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