Creating A New Congregation


Recommended Posts

Hi everybody!

As the title suggests... I have decided to start a new congregation, and wish to do so with 2 of my close friends and spiritual partners.

Now I am pretty clear on most everything. But I do have one question. I sent an email to HQ through their website's contact form. I'm not sure if it went through properly, especially since their web store has been down for 2 months now... but I have yet to receive an answer from them.

My question is on behalf of one of my two associates. He was wondering if Ordination was a requirement for him to be named as one of the required 3 board members. I myself would be Pastor, he'd be Treasurer, and my other friend Secretary. Of course, I am Ordained already. Now, he has no issue if it would be a requirement, but for his personal reasons, he'd prefer not to ordain if it isn't required.

This issue isn't directly specified on the Congregation Agreement... so I was wondering if any of you already knew the answer?

Thanks for your help! I'm sure I'll have many more questions as we go.

Link to post

I actually asked HQ about that and Br. Kevin said that all that was needed was for the Pastor to be ordained. The other two can be anyone over 18.

I actually had my wife get ordained just to be sure. I am now searching for a reliable 3rd to bring into the fold.

Link to post
Thank you both for the quick response! And good luck to you bsawtelle!

So any advice for a new startup?

I have been going to the Seminary site and checking out what Amy Long has done and posted. She has left a lot of good advice out for everyone. I am sure Dorian can direct you better than I as he is associated with the Seminary.

Link to post
Thank you both for the quick response! And good luck to you bsawtelle!

So any advice for a new startup?

1. Don't be discouraged.....lots of stuff will happen that you cannot possibly anticpate day one. That is normal.

2. Help is easy to find. Amy Long/Dorian ARE a great asset. The FORUM is a major source of good info and problem solving

3. Attracting others will be work....not impossible - but it is work. That is not a reflection on you personally, on your doctrine, your structure or lack of it or your message. It is work for all churches - even mega-churches. There is a certain degree of PR built into any event of any nature inwhich humanity will be gathering for any purpose.

4. Keeping them interested enough to engage will also be work. Not unpleasant work. In fact really exciting work. But work. It doesnt' just happen.

5. Keep the church legal and yourself professional (esp. in appearance) at all times. If you are not credible in appearance - do not go out of your way to say, "I am a minsiter" as you will put yourself on losing ground for credibility.

6. Be prepared EARLY ON to explain (in no more than three sentences) what your church believes. (also true of your membership requirements, your tithe requirements)

7. Decide on a governing structure early on (top down......democratic vote.....consesus requirements etc.)

8. Get your legal affairs in order AT LEAST TO THE EXTENT you can open a checking account in the church name and keep ALL MONEY separate from your personal accounts

I think those would be a few biggies in no particular order - just numbered for my benefit as I am getting older and need a bit more order sometimes for myself to not lose my place. :)

VERY best wishes to you and if I can be of any help - just PM me!

We just had our second anniversary and it is GREAT....jump on in - the water is fine! :)

Von

Link to post

Von Noble is so right. Keep it looking like a Congregation/Fellowship or whatever you choose to call it. Even though you are legally ordained, it's important to make sure all of the I's are dotted and T's crossed. Get your self the forms from the IRS to form a 501©3 not for profit organization, as well as filing for an ss4 (you can do the ss4 online), that will give you a tax id or EIN Employer Identification Number, which you will need period if anyone gets paid, opens an account that will have more then one signer for checks or legal documents. I think the package is called an IRS 1023/1024. I forget which one, it's been a while since I filed one. When you do file it there are spaces on it where you need to describe the "charitable/tax exempt" services your Congregation will provide, this does not include Religious Services which are protected and non taxable, how ever if the forms aren't filled out, filed etc. then your Congregation may be subject to IRS scrutiny. Even though it will be tax exempt the IRS can still request financial records every five years or so, they probably won't, but can. It can be as simple as money in as donations, money out as utilities. Just don't try and buffalo them. Keep prices of all services as recommended donations, etc. For weddings, funerals, wiccan feasts. Any service you perform needs to stay donation generated. Your books should reflect all monies in, and all monies out be accounted for. If there is none, then it should reflect none. Holding services in your home is legal, as well as tax deductible (wear on the home). If any checks are written to the "congregation" always make them for deposit only, that deposit only could be your only way of keeping track of the check, as donations are tallied, especially checks make sure they are listed in your statements. Cash donations are preferred until your congregation gets it legs under it. It's plain and simple "easier" to manage.

