard and fast rules that your company will operate under. While they’re not permanent and often have clauses built right into them instructing how to make changes, they should be treated with respect and should be created thoughtfully. 

 

Especially in the case of a church or nonprofit ministry, clearly defined rules can be a saving grace from corruption and unchecked immoral behavior within an organizational structure.

 

PRO TIP: Check with your Secretary of State to see if there are any specific rules —  either as a corporation or as an intended nonprofit — that you must include in your bylaws. Sometimes a state will also require you to report changes to your bylaws or even file the bylaws themselves as part of your application for exempt status further along in the process.


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Step 6 - Create Your Articles of Incorporation

The final step before you officially incorporate is drawing up your articles of incorporation. Once again, don’t let the daunting title fool you. This is a really easy part of the incorporating journey. 

 

That said, the articles of incorporation are a part of the process where it really does vary state by state, so you want to make doubly sure that your nonprofit articles of incorporation line up with any specific state requirements.

 

In general, though, most articles will include a few basic items and should declare the following:

 

  • The official name of your nonprofit. 
  • The organization’s operating address.
  • Who the first directors and officers will be.
  • The primary purpose of the organization itself. 

 

Sometimes you’ll be able to do this online, but other states still require a hard copy or fax. 

 

You can see from this basic Articles of Incorporation form that the IRS has pulled together for public charities that the baseline information is very rudimentary. However, this little document is the magic piece of the puzzle that pulls everything together.

 

Alright, once you’ve done your homework and created your articles, it’s time to incorporate your church.

Step 7 - Incorporate With Your State

This step is short and simple, and it’s where everything becomes official. Once your articles and bylaws are all good to go, it’s time to officially incorporate your nonprofit entity (i.e. your church). 

 

Typically you’ll send your incorporation paperwork to your Secretary of State. However, make sure to read the instructions and follow the steps carefully, in order to ensure that you don’t delay the process.

 

This is also one of the steps where you’ll need a little cash. State filing fees can vary from a few dozen to a couple of hundred dollars. Whatever the amount, there should be an easy way to pay it right along with your application. 

Step 8 - Your EIN Number, First Meeting, and Record Book

Once you’ve sent in your incorporation application, there are still a few other housekeeping items you’re going to want to tend to before you officially put the stamp on your newly minted legal church entity.

 

First off, you’re going to want to get an EIN number. 

 

This is, once again, one of the quick and easy steps, but it’s a crucial one. And, just in case you were still wondering, yes, even nonprofits need EIN numbers. As I mentioned earlier, an EIN number is, in essence, a social security number for your church. 

 

You’ll need it as proof of your church's identity for various things, such as taxes or opening a bank account. In fact, in some states, you may even need it in order to incorporate in the first place. Regardless, you almost certainly will need it before you file for 501(c)(3) status.

 

All you need to do is hop on over to the IRS website and fill out the application

 

If all goes well, you should have a functioning EIN number for your corporation within a quarter of an hour. Yep. It’s that easy.

 

Next up, you’re going to want to hold your first official meeting. 

 

Even if you’ve been a church plant for a while and board meetings are old hat at this point, you’re still going to want to follow this step, as it marks your first “official” meeting as an incorporated entity. 

 

In this first meeting, there are a few important steps to take. 

 

You’ll want to: 

 

  • Formally appoint your organization’s officers — positions like the president, secretary, and treasurer.
  • Designate the location of your principal office.
  • Officially adopt your bylaws. 

 

You can also use this occasion to set in motion the authorization to file for 501(c)(3) status or to open a bank account for your church.

 

Once you’re done with the meeting, create the minutes and make sure a copy gets to each of your board members.

 

PRO TIP: You may be required by your state to also file a report of this first meeting. Check to see if this is the case, and then, if it’s required, make sure you file a report after the fact.

 

You also want to create a corporate record book. 

 

This is the physical hub of your corporation’s dealings. All you need is a binder that is designated to hold all of your important corporate paperwork. In the binder, you should keep everything related to your corporate entity, including:

 

  • Your bylaws.
  • Your articles of incorporation.
  • A list of your board members.
  • Any reports or filings to your state.
  • Minutes from each meeting.
  • Any licenses or permits you may obtain over time.
  • Eventually, your 501(c)(3) approval letter.

