How to Start a Church: a Comprehensive Step-by-Step Guide

How to Start a Church: a Comprehensive Step-by-Step Guide

Starting a church is more than it may originally appear. It’s important to keep in mind your original purpose: to gather together in the name of the Lord for worship.

Then, you can consider all of the other details in order to make the church successful.

This step-by-step guide is designed to help you work through the planning, fundraising, paperwork, and other processes of starting your church. With a guide like this one, you can keep your mind focused on the most important aspect of your church: Jesus.

In order to start a church, you should remember to:

  1. Make an initial plan.
  2. Make a fundraising plan. 
  3. Form a team.
  4. Complete the paperwork.
  5. Draft your bylaws.
  6. Find a worship space.
  7. Network for members.
  8. Schedule services and events.
  9. Make disciples.

Ready to start a church? Let’s dive into step number 1!

Starting a Church Step 1: Make an Initial Plan


The first step to start a new church is to make sure you have an initial plan in place. This guide is a perfect place to start the creation process. Be sure to include the steps spelled out in the guide as well as any others along the way.

The first part of this “how to start a church” plan should help define your church’s mission. Spelling this out from the get-go will help you keep your overall purpose in mind throughout the entire process.

Your mission should define who you are, what you believe, and what you wish to bring to the community.

Other decisions that should be laid out in the very beginning of your plan include your church’s:

  • Name
  • Denomination
  • Goals
  • Brand

While your mission acts as a guide for your church, hammering out the other details will set your church up for success. Whether you are planting a church from the ground up or starting one in an established community, you’ll need to figure out some initial details before you can jump into the other fun processes.

Starting a Church Step 2: Make a Fundraising Plan


One of the major activities your church will need to take part in at the very beginning of the creation process is fundraising, whether that be online, in person, or fundraising through letters.

You’ll need funds for start-up costs, facility management, software implementation, and all sorts of other expenses. Therefore, having a comprehensive fundraising plan in place is vital to starting a church.


Apply for an Employer Identification Number


EIN stands for Employer Identification Number. You may be vaguely aware of what an EIN is because it is required for the W-4 paperwork you complete when you begin working at a new job.

The EIN is used for tax purposes by the IRS for new organizations and, therefore, your new church. The form to fill out for this identification number is called an SS-4. The IRS requires an EIN to withhold income and Social Security taxes from the paychecks you’ll give to employees.

Note: You must have an EIN even if your church does not have official employees.

Think of this number as a license of identification for your church. It will be required to open a bank account and conduct other fundraising efforts.

Be sure to read up on the rules and regulations regarding your EIN and the role the IRS will play in the payroll of your church’s employees. If you are especially worried about this process, we recommend hiring a lawyer or consultant to help guide you through the legalities of dealing with the IRS.


Open a Bank Account


Open a bank account in the name of your church so that you have a place to start handling the finances necessary to start a church. Be sure to research the banks in your area to decide which one will best align with your needs as a church.

Some of the aspects to look for in a new bank before opening your account include:

  • Location. Consider how important location of your bank is to you. Then narrow your list of banks by the area in which you are willing to drive to access the branch or ATM.
  • Monthly fees. Your account should never be impacted too heavily by the existence of fees at your bank. Be very careful with your expected budget when considering potential monthly fees.
  • Minimum opening deposits. If your bank requires a minimum amount to open a new account, be sure you have that amount available to get the bank account opened straight away.
  • Minimum balances. Many accounts require a certain amount be present in the bank account at all times. Be sure if your account requires a minimum, that you are confident that you will never drop below that amount now or in the future.
  • Loan availability. You may need to take out a loan in order to jump start the creation process for your church. It is much easier to manage these loans if they are present at your home bank.

The top priority for your church’s bank account is always to ensure that it will support your mission. The last thing you want is to partner with an organization who doesn’t support your ideals. Try asking other church leaders in the area who they bank with (and their experiences with that bank) to get ideas.


Set Up Donation Platforms


In order to collect donations from supporters, donors need access to reliable giving platforms. This doesn’t just mean passing the offering plate around on Sunday mornings! Your donation platforms should cover all the bases of giving.

