Starting a church is very much like starting a business, and it takes a bit of bureaucratic navigation to obtain your charter. Part of going through the process of getting a church charter is sorting out how your church will be organized and managed. You must also incorporate your fledgling parish and comply with IRS regulations in order to obtain a charter. A church charter is granted by a parent ministry and will sanction your operations as a legal organization.
Obtain a business tax ID number (EIN) from the IRS. This will allow the IRS to identify you as a nonprofit organization. See Resource 1 for more information and to apply.
Fill out IRS form 1023 to apply for 501(c)(3) status. 501(c)(3) status will identify you as a tax-exempt, nonprofit organization. It is not a requirement for a church to be nonprofit, however being nonprofit legitimizes your ability to receive contributions. See Resource 2 for more information and to apply.
Apply for your sales tax-exempt status. Contact your state’s Department of Revenue for information and to apply.
Establish a checking account. Open a business checking account using your tax ID number. Many banks offer free checking to nonprofit organizations.
Create a church constitution and bylaws that outline the internal church government, administrative organization and management procedures for your church. Establish a written policy regarding commissioning and paying ministers and staff. Outline and define your finance and budget parameters. Visit www.ucc.org/ministers/pdfs/cblformat.pdf to view the United Church of Christ’s sample constitution and bylaws format.
Hire a certified pastor.
File for a charter certificate with the appropriate parent ministry.