Landmark Supreme Court Ruling Brightens Horizon for Churches

Written by Founder Raul Rivera on Jan 23, 2018 in Pastoral Helps

Pastoring and leading a church in the 21st century is not the same as it once was. Churches are continually facing a hostile legislative culture, and society as a whole seems not to revere the Church as it once did.

This may often lead pastors and church planters to question whether now is a good time to start a church. And for those who do start a church despite the “hostile culture” we live in, they have reservations about whether or not they should apply for 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status for their churches.

In lieu of all the “bad news” we so often hear about, if you take the time to look, there is good news for churches and for church planters who are launching their churches this year.

In 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling that opened up grant funding avenues that were once closed to churches. 

Keep reading and I will let you know what the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, how it affected the availability of other grant funding for churches, and why now is actually the best time for you to start your church.

A new opportunity for churches to receive grants

Many believe that because of their religious nature, churches are excluded from receiving grant funding. This, however, is not totally true.

In the case of Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer*, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a state program providing free playground surfacing to any school or preschool, except for those run by churches or other religious organizations, violated the protection of the free exercise of religion under the First Amendment.

In its ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court noted that “Trinity Lutheran is a member of the community too, and the State’s decision to exclude it for purposes of the public program must withstand the strictest scrutiny.”

While this may not seem like a big deal, it is and this is good news for churches!

It is still important to note that there are grants for which churches will not qualify because the nature of the grant may be to fund a specific activity or purpose that is in no way related to a church. 

However, as we see in the case mentioned above, there are instances in which certain state or federal grants may be available to your church. You can search for grants that your church may be eligible for on websites such as and

Next, we’ll take a look at how this landmark ruling helped open the way for churches to receive federal funding that was not previously available to them.

(Recommended reading: "Starting a Church? Avoid These Three Mistakes")

FEMA expands funding to include churches

In the wake of the natural disasters that hit Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico in 2017, many churches, businesses, and homes were devastated by hurricanes and floodwaters. When a natural disaster hits an area of the country, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is dispatched to help provide relief.

As a part of FEMA’s service, organizations affected by natural disasters are able to apply for and receive federal disaster relief funds. Churches affected by the same natural disasters, however, have not been eligible to receive federal disaster relief funds.

This is ironic given that churches often provide shelter, meals, and supplies to their communities affected by natural disasters.

(Recommended reading: "How Your Church Can Better Serve Your Community")

Because churches have been denied access to such relief funds, three Texas churches affected by the floodwaters of Hurricane Harvey sued FEMA.

After much pressure from the public, and even the president, FEMA announced on January 2nd that it is removing the language in its rules that has generally disqualified churches and other religious groups from aid that is available to other nonprofits.

In fact, FEMA’s revised policy will be retroactive to cover damage from natural disasters as far back as August 23, 2017, thus providing relief to churches and houses of worship affected by Hurricane Harvey.

This is great news for churches! You can visit to apply for assistance.

The key to your church’s eligibility for grant funding will be contingent on whether or not it is 501(c)(3) approved.

Why now is the best time to start your church or ministry

On the surface these new opportunities for churches to receive grant funding may only seem like small wins for the church. However, it is small wins like this that lead to bigger victories for the church in the future. 

I honestly believe that from a legal and legislative perspective, the church will experience many victories, and this is one of the reasons why I am convinced now is the best time to start a church.

If you have been on the fence, contemplating whether or not to take that step of faith to start your church or ministry, I want to send you some encouragement to do so now. After all, what are you really waiting for?

If you are unsure of where to begin or what first step to take, give us a call at 877-494-4655 and one of our Church Plant Consultants will be glad to give you some guidance. 

You can also click on the link below to learn more about our StartRIGHT® Program that thousands of pastors and ministry leaders across the country have put to work for their churches and ministries.

Learn How You Can Start Your Church Today!

Click Here

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  • Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer, 137 S. Ct. 2012 (2017)

Please feel free to comment. We always appreciate good dialogue. However, we do moderate each comment to ensure that it is on topic and not derogatory to other participants. We ask that you keep your comments brief and pertinent to the topic so that others may benefit.

Raul Rivera

And receive Book 1 of our Grow Trilogy FREE today! This series gives you the strategies you need to get started growing your church plant today!