Dr. Willis Newman, Esmeralda Newman, bible-teaching-about.com

Steps to incorporating a church, as explained by Dr. Newman


I and my family have a ministry or fellowship. We have been meeting for five years. How can we get our fellowship known by the government to obtain legal papers?


Congratulations on your ministry, and for taking it to the next step. 

Every country and legal jurisdiction has their unique way of gaining recognizing. This means you need to satisfy city, county, state, and federal regulations. The steps are legal, consequently, I would advise you to consult and pay an attorney to assist you. 

Here is the broad process in the United States on becoming a legal church, and it is offered only as general educational information.

1. The first step is to incorporate as a not-for-profit church with your state. This is normally done through the agency of Secretary of State. You can find the appropriate email address and phone number through the internet, or phone book. They will send you the forms to fill out. 

You will need to draw up Articles of Incorporation and Constitution that stipulate how you are going to govern yourself. One way is to borrow these documents from another church that uses a similar organizational structure as you want to adopt, and use their documents as a guideline. 

Once you have filed, paid the fees, and are registered by the state, you are a legal organization.

2. The next step after you are registered with your state is to apply to the federal government for you 501 (c) 3 tax exempt status. This means any contributions given to your church can be deducted by the donor, and the church does not need to pay taxes on contributions or property. The pastor can also have certain tax advantages such as housing allowances. However, if there are profit making ventures by the church, such as investments, you may need to pay taxes on this income. 

This step is expensive. It may cost you up to $1,000 to file with the IRS. You will also need to file annual forms to the IRS.

In some cases, churches are automatically tax exempt. But, the laws always are changing, and you need to consult a tax advisor, attorney, or Certified Public Accountant to make sure.

3. Another way of becoming a legal church is to join an already existing group of churches such as an association or denomination. If they will accept you, then “presto” you are a legal church as you fall under their umbrella. 

Closely aligned to this method are some fellowship organizations that already have their legal status, and will include your group if you satisfy their requirements and pay set up and annual fees. They are not a denomination, and are set up specifically to provide a legal umbrella for independent individuals or groups. 

This is essentially the same idea as becoming the member of a more recognized “official” denomination. Many independent missionaries use these services to be legally covered in their work. 

I would advise you to use caution and thoroughly research any of these organizations. They may be upstanding and legitimate, but they may also be a scam. 

Go to Google and type in 501 (c) 3 tax exempt status and several sites will pop up to give more information. LegalZoom.com is a good place to go for help in your process.

4. In the United States it is becoming more difficult to operate as a church in some cases. You will need to check with your local city and county governments to see where you can meet, signage use, and parking requirements, etc. 

Finally, because of the increasingly complex nature of multiple layered regulations and laws, I strongly advise you to get professional legal counsel and help. You don’t want to get hit with a hefty fine and other penalties. 

All the best, and God bless,

Dr. Newman

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