 

A corporate record book may seem like an unnecessary frill, but it really is a safe and secure way to keep all of your church’s legal information in one, easy-to-access location.

Step 9 - Apply for 501(c)(3) Status.

This next step is the poster child for all nonprofit corporate shenanigans. Whenever the idea of forming a nonprofit is brought up, the first thing on everyone’s lips is “you mean you’re going to file for 501(c)(3) status?”

 

And it makes sense that this would stand out. It’s the part of the process that distinctly sets apart your church from any old for-profit business. 

 

It’s also one of the most daunting parts of this entire process.

 

This is because the application to request tax-exempt status is the IRS’s imposing 28-page 1023 form.

 

But, as with everything else so far, if you take it one step at a time — and have that legal counsel to fall back on in a pinch — you should be able to slowly but surely work your way through the document. Just take each section, one at a time.

 

The form covers everything from boilerplate information about your nonprofit to your organization’s structure, employee compensation, detailed past financial data or — if you don’t have that yet — future projections, information on how you operate, and your specific activities. It even has a section where you’re expected to outline your “past, present, and planned activities” in a narrative format.

 

In other words, this thing is a beast. 

 

But again, any one of the items I listed above isn’t impossible to answer on its own. The important thing here is that you set expectations. 

 

The plain truth of the matter is, no matter what way you slice it, filling out form 1023 is going to take some time.

 

You just can’t get around this one — unless you want to pay a lawyer a very considerable sum of money to do it for you.

 

Either way, make sure that the form is properly filled out to the best of your ability the first time in order to avoid the need to make corrections, which can quickly extend the time it takes to get approved. There’s nothing quite as frustrating as slapping weeks of extra waiting time onto a process like this simply because you filled the form out incorrectly.

 

The good news is that you don’t need to be approved to begin operating as a nonprofit, which means you have some time to get this part of the process done.

 

The other positive here is that, if you’ve gone through the steps in order up to this point, a lot of the previous work is going to culminate in this step. Along with filling out the new information on the form, you’re also going to need things like copies of your articles of incorporation and bylaws, financial information, and a distinct, clearly articulated mission statement — all of which should already be at your fingertips. 

 

The point is, while this is a big, time-consuming step in the process, it doesn’t need to be a bad experience. If you go into it prepared and set adequate time and expectations to complete it, you shouldn’t have much trouble working through the form and following any other requirements your particular state might possess.

Step 10 - Clean Up

Once you finish the marathon that is filling out IRS form 1023, it’s tempting to turn off your brain and go to bed for a few weeks (or months) while you wait for the request to be processed. 

 

However, while you’ve definitely come a very, very long way at this point, you’re not quite done setting things up yet.

 

First off, it’s important to note that it may take a while for your tax-exempt status to be approved. The good news is, as I already hinted at, you don’t need to sit on your hands and wait for the slow grinding gears of bureaucracy to churn out your tax-exempt status before you can start your operations as a nonprofit charitable entity. 

 

In fact, the IRS has specific instructions for how to proceed in compliance with tax regulations while your 501(c)(3) status is pending, including filing an “annual exempt organization return.” You can find the requirements in detail here.

 

Make sure to look into whether or not your state has similar stopgap measures in place as well.

 

In the meantime, there are plenty of other things to do while you wait.

 

For instance, this can be the perfect time to look for any other steps you may have to take to confirm your tax-exempt status on a state level once you’re approved. 

In fact, you may even want to look into this before you officially file for 501(c)(3) status, just in case any of it needs to overlap with your initial application process. Sometimes little to nothing needs to be done, while in other cases an entire state-level version of the tax-exempt status application is required.

 

Another critical piece of the puzzle that you absolutely need to look into is your state’s policy on collecting charitable donations. 

 

Often, even once the tax-exempt status is attained, states still require the need to register separately to be allowed to collect charitable donations. 

 

This isn’t the case in every state, but it’s in most of them at this point ...and it’s kind of a big deal for nonprofits — including churches — to be able to collect donations!

