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I am wanting to travel learning and spreading the word of acceptance to others using my motorhome and am wondering about any tax benefits or deductions I might be allowed. As I look at the state of our country I am very concerned as to the way some so called religious leaders are alienating certain groups of people and using their credentials preaching to influence their congregations to enact state and federal laws that in my opinion go against the teachings of the bible.

I and my wife are both retired and want to travel and help the homeless and down trodden in our travels to support them and help them find resources to improve their lives.

We are non denominational and don't wish to change anyones beliefs to ours but wish to do as Jesus said and help the poor and listen and to their problems and somehow comfort them.

We have limited resources and want to give not take in these times we are facing. We don't really understand what we can do as far as possibly deducting some of our expenses such as mileage, fees, etc. as everything we can find seems to be for people in the ministry that are affiliated with a brick and mortar church or are employed by a established church as employees.

Any help or discussions and suggestions will be appreciated and we hope to hear from others as to their experiences also.

Thanks so much and we hope to hear from you


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In the scenario you describe, I do not know of any "deductions" you can take.   There are no tax deductions that accrue to individuals for using their time and resources to do good in an informal and independent manner.  Tax exemptions apply to churches, not individuals.  And tax benefits and deductions for ministers come in the form of Employee Business Expenses, so yes, you do have to be an employee to have that type of deduction.  A church can pay ministers certain tax-exempt benefits, such as a travel, housing, or clothing allowance, but again, to receive such a benefit, it has to come from an employer and it must be structured correctly.
The church doesn't have to be brick and mortar but it has to be established.  This means that you and your wife would need to establish it, along with at minimum, one other person to form a Board of Directors.   Five is better, for avoiding the impression that it is not simply a corporate shell that is controlled by you and your wife. 

Get a copy of the Zondervan Tax and Financial Guide for Churches. The regulations don't change much from year to year, so you can get the previous year edition that we have on clearance for $4.99 while they last, or search on Amazon for one.  

Churches are automatically tax-exempt organizations under the IRC, so theoretically you shouldn't have to apply for 501c3 status for it if you create a church.  However, as discussed in the Zondervan book, that may not be the hill you want to die on in taking on the IRS.  Ultimately, they assert the authority to determine whether or not your church is a church, and although they publish a list of 14 points that they consider in making this determination, there is no published "formula".  You don't have to meet all 14 points, and few churches do.

Bear in mind that the church is not "yours".  It is controlled by a Board of Directors, which may include you and your wife as voting members, and it must be directed and controlled by the Board, with minutes and bylaws and all of that.

The above applies only to those who wish to have their church become involved with the IRS, which you will have to do if you wish to claim deductions and exemptions.   If you simply wish to do good, you can just "do it", and unless your church is generating income, there is no need for deductions and exemptions or filing for permission to be a church. In such a case, it is no different from a stamp collecting club or a knitting circle, and it remains your own private concern.

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Thank You brother Kevin, I will get the guide you suggested and seriously consider and discuss with my wife the possibility of establishing a church with other like minded people. I am wondering if a "traveling church" would be something others might be interested in. I am just trying to establish a congregation that is inclusive of all and understanding that everyone has flaws and beliefs and should not be judged or condemned for having their personal beliefs. That in my opinion is the fundamental problem with religion today. 

As an example I was driving with a fellow employee and stopped to buy a paper that was distributed by a organization that was established to give the homeless an opportunity to buy the paper and resell it to earn an income.

When I purchased the paper my fellow employee stated I was wrong because he would probably use the money for alcohol or drugs. I should mention that my fellow employee was from Mexico originally and I was getting prepared to vacation in Mexico soon. I asked him when I was in Mexico and children and vendors would come and ask me to buy flowers or chicolets etc. that I shouldn't buy one or donate to them and his reply was "no they really need the money for their families" I told him that I was disturbed by his statement and how he knew that the paper seller was going to use the money for alcohol or drugs. i told him that there were more than 3000 homeless here in the Nashville area and estimates are that over 50% of them are veterans with problems and who was I to judge them? The hypocrisy of his statement and opinion disturbed me greatly. I am just trying to establish some kind of ministry that wants to help ALL people facing hardship whether they are alcoholics, prostitutes, drug addicts or whatever. It is our intention to help everyone needing help without putting stipulations on our aid. Personally I am not of the Christian or any other established faith. I appreciate your quick response to my question and I certainly want to do our ministry legally and just want to get the facts as we are both retired and I am disabled. We were wondering if a traveling ministry was legal and if there is a way to not incur undue hardship and costs. 

Thanks again for your help 

Pastor Dave

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