Some donation methods and platforms to consider for your church include:

  • An online tithing toolAn online giving tool is essential in this digital age. We suggest getting this tool set up and customized for your new church as soon as possible. It will help you collect gifts right away. Plus, you can set up this tool to deposit gifts directly into your new bank account.
  • Text-to-tithe services. These services are great for  younger audiences who may not carry cash to church on Sunday mornings. We can almost guarantee they will have their cell phones. Setting up a text-to-tithe number will enable them to give from the pew and give them an excuse to check their cell phone.
  • Crowdfunding. Crowdfunding is a great resource for individual projects you will run into while starting a church. For instance, you may launch a campaign through a top crowdfunding website to help fund your purchase of new pews for your sanctuary.
  • Fundraising Events. Fundraising events are a great way to get supporters more involved with your church’s activities while raising money. These opportunities may become more available in the later stages of starting your church.

These giving platforms need to appeal to a wide variety of supporters, and especially to your entire targeted audience. For example, if your church appeals primarily to a middle-aged to young adult audience, you may choose to emphasize online giving and text-to-give efforts.

There are countless methods of fundraising for your church. We’ve compiled many of them into a list for you to ponder. Check out our list of the top 85+ church fundraising ideas for your new church.


Apply for a Grant


To help take care of the startup costs to start your church, it may be beneficial for you to look into applying for a grant. Grant-giving foundations, private foundations, and other organizations often provide support for new churches in the form of grants.

Grants are seed-money from investors in your church. They are also especially important if you plan on partnering your church with a new or existing local nonprofit organization. While not every corporation is willing to provide grant money to a religious organization, they may be more willing to help strengthen the partnered nonprofit.


Starting a Church Step 3: Form a Team


Starting a church requires a team of leaders to help the church to grow and prosper. This means you should decide what kind of leader you will be as well as choose others to help run the church.

Depending on the style and denomination of your church, this team of leaders may look different from other churches in the area.

Ask yourself some questions to start this process of looking for a leadership team:

  • What kind of preacher will you be?
  • What positions are often required for your church’s denomination?
  • What values do you want leaders to represent in your church?
  • How will you find candidates? The internet? Personal relationships?

You may choose to appoint positions like bishops, elders, sessions, councils, or ushers. No matter the name of the positions, this team should be established early to ensure proper management of your church. Effective management leads to that initial boost of growth you need to keep your church up and running.


Starting a Church Step 4: Complete the Paperwork


There is a lot of legal paperwork that goes into starting a church. Most people do not consider this part of the church commencement process when they start dreaming up the idea.

It is usually a good idea to hire an attorney to help step you through all the official paperwork that your church needs to get its start. They can help ensure you get everything accurately filled out on time.

In addition to the EIN (which we covered earlier), some of this paperwork that you’ll need to complete include the applications for a Certificate of Formation and a 501(c)(3) status.


Certificate of Formation


One of the major steps that you need to complete in order to establish your church is to obtain a Certificate of Formation.

Your Certificate of Formation is what makes your church official in the eyes of the government, plus it ensures your chosen name for your church is unique. Most states require you to file this certificate of formation with the Secretary of State.

Be sure to check on the specific laws for your state regarding the rules for this certificate.


You’ll need your official EIN to apply for a 501(c)(3). This is a tax-exempt status for your church.

We usually hear about 501(c)(3)s in terms of nonprofits. But it’s not exclusively for nonprofit organizations! The application process for your church is the same as it would be for a nonprofit organization.

While it’s not absolutely necessary for your church to apply for this status, it can get expensive very quickly if you decide not to apply.


Starting a Church Step 5: Draft Bylaws


Draft bylaws to define the governance when you start a church.Think of your church bylaws as the Constitution for your church. This is where you lay out all of the internal rules and governance that your church will abide by.

If you haven’t hired an attorney yet, this is another time that many churches decide they need some legal assistance. 

When drafting your church bylaws, you’ll need to include information such as:

  • Member qualifications and expulsion rules.
  • Worship times and meeting places in addition to those of other regular meetings.
  • Qualifications for and responsibilities of church board members and leadership positions.
  • The procedure for amending standing bylaws.

This official document will hold accountable and responsible your church leaders, board members, and other members.

While the paperwork may not be the most exciting part of starting a church, it is a necessary task for the governance.

Plus, spelling out the rules in bylaws forces you to set standards up front instead of waiting until something goes wrong. If something does go wrong (although we all hope it doesn’t!) this document protects your church from un-standardized processes.


Starting a Church Step 6: Find a Worship Space


If you change locations after your EIN has been applied for, be sure to update this information with the IRS

Finding a worship space gets us back to the part of starting a church that is much more fun! Worship spaces really set the mood for the type of church you are going to lead.