 

PRO TIP: As a final exhortation, really do try to do your homework on the state-by-state front of things. You want to be aware of any other regulations or rules that a nonprofit is required to abide by in your own specific state. Even if you tackle all of this on your own, it may also be advisable to have a lawyer you trust look over all of your work once everything is done and the dust has settled. This will allow you to save on the cost of having them do all of the work, but will also give you peace of mind knowing that a professional has reviewed your work for any glaring errors.

 

And there you have it, my friends. If you’ve made it this far, you’ve set your church up as a legal nonprofit organization. 

 

Of course, “set up” is the key word to keep in mind here. While it may feel like everything you’ve done up to this point has constituted a gargantuan pile of work, at the end of the day, all you’ve really done so far is set things up to start doing what you set out to do in the first place!

 

However, once you’ve finished up all of the rigmarole of incorporating and getting approved for 501(c)(3) status, you can set about your organization’s mission with the peace of mind that you’re doing things above board. You’re going about your business the right way. 

 

Not to mention the fact that you won’t be hemorrhaging tax dollars as you go.

That said, you really have just started at this point, so I want to take this last section to lay out a “post-incorporation” road map that most churches generally follow. 

 

It can really take the wind out of your sails when you deviate from what you’re passionate about in order to tend to the seemingly endless stream of bureaucratic red tape associated with setting up your nonprofit. 

 

So, it naturally follows that it’s important to regain some momentum coming out of the often-derailing setup process. As has been the case throughout this resource, this section will once again be set up through the lens of “guideline-focused” tips that should be adapted to whatever specific set of circumstances your organization finds itself in. 


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Gaining (or Regaining) Momentum as a New Church

momentum matters in church planting

If you’ve already had regular church operations going for a while before you incorporated, you probably have a general idea of what normalcy looks like. You can resume your day-to-day efforts as usual, with the exception that you may now be able to expand those efforts and attempt to grow in ways that had been restricted before.

 

But what about if you’re just starting out? 

 

While the process of incorporating and applying for tax exemption feels overwhelming, at least it’s a semi-predictable formula, right? Once you’re done with that, though, where do you go next as a church?

 

While this question may feel overwhelming, especially if you’re dealing with a hefty case of “incorporation burnout,” in my opinion, this next phase in the church startup process is one of the best. 

 

It’s an exciting new chapter in any ministry’s story. The draining bureaucratic work is largely behind you, and fresh, exciting challenges lie ahead.

 

Let’s go over a few of the strategies that can help to get your church up and running. The goal will be to help your new nonprofit entity gain some momentum as you begin to develop your church-building toolkit and focus on that mission statement that you so carefully prepared at the beginning of this entire process.

Church Planting = Start Cultivating a Following

For-profit marketers often face the daunting task of taking a product or service with little to no emotional connection to the consumer and then finding an angle that makes it relatable. 

 

The NFL regularly appeals to the family dynamic. Coca-cola ties in cute, cuddly penguins and polar bears. Geico makes you laugh. This all takes place in an attempt to help you relate to their products and services in positive ways.

 

The good news for churches is that you don’t have to go fishing for random emotional associations in order to market to and connect with your audience.

 

You already have your sales pitch built right into the very reason that you exist.

 

I say all of this to make the point that you don’t need to be insecure about championing your church to all and sundry as you begin to build a community of fellow worshippers. Marketing a church is often seen as a taboo subject.

 

But I say if you’re not willing to market (ethically, of course) your church will never grow.

 

Just because you have a cause to propagate doesn’t mean everyone is automatically going to hear you, either. You need to come up with a strategy in order to cut through all of the white noise and be seen by those who might be interested in attending your church.

 

One of the most common ways to foster relationships with potential congregants these days is to set up your social media profiles.

 

Before you simply go out and make a Facebook group, though, it’s important to do some research into what social media accounts will benefit your church the most. Each social media outlet has its own strengths and weaknesses.

 

For instance, Pinterest and Instagram are heavy on the visual element, Facebook is community-focused, and Twitter is great for quick, short updates. YouTube is, of course, a cornerstone of most church live-streaming, too.

 

Take some time to consider which platforms will facilitate your efforts the most and then focus on those. 


Social media outlets can be excellent ways to reach out to potential new members, spread awareness of your church plant, raise funds, and keep existing congregants up to date on your church’s efforts.

