Planting a church? This software is for you!

Taking a Faith Step and a Legal Step

By Nathan Camp

Starting a church requires faith. No matter how much you prepare, you never feel fully ready or capable. You simply believe, and then you take a step. What comes after will challenge you like never before. 

Taking the faith step is the moment when you say "yes" to God's call on your life. This moment looks different to everyone. But results in the resolve to do whatever it takes to pursue the vision God has placed in your heart. It's an exciting time, usually inclusive of family and friends, during which we proclaim our submission to God's will for our lives. 

The legal step is very different because we usually never think of it when we say "yes" to God's call.

God called you to lead a church in the 21st century. And with that comes the stewardship responsibility of managing the legal side of ministry. God knew this when He called you in this period of history. He called you to start a church in the most litigious society in the history of the world. That’s why He gave the warning to be "wise as serpents and gentle as doves."  The warning He gave requires that, in today's society, you form a strong legal foundation to build the vision that is in your heart.  In our country, there are some legal responsibilities we must take if we are going to have a strong foundation.

It is this legal step that most pastors are least prepared to take.

Many are unprepared

Most of those called to ministry know how to preach, teach, and make disciples. Today, there is an overwhelming opportunity to be trained in how to make disciples. Most pastors come to the moment of their call prepared in this area.

However, after speaking with many men and women looking to start a church, it's clear that few are prepared to lead their church legally. They have never been trained to take the legal step. But the legal side is critical to their long-term vision. Success in ministry is not just working IN the ministry; it's also working ON the ministry.

It's this second step, the legal step, that often sends young church planters on a quest to find a partner to help them through the legal side. They have the conviction to do everything "in order," meaning to start compliant and to stay compliant.

What to look for

The Bible talks about your level of success being defined by those with whom you walk. This is absolutely true in the area of your legal step. Get this partnership right, and you can walk with confidence. Get it wrong, and you find yourself plagued with worry about the "what if's."

So the question is:

What should a new church planter be looking for in a compliance partner?

Here are seven guidelines that are crucial in choosing a partner to help you start right and stay compliant.

1. Content is key

Almost anyone can claim to "start your church." But there is a significant difference between creating documents and understanding the true life and legal principles of a church. When looking at a potential compliance partner, ask yourself: 

    • Do they have an understanding of who I am as a pastor?  
    • Do they have experiential knowledge in today's legal world?  
    • Do they have a depth of knowledge or just the bare minimum in advertising their services?  
    • Looking at their website, does it speak to a breadth of understanding or just marketing the minimums?  

Much like a good sermon, content is key. It's not just how something is said, but that what is said matters. Look for depth and breadth of understanding and experience.

2. Two are better than one

There is a major difference between one man trying to help you, and a team dedicated to your success. When a problem or question arises in your ministry, you need advice fast. But many of these so-called professionals are really just a one-man show. If they are on a call, there is no help to be had. If they are on vacation, if they are sick, or if they are needed somewhere else, you will have to wait to get the help you need. 

The best-case scenario is having a team of professionals who can help you. This assures the best support for your church.  When selecting a partner, ask yourself: 

    • Will I have a team, or just one person working for me? 
    • What will happen if this one person is busy, sick, or out of town?  
    • Will I get the help I need?

Are you looking to put together a launch team? Download our free ebook, Grow Your Launch Team.

3. History speaks volumes

You can get a good understanding of someone based on what others say about them. This is true about the partner you choose. It is important that the provider is not a novice, but that they have a successful history of helping churches and ministries like yours. Look at things like their Better Business Bureau rating. Ask what their success rate is with the IRS. Look for testimonies of others who have partnered with them. Remember, the greatest indicator of how you will be treated is how they have treated their former clients.

4. Culture sets the tone

Some partners use fear as their motivator. Looking at their advertising, you may see nothing but dark images of pastors in prison. Just know that what some use to attract their business, they will use to keep their business. So, if the tone starts with fear, know that the tone of that relationship will always be laced with fear. 

The right partner should be like a great coach; they should inspire, empower, encourage, and educate. The tone of the relationship matters.  

If you think you will be bombarded with fear, you will be hesitant to pick up the phone and call your partner. You should feel encouraged and empowered after speaking with your selected partner.

5. Tool provider

For many starting churches, they prefer the do-it-yourself approach to starting their foundation. They learn best through doing, not by hearing. To that end, does your partner have software tools and resources to help you in this area?

6. Do more than start right, stay right

To use parenting as a good comparison: it's one thing to have a baby, it's another thing to raise a child. When looking at a partner, ask questions beyond what it takes to start your church. For example, do they have experience in post-launch services?  Are they knowledgeable in areas like the Housing Allowance, creating W-2's, Compensation Agreements, Annual Minutes, etc.?  

Remember, the ideal partner doesn't just start the race with you, they will run the race with you.

7. More than traditional church

Today's pastors and leaders are different than leaders of the past.  The size of the dreams and visions of many pastors today takes them beyond just starting one traditional church. When looking for a partner, ask if they have experience creating a for-profit arm for churches? Ask how many CDCs (community development corporations) they have started. Ask about their knowledge of establishing holding's corporations to protect church assets? Your partner should be dreaming as large as you are and should have a history of helping churches go beyond the traditional model.

Finding the right partner

Finding the right partner is vital to the launch and life of your ministry. This process isn't easy. But when you find the right partner, you'll know it, and your ministry will be better for it.

For more than 16 years, at StartCHURCH, we have worked hard to make all seven of these characteristics core values of who we are. Through our StartRIGHT Service, we have helped over 14,000 pastors and ministry leaders while maintaining an A rating with the Better Business Bureau and a 100% success rating with the IRS. It would be an honor for us to serve you and your ministry.

If you are looking for the right partner, we would love the opportunity to see if we would be a good fit for your church or ministry. Feel free to view our website at or call us at 833-687-9394 and talk with one of our team members. 

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!