Each congregation of the Universal Life Church is a distinct legal entity, responsible for its own affairs and finances.
A minimum of three persons must serve as officers and the board of directors. From there, the board of directors will vote to adopt by-laws, or a constitution and to make resolutions to govern the affairs of the church. One resolution that you will want to make from the start is a resolution authorizing someone to apply for an Employee Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS. This can be done by phone, mail, in person, or on the Internet:
Once you have the EIN and a resolution from the board authorizing the opening of a bank account, you can take these papers to the bank, along with a minimum of two officers, and open a bank account for your church.
Churches, as defined by the IRS, fall under 501c3 by default, and are not required to complete the complex filing procedure to be formally recognized as such. It is optional, and in my opinion, is tantamount to asking the IRS for permission to be a church, thus waiving an essential right of religious freedom. On the IRS web site, you will find a list of 14 points that it considers in making the determination as to whether an organization is a church or not. You do not have to meet all of the 14 points, and the IRS does not make public the manner in which it “scores” this evaluation. Suffice to say that the more of the points you meet, the stronger your case will be should your organization’s church status ever be called into question. If you do not yet meet some of the points listed, but plan to in the future, it would be wise to include a discussion of your future plans at a board meeting and to subsequently approve a resolution proclaiming your intentions.
Additional discussion of what is involved is provided on the IRS web site:
Formal affiliation with the ULC in Modesto is not required, although doing so may be useful to support the position that your organization is a real church. Formal affiliation with the “Mother Church”, as well as with other organizations for churches, such as the ECFA (www.ecfa.org) can help establish that the church adheres to professional standards and fraternal affiliation. ULC Church charters may be arranged directly though ULC Headquarters in Modesto. It is important that you transact this agreement directly with ULC Headquarters.
I consider the “Zondervan Book” (referenced below) to be an essential reference for starting a church. If you have a church or plan to start one, you must obtain a copy of this book. It will save you a lot of time, frustration, confusion, and can easily save your church from making a costly mistake. Even if you have a CPA or attorney involved in setting up your church, get a copy of this book and take it with you to any meetings you have with your advisor. It can provide quick, authoritative answers to questions which they might otherwise charge you to “research”.
You can download the forms for starting your congregation, as well as for record keeping on our web site.
To affiliate your local congregation with ULC, complete the form and return it to ULC Headquarters, 601 Third Street, Modesto, CA 95351. The $35 fee donation is submitted directly to ULC Headquarters. Quarterly report forms can be obtained from ULC Headquarters, as well as on the web site. The $5 monthly administrative fee donation may be paid quarterly and submitted to HQ along with your quarterly reports.
When starting a congregation, be sure to structure things correctly, legally, and for your congregation’s best advantage. Expert guidance in this area is available in the Zondervan Tax and Financial Guide for Churches and Non-profit Organizations. It is published annually by the respected Zondervan Publishing House. Included are a wide range of “sample minutes”, providing suggested wording for board resolutions covering ministers compensation, benefits packages, housing allowance, establishing bank accounts and credit. Extensive coverage on the subject of taxation is included.
This highly recommended reference was written by an independent specialist in the field. You’ll get no-nonsense information, which is easy to read and understand. It will be your guide through the maze of information and legalities involved in this complex topic. You may even save thousands of dollars in lawyer and CPA fees. Do things correctly from the very beginning!