 

PRO TIP: As a word of warning, keep in mind that tending to your church’s social profiles, updating information, and creating an endless stream of content is a lot of work. In fact, many marketers spend their full-time jobs tending to social media concerns. So make sure to be thoughtful and strategic about how you get into the social media game.

 

Another option that can bear quite a bit of fruit is to find local organizations interested in forming relationships with your church. 

 

These can be anything from nearby businesses to schools, other churches, and even local government entities. 

 

The objective here should be to develop a network of fellow organizations that you can count on to support you and vice versa. As you begin to make contact, one of your key objectives should be both creating and then maintaining a rapport and level of trust that allows you to easily approach them in the future. 

 

This establishes your church as a local nonprofit that is genuinely committed to impacting the community around you. It can also provide additional outlets to create awareness for fundraisers, various events, and your church’s mission in general.

 

Let me emphasize, though, it’s critical that you approach local entities with respect. 

 

You all operate within the same geographic areas, and it’s important that you don’t just treat fellow companies and organizations as opportunities to exploit marketing. When it comes to local networking opportunities, make sure to also focus just as much on developing good relationships as you’ll hopefully be working side by side with these organizations through your church for years to come.

 

One of the cold hard truths about churches is that, even if you’re not out to make a buck, you still need money to stay operating. And, of course, the more money you have, the bigger an impact you’ll be able to make.

 

Naturally, then, one of the first things you’re going to want to start doing as a fledgling church plant is planning out ways to get that money flowing through your tax-exempt, nonprofit bank account.

 

Of course, the most obvious option when it comes to jumpstarting a new church’s cash flow is to start fundraising. 

 

There are countless different ways to raise funds no matter what situation you find yourself in.

 

All you need to do is take stock of your manpower and existing funds, pick a fundraiser that fits the bill, and go to town. From Go Fund Me to Rock-a-thons and everything in between, fundraising is part and parcel of the nonprofit world. 

 

Another option to jumpstart your financials is to consider pursuing grants. 

I touched on this idea earlier and mentioned that we’d circle back around to it.

 

That’s because grants are certainly an option worth considering — even when you’re trying to fund a new church. 

 

This doesn’t even have to be purely a monetary effort, either. Some grants provide incredible value without offering you a penny in actual dollars and cents. Google Ads, for instance, offers grants to approved nonprofits that can provide as much as $10,000 in free advertising.

 

The point is that there are many different grants that each nonprofit can typically go after. Some are provided by private trusts and foundations, while others come straight from the government itself. 

 

With so many options, you’re going to want to research which ones are worth taking the time to go after. Often grants are specifically tailored towards topics, including churches, so you’ll want to look for ones that specifically apply to your situation.

 

Whatever grants you decide to pursue, though, before you start mailing off applications or sending emails, it can be helpful to do some research and come up with a grant writing strategy beforehand. 

 

In fact, if possible, I suggest you assemble a crack team of grant writing experts that you can trust. (Okay, okay, maybe they’ll initially just be inexperienced members of your team, but over time and with practice they’ll become experts!)

 

Having a team that can work together to create and refine proposals will help provide solid, thoughtful, well-rounded arguments for why you should be considered for each grant. A team is better at properly fleshing out all of the reasons your organization is a good candidate. It’s also more likely to produce a structured, proofread, and clear application that will better attract attention.

Create Your Church-Building Toolkit

One of the most important elements to getting your church off to the best start possible is to equip yourself with the right tools. 

 

Fortunately, when it comes to church tools, we have got you covered. Our expansive services and products cover everything you’re going to need for your church, from your web presence to facilitating your fundraising efforts. 

 

Our goal is to give you an all-in-one solution that doesn’t just provide you with the tools but also the know-how to keep your nonprofit running as smoothly and efficiently as possible.

 

Here’s a quick breakdown of the different tools and services we provide that can streamline and maximize your nonprofit’s efforts.

 

First off, there’s digital giving. This is a major part of our offering. If you can’t accept donations, it can paralyze your church from the top down. 

 

Our tools include text-to-give capabilities, online donation options, ACH transfers, and so on. We make sure that any and every way someone may want to send you their hard-earned cash, you can accept their donation quickly and painlessly.