You probably have an idea about whether your church will be more traditional or contemporary. To decide what type of church you want to build, consider the following attributes of each:

  • For traditional churches you may want to invest in stained glass for the windows. This can add a beautiful touch to the space and set the mood for worship. Most traditional churches include wooden pews, a standard pulpit, and a center aisle for processionals. Traditional churches often take advantage of a lot of natural light.
  • More contemporary churches may include elements like a projector and a screen on a front wall for song lyrics or sermon points. You may want to build a stage up front for a worship band and the pastor to preach. A darker setting with stage lights tend to set the mood in this contemporary atmosphere.


In addition, you’ll need to start thinking about how many people will attend. You need to be sure your church’s space will hold all of your members, but not so big that they’ll feel overwhelmed.

Be sure your church’s space is designed with your congregation in mind. What will help them keep their focus on worship and the Lord whilst attending your church?

Whether you’re building from scratch or renovating an existing building, we recommend launching a capital campaign to fund the project.

While your standard fundraising efforts are essential to financing your annual fund and smaller campaigns, capital campaigns are designed to assist churches and nonprofits to fund major projects.


Starting a Church Step 7: Network for Members


Start a church to gather in the Lord’s name.

Your church is not defined by the space in which you worship or the name you put on your EIN application. Instead, it’s defined by the members who worship there.

Member networking is therefore an essential part to start your church and keep the ball rolling. Networking includes communications through your established network as well as cold outreach. 

Your established network outreach may include strategies such as:

  • Extended invitations to church events. Encourage your members to reach out to their family and friends and bring them to various stewardship and fundraising events.
  • Peer-to-peer fundraising. This fundraising technique is used to raise money and get the word out about your church. Your supporters will create fundraising pages and raise money on your behalf through their own online networks.

Established network outreach is great for continuing to grow your church. However, of course, you need to actually go through the process of establishing that network. This is why your cold outreach strategies must also be effective.

Cold outreach strategies include elements such as:

  • Sending invitation letters to the community. Church letters can be used for everything from asking for donations to inviting community members to your next service. This old-fashioned method is perfect for churches making a personal appeal to the community.
  • Ensuring an up-to-date online presence. Your church’s website and social media presence can make a great impact for your online visitors. Allow interested people to enter their emails on your website so that you can send targeted emails later on. Also, be sure you regularly update your social media pages so people can keep up with your growth.

While networking is key, don’t get too caught up in it. Remember to remain available and focused on those you’ve already recruited to join your church. These members deserve a good portion of your attention to retain their interest.


Starting a Church Step 8: Schedule Services and Events


You likely scheduled your regular worship services a few steps back on this list. If you haven’t yet, it’s time to do so!

The average church service usually falls between one to two hours. But this all depends on your sermon style and the individual church itself. Ask some introspective questions about your church and your style as a preacher to decide how long to schedule worship services for.

Even once you’ve planned regular services, your job planning events isn’t finished!

Your congregation will love getting together for more events like:

  • Mission trips. Mission trips could be in another country or just down the street. Help is needed everywhere. These trips make a great bonding experience for your new church members to form an everlasting bond while helping out the community. Design custom t-shirts for your missionaries to remember this special event and to raise funds for the cause.
  • Fundraising events. Church fundraising events are a great way to bring the church congregation together for a cause everyone cares about: the well-being of your house of worship. Be sure you make it clear what your fundraising campaign is raising money for and how the members’ contributions will help.
  • Stewardship eventsThese events are designed to bring people together for conversation and relationship-building. Try hosting a potluck dinner on Sunday evening or a weekly Bible study. Not only will members build relationships with one another, but they’ll build stronger rapport with the Lord too.

Getting started with your event planning early will help establish your church as an active entity. Members are more likely to get deeper and deeper involved in your brand new church if you have fun events going on from the very beginning. This is a key way to nourish relationships with members.


Starting a Church Step 9: Make Disciples


Start a church with the goal in mind of making new disciples.

You’ve planted the seed with the establishment of your church; now it’s time to grow your church family even more and make more disciples in the name of God. 

Keep your best growth practices in mind while you expand your services:

  • Maintain effective communication.
  • Continue to reach out to the community.
  • Welcome new members.
  • Keep a strong leadership presence.
  • Nurture a strong congregation.

With these tips in mind, your church will continue to expand and reach more and more people into the future. You will have created a lasting impact for each individual member of the church and for the community as a whole.

Looking for more resources for your church? These free guides will help guide you to create the best church you can.

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