This of course doesn't apply if you sell religious paraphernalia, unless of course it is a recommended donation.

Some states have specific rules. I know what mine are, but I can't help with yours. Check out your specific state's Dept of State, or whatever the state dept. or bureau is that manages business and tax exempt organizations.

Be careful of companies that offer to collect and manage donations to your congregation. Some of them require up to a 30% fee to do the books, sounds illegal, but it isn't. Most of these claim to be Christian, but are more like Evil. They get you to sign a contract up front for a certain period of time, usually 1-5 years and it's a legal and binding contract. Then once it's signed show you the fine print where they can charge a percentage of each individual entry (scary).

If you hold services, look and act professional. Know and practice your material. It doesn't matter how well you know, or think you know your stuff. Someone out there probably knows a little more and will delight in telling everyone. It doesn't matter which belief you subscribe to, know your stuff. If it's publishing make sure your facts are backed up with undeniable data, if you preach, make sure you study and approach your material from all possible angles, other folks will so be aware.

I am an Inclusive Christian, that believes the Jesus Christ was Baptized, and died for the sins of ALL of us. It's a fairly radical concept to think that Jesus has already atoned for the sins of ALL MANKIND. When I first started expounding this belief I didn't have my feces consolidated, I shouldn't have preached it until I had all the facts straight. It turned out great, but I certainly had more than a few "empty seats" when I turned from conservative mainstream Christianity, to the more radical, but I believe truthful Inclusive Christianity. Bottom line, know your stuff, be able to explain yourself out of a pickle, with truth.

Dress the part. You may be tempted to be a torn jeans and old t shirt preacher. Nothing wrong with that, Jesus lived in a tent, wore a dusty robe and often no shoes. But if your a jeans and t shirt preacher, make them the best pair of torn jeans. Even though God don't care, some of the suits might, and they are the ones donating to keep your congregation alive.

Finally, and Von Noble (nice name, the noble one) is so right here to. Don't give up, keep plugging, keep trying and trying. If you put all the pieces that will fit on the table, it will come together.

Keep us posted on your progress. Many of us have had the tried and failed experiences before we started getting it right

Edited by sainsworth
Link to post
Thanks for the great advice :-) I'll be sure to make good use of it.

In other news, I performed my first wedding ceremony today! Went ver ysmooth, and was quite beautiful. A wonderful couple!

That's great! For you and for the lucky couple. You are well on your way!

DO keep us posted...the more info we share the better the professional standards for all of us.

Von

Link to post
  • 2 weeks later...

This has all been very helpful for me as well. My wife, our dear friend of some time, and myself are planning to start a Pagan "church" if you will and I feel all of this will help us accomplish that goal. I still have a lot to work out on this, but reading over everything you have said I think I am on a better step now. If anyone has advice or questions for me, please feel free to contact me through PM or on Yahoo Messenger. My messenger ID is ajbradshaw1 or coriandertheblue, which ever one I am on at the time.

Link to post
This has all been very helpful for me as well. My wife, our dear friend of some time, and myself are planning to start a Pagan "church" if you will and I feel all of this will help us accomplish that goal. I still have a lot to work out on this, but reading over everything you have said I think I am on a better step now. If anyone has advice or questions for me, please feel free to contact me through PM or on Yahoo Messenger. My messenger ID is ajbradshaw1 or coriandertheblue, which ever one I am on at the time.

Good for you!

Gathering with like-minded people can be so rewarding and uplifting.

It is GREAT that you and the Mrs. are willing to serve as leaders to get things started.

From the tiny acorn the mighty oak grows........

Best wishes to you,

Von

Link to post
  • 2 weeks later...

I just wanted to give an updae to everyone interested....

Myself, my Treasurer, and Secretary all got together yesterday, filled out the form for Headquarters (and called them with a small question, such nice people always!). We got a Money Order, and mailed out the form!

We also worked until 1am on all the things we're going to need. We've gotten the EIN, so that we can establish a bank account. That part is always very simple. We found the 1023 form for Tax-Exempt, and have been reviewing that.

The MAIN part of our accomplishment is the total creation of our by-laws. This in great detail outlines every aspect of our existence, from definition, intent to form, purpose, government, election, rules, regulations.... not one thing overlooked. I must say, we had a great leg up on this, as we had existing documents for a different organization that was run by a friend before his passing, that set great example. Much time and effort went into it, and I'm sure it will do us good. Once we have that draft finalized, I will be glad to provide it as an example to any who wish to do the same.

Of course, a small, yet VERY important part is of course, what shall the name be??? Well, after much thought and deliberation, our name of the Congregation is "Sacred Wind Sanctuary of Universal Life". It is simple, and inclusive. It keeps Universal Life in the name, as directed by HQ, but can still be simply refered to as Sacred Wind Sanctuary for short.

At our next meeting, we will revel in the joy of having our certificate from HQ... then back to work on completing the 1023, as well as filing for exept status from the State of New Jersey. We made a discovery that while incorperated Non-profits in NJ must file with a $75 fee, CHURCHES and RELIGIOUS NON-PROFITS may file with one a $5 fee, and no annual fee. But we have to get incontact directly with the NJ CFU, since the website filing doesn't allow for it....that we could see.

Thoughts and advice are ALWAYS welcome!

Link to post

Thank you very much!

Now, I have a question for those who have established congregations, not just with the ULC, but also did all the appropriate paperwork with the federal and state gov'ts....

I'm wondering, how did you all decide to file? Did you incorporate as a Nonprofit with your state, or did you stay an unincorporated association? Did you apply (and receive) 501©3 Tax Exemption?

Basically I'm wondering what other congregations did to satisfy their legal obligations. Now mind you I'm not looking for legal advice, as the board forbids, and rightfully so... I'm wondering what different paths you've all taken and the experiences you've had.

I'm also curious how many have a building dedicated to the purpose of the congregation, as opposed to holding service in a home or public meeting place.

Thanks everyone!

Edited by Rev. Matt
Link to post
Thank you very much!

Now, I have a question for those who have established congregations, not just with the ULC, but also did all the appropriate paperwork with the federal and state gov'ts....

I'm wondering, how did you all decide to file? Did you incorporate as a Nonprofit with your state, or did you stay an unincorporated association? Did you apply (and receive) 501©3 Tax Exemption?

Basically I'm wondering what other congregations did to satisfy their legal obligations. Now mind you I'm not looking for legal advice, as the board forbids, and rightfully so... I'm wondering what different paths you've all taken and the experiences you've had.

I'm also curious how many have a building dedicated to the purpose of the congregation, as opposed to holding service in a home or public meeting place.

Thanks everyone!

Congratulations you are moving forward rapidly.

Incidentally - you have a couple of years to get that 501 C-3 complete....so no panic. We had assistance from a CPA to complete ours, however, we did NOT as yet submit it.

The reason being that our total collections per year are low...so there is not much of a tax issue to warrant filing at this time.

That is not to suggest you hold off filing - but there is a somewhat large fee and if it serves no real benefit to you to have it (no one in the area to will us a big chunk of money - no matching grants about to happen etc.) ....so to date even though we have talked to the IRS several times (and they were VERY nice and VERY helpful each time).....we have not seen a reason to file.

Also...we did exactly what you did .....got our EIN.......had the church structure drawn up and reviewed by an attorney - submitted it to the State Attorney General and we have been pretty much "there" without any real need to do more since then.

RE: the building - we have one. We met several places before the church was complete. Our building is NOT fancy or large - we did ALL of the construction work ourselves or got it donated. It was a push but we finished it in eight months.

Again, very simple. Very small.......but it works and we are glad to have a dedicated space to meet.

I was amazed how many people would help us along the way. One person donated windows...another came by (different faith - barely knew him - and he donated electrical services).....one offered to get our fixture wholesale - another offered to install the air and heat at cost........and so it went. We had people from OTHER churches come and help us put the insulation in.....and help with the carpentry.

If you get started - somehow word got around and people just called and volunteered. Without that wondeful American spirit - we would still be trying to get it done.

The use of the land was provided for the price of $1 per year....with a VERY LONG TERM lease.

There was only eight people (three couples and two singles) when we started.....and we are still growing - steadily.

I wish you well.

IF you can manage to complete incorporation and IF you are ready to file with the IRS - it is always best to do so I would think. But it will take a little time to have everything they request (like samples of your bulletins and stuf) - so they don't expect you to have it all ready day one.....and like I said - they have been helpful and have given us good advise so far so don't be afraid to talk to them. We have called locally and nationally and everyone was pretty open to our church and giving us assistance.

Von

Link to post
Congratulations you are moving forward rapidly.

Incidentally - you have a couple of years to get that 501 C-3 complete....so no panic. We had assistance from a CPA to complete ours, however, we did NOT as yet submit it.

The reason being that our total collections per year are low...so there is not much of a tax issue to warrant filing at this time.

That is not to suggest you hold off filing - but there is a somewhat large fee and if it serves no real benefit to you to have it (no one in the area to will us a big chunk of money - no matching grants about to happen etc.) ....so to date even though we have talked to the IRS several times (and they were VERY nice and VERY helpful each time).....we have not seen a reason to file.

Also...we did exactly what you did .....got our EIN.......had the church structure drawn up and reviewed by an attorney - submitted it to the State Attorney General and we have been pretty much "there" without any real need to do more since then.

RE: the building - we have one. We met several places before the church was complete. Our building is NOT fancy or large - we did ALL of the construction work ourselves or got it donated. It was a push but we finished it in eight months.

Again, very simple. Very small.......but it works and we are glad to have a dedicated space to meet.

I was amazed how many people would help us along the way. One person donated windows...another came by (different faith - barely knew him - and he donated electrical services).....one offered to get our fixture wholesale - another offered to install the air and heat at cost........and so it went. We had people from OTHER churches come and help us put the insulation in.....and help with the carpentry.

If you get started - somehow word got around and people just called and volunteered. Without that wondeful American spirit - we would still be trying to get it done.

The use of the land was provided for the price of $1 per year....with a VERY LONG TERM lease.

There was only eight people (three couples and two singles) when we started.....and we are still growing - steadily.

I wish you well.

IF you can manage to complete incorporation and IF you are ready to file with the IRS - it is always best to do so I would think. But it will take a little time to have everything they request (like samples of your bulletins and stuf) - so they don't expect you to have it all ready day one.....and like I said - they have been helpful and have given us good advise so far so don't be afraid to talk to them. We have called locally and nationally and everyone was pretty open to our church and giving us assistance.

Von

That's incredible Von! I sincerely hope that such compassionate people come to aid the development of our congregation. I just really hope we may be so welcomed in the community, as ours is a Pagan centered church. I'd REALLY like to know how you managed the $1 Lease agreement.

As for the 501©(3).... I've done a RIDICULOUS amount of research... and found this that ALL may be interested in:

Organizations Not Required To File Form 1023

Some organizations are not required to file Form 1023.

These include:

Churches, interchurch organizations of local units of a church, conventions or associations of churches, or integrated auxiliaries of a church, such as a men's or women's organization, religious school, mission society, or youth group.

Any organization (other than a private foundation) normally having annual gross receipts of not more than $5,000 (see Gross receipts test, later).

These organizations are exempt automatically if they meet the requirements of section 501©(3).

Just a small piece of the whole information... this piece can be found at http://www.irs.gov/publications/p557/ch03.html#d0e3612

Also:

Religious Organizations

To determine whether an organization meets the religious purposes test of section 501©(3), the IRS maintains two basic guidelines.

That the particular religious beliefs of the organization are truly and sincerely held.

That the practices and rituals associated with the organization's religious belief or creed are not illegal or contrary to clearly defined public policy.

Therefore, your group (or organization) may not qualify for treatment as an exempt religious organization for tax purposes if its actions, as contrasted with its beliefs, are contrary to well established and clearly defined public policy. If there is a clear showing that the beliefs (or doctrines) are sincerely held by those professing them, the IRS will not question the religious nature of those beliefs.

Churches. Although a church, its integrated auxiliaries, or a convention or association of churches is not required to file Form 1023 to be exempt from federal income tax or to receive tax deductible contributions, the organization may find it advantageous to obtain recognition of exemption. In this