 

Of course, one of the major headaches of running a nonprofit is keeping track of so many sources of income. Our answer to that problem has been to create a masterful donor management system that helps you track and report on tithes and donations without breaking a sweat.

 

While we already went over the need for social media channels, another modern communication marvel is text messaging. Being able to beam a personal text message right into the pocket or purse of every one of your congregants is an enviably effective way to reach out to your church. 

 

But keeping track of phone numbers and sending texts can be difficult, which is why we’ve created a mass text messaging tool that makes texting every one of your members as simple as texting your best friend. 

 

Knowledge is power. Ministry Designs is committed to providing you with as much cutting-edge knowledge as possible as you navigate through the ever-evolving waters of the 21st-century church-building world. 

 

Not only do we maintain the very blog that you’re reading this on with relevant and current resources in order to help grease the wheels for your efforts, though. We also make sure to provide consulting services with a team of church-building experts ready to help craft your organization’s strategy and ensure that your results are off the charts!

 

While I haven’t touched on it until now, all of your fundraising, communication, and information should ultimately be funneled through your organization’s website. 

Having a thoughtful, well-laid-out website is a critical part of any successful nonprofit. 

 

It provides a hub for all of your online activities to point to and creates a safe online space that is your own and won’t be subject to the changes, updates, and whims of the social media giants out there. Ministry Design’s state of the art, drag & drop website builder and templates make creating a killer church website as easy as possible.

 

It’s fully customizable, integrates fundraising tools easily, comes with a blog setup, and integrates all of your social media platforms. Not only that, but we’ve laid out our designs and crafted our editor specifically with the needs of churches in mind. 

A Ministry Designs-backed site is created with an eye toward converting web visitors into church attendees.

 

All of these tools are designed with the express purpose of giving you a one-stop solution to your entire church-building toolkit. Rather than cobbling together what you need with various services, you can rest in the knowledge that everything from your website and donation tools to consulting services and donor management are all taken care of.

Build Your Church’s Brand

The last thing I want to touch on before wrapping things up is the crucial element of building your church’s brand. 

 

Branding is an easy thing to toss to the side as you focus on more important church activities. But in reality, branding is a huge part of the success of any church.

 

When a church takes the time to purposefully create consistency and recognizability across its church, it provides a sense of comfort and dependability that does wonders. It allows everyone to instantly identify when your ministry is involved in projects. It also provides a sense of trust whenever something is marked with your church’s brand.

 

Of course, branding is much bigger than just a logo and a good tagline. It involves creating a marketing plan that spans everything from your social media to your website, promotional material, and even the way that you and your staff interact with the outside world. 

 

Again, consistency is key here. From your color scheme to your mission statement, making an effort to create a consistent message will quickly boost your church’s clout and create a reputation that is instantly recognizable.

Church Planting Today

And there you have it, my friends. This is my secret sauce, my “eleven secret herbs and spices,” my master formula for starting a church as the second decade of the 21st century heats up. 

 

While it may seem like a lot, when you boil it down, the seemingly daunting task of legally starting a church can really be distilled into a few basic steps.

Create your mission statement.

 

Incorporate as a nonprofit entity and file for tax-exempt status.

 

Create your own church-branded consistencies to attract people to your church plant.

 

There’s no denying that each of these three elements has many smaller sub-tasks and steps involved. Nevertheless, that doesn’t change the fact that starting your nonprofit is a feasible, reasonable, completely doable task.

 

It may take grit and determination in order to survive the setup stage, but the truth is, every element of starting a church takes that same grit and determination.

 

From the day you form your church until the moment it ceases to exist, a certain level of blood, sweat, and tears will be required.

 

But that’s why we’re all here, isn’t it? We’re here too build the Kingdom together, to push through the resistance and overcome the challenges in order to build powerful, Christ-centered communities in our world.

 

If I can leave you with one final thought, I would want it to be this: don’t be afraid to dive into the challenges that lie ahead.

 

There’s no doubt that they will, indeed, be challenges, but that’s exactly why each church plant need a champion to spearhead the effort and overcome them. 

 

Be that champion.

 

Pick up the tools at your disposal, form your church, and start fighting the good fight. We’ll be there to support you, standing by your side throughout the process.

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