Organizing A Small Church

Q. I had written to you earlier this year about problems we were having in our church.  Well things finally came to a head and with great pain in my heart, and after much prayer and consideration, I and several others left that church, including the associate pastor.  We are now in the process of planting a new church and I would like your opinion on such a plant.  Of course here in America you must be a corporation and have 501(c)(3) paperwork and join up with the Baptist Convention and all that good stuff.  But my question is, “why?”

I understand from the standpoint of the practical, American, overly-litigious congregations of today how this came to be the norm, but I feel really weird about it.  We do need organization just so everyone is on the same page, but is there some gigantic rule about this?  Ours is a very small group–our pastor is not going to be paid–our primary focus is to feed and disciple each other so we can literally, physically go out into our community and try to reach the lost before the rapture happens.  Spiritual Guerilla Warfare, if you will.  I am afraid we will fall into the same over-organized, distractingly detailed trap we just left.  I don’t want us to over-think ourselves and get so caught up in all this that we don’t have time left to accomplish our original mission.  Help!  And as always, thank you so much for your continued service–I am so grateful to God for you.

A. The only reasons to organize your group have to do with establishing a legal entity.  It limits personal liability, aids in keeping financial records, and allows the entity to conduct such business as renting a facility, paying for utilities, etc.  A 501(c)3 designation makes the entity exempt from most taxes and makes contributions tax deductible.  Membership in a denomination brings some benefits but can also create a lot of obligation.  You don’t have to do all these things to be a church.  For instance if you’re meeting in some one’s house, have a volunteer pastor, and intend to stay small, all you need is an agreement among the members as to how much structure you want and how you’ll make decisions like distributing tithes, etc.

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