The Missing Ingredients in Starting a Church

Written by Nathan Camp on Aug 08, 2017 in IRS Compliance

My wife is Greek and one of her favorite things to do is cook. Recently, she was trying to cook a special Greek bread. She spent hours measuring and mixing the ingredients, working the dough, letting it rise, and checking on it every few minutes. 

Finally, she put the dough into the pan, placed it in the oven, set the timer, and waited. 

My wife is an amazing cook, and as the smell of fresh baked bread filled the room, anticipation was at an all time high. I was prepared to watch the butter melt over the cushion of freshly baked bread. 

When the timer went off signaling the baking time was complete, she grabbed her gloves and slowly opened the oven door. Then all I heard was, “Oh no!”

What was going to be a springy, cushion of sweetened bread, was now a flat substance that resembled a brick. 

“What happened?” I asked. “I think I forgot to put in the baking soda!” my wife responded.

All that work. All that effort. All the expectation wasted because of one missing ingredient. 

As I thought about that day, it reminded me of how church planters can be the same way. They put so much time, energy, money, passion, and prayers into starting their church, only to find out later that they forgot one ingredient: legal compliance

I know it is not the most exciting part of ministry. As a church planter myself, I never once woke up in the morning inspired to spend my devotional time in my church’s bylaws. 

However, in those moments of attack, struggle, and need - I was comforted in knowing that I had protected what God had given me to lead. 

5 missing ingredients of starting a church

There are 5 common ingredients missing in church plants around the nation. This is not an exhaustive list, but these are the most common.

1. Ordination language in foundational documents

There is something powerful about recognizing God’s call of a man or woman. Discerning God’s call to the preaching of the gospel is a powerful reality in the life of any church. 

I have been to many worship services where those with such calling are brought forward, prayed for, and sent out to do the work to which they were called. While spiritual ordination is seeing the fruit of ministry (1 Corinthians 9:2), many churches do not realize that the ability to legally ordain ministers of the gospel is dependent upon having the necessary language in the articles of incorporation and bylaws. 

Without specific ordination language in your articles of incorporation and bylaws, your church will never have the ability to extend a “legal” ordination (only a spiritual one).

Strengthen Your Legal Foundation Today!

Click Here

2. Board meeting minutes

I wish more church planters remembered how Jesus fought the devil. He did it with, “It is written.” 

More and more, we find church planters who have never documented one decision made at a board meeting. Yes, they prayed, sought God and counsel, voted together, and stood in faith that they were leading the church forward to success. However, they completely negated the meeting by not taking board meeting minutes. 

We say this quite regularly at our conferences, and it is worth repeating here: “A board meeting without board meeting minutes is merely fellowship.”

So, what are board meeting minutes? 

Think of board meeting minutes as a receipt. Without a receipt, you have little to no proof of purchase, and without board meeting minutes, you have little to no proof of the decisions being properly approved at your church.

Board meeting minutes must be taken at each board meeting and properly formatted. They are documented discussions and decisions made by the board of directors. In addition, board meeting minutes must be reviewed by each board member and approved by a vote from the board.

In short, when your church has a board meeting, it MUST be documented with board meeting minutes. 

3. Customized bylaws

Aside from the scriptures, your bylaws are the most important document in your ministry. 

Bylaws are crucial for churches and ministries because when properly structured, they do the following:

  1. Clarify the purpose of the church;
  2. Provide protection by asserting the theocratic government of the church;
  3. Give guidelines for how the board can and cannot make decisions;
  4. Guide the board in how to establish policies and procedures for the church, including succession, finances, ordination, membership, etc.; and
  5. Give guidelines to help ensure that the board is operating according to IRS regulations for tax-exempt organizations.

In essence, bylaws are the driving force that helps your church run smoothly. When bylaws are well written, tailored to your church, and utilized correctly, they can effectively streamline the focus of your church.  

Ask yourself these three questions: 

  • “Were my bylaws written specifically for my ministry?”
  • “When were my bylaws written?” “Do they consider recent changes in the law?”
  • “Do my bylaws protect me, as the founder, and my vision for the church from being ‘hijacked’ by a rogue board member?” 

If you answered “no” to any of these questions, your bylaws are most likely deficient and in need of being updated and strengthened.

Strengthen Your Bylaws Today!

Click Here

4. Official 501(c)(3) approval letter for your church

Have you ever played the game “Telephone”? It is pretty simple. 

You get a group of people to sit in a circle. Someone will begin by whispering a sentence into the ear of the person sitting next to him/her. The game is for the people to go around the circle taking turns whispering what they heard to the person next to them. Finally, the last person in the circle says out loud what he/she heard.

Generally, what the last person heard sounds nothing like what was originally said, and everyone roars in laughter when they hear how different it is in the end. 

The truth is, this has happened a lot regarding 501(c)(3) status and churches. 

I do not have time to get into all of the details, however, I will share some of the most common misconceptions we hear from pastors regarding 501(c)(3) status. We have written extensively about this topic and you can read more here and here

Many pastors and church leaders believe the 501(c)(3) status is like an umbrella that can be used or borrowed by others. During our initial conversations with pastors and church planters we often hear, “We will be using the 501(c)(3) status of my friend’s church.” 

While this is a very generous offer from a friend, the truth is that a church cannot just “let someone use” its 501(c)(3) status. In order for this to actually happen, a church would have to file for what is called a group exemption which is an extensive process that many churches are unable to meet or afford. 

However, it remains that many church planters are erroneously “using someone else’s 501(c)(3) status” and setting themselves up for sore disappointment. 

5. Pastor’s salary contract

Internal Revenue Code section 4958 gives specific instructions and rules regarding how nonprofit organizations compensate employees. For churches, this directly affects pastoral compensation.

For instance, did you know that there must be a written contract between the minister and the ministry in order for the minister’s pay to be in compliance with the law?

Many church planters who go on staff or begin receiving compensation from the church often do so without a written contract or agreement that has been approved by the board of directors. For all intents and purposes, it would appear they are paying their pastors under the table which can lead to hefty penalties and taxes on the pastor as well as the board of directors. 

When any one of these 5 ingredients is missing from the foundation of your church, you will not flourish the way you could, and your church will not rise because it is missing the infrastructure to help it grow. 

The perfect solution for your church 

Since these ingredients are often missing in new churches, and even existing churches, we created the “StartRIGHT® Program with Minister’s Pay.” 

This program allows you to have confidence that your church is started on a strong legal foundation and your pay is in compliance with the law. Through the “StartRIGHT® Program with Minister’s Pay” your church will receive the following: 

  • Articles of incorporation (or an amendment if you have already taken this step),
  • Federal Employer Identification Number (F.E.I.N.),
  • Customized bylaws,
  • 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status, and
  • Minister’s compensation contract.

With the “StartRIGHT® Program with Minister’s Pay,” you can immediately receive tax-deductible tithes and offerings and begin receiving compensation within 30-60 days!

Are you ready to start your church on the right foot? 

Do not waste your time by forgetting some of the key ingredients. Call StartCHURCH today at 877-494-4655, and ask for the “StartRIGHT® Program with Minister’s Pay!” When you call, use the code “MINISTERSPAY17” and receive a $100 discount on this invaluable service.

Learn More About the StartRIGHT Program

Click Here

Handpicked articles for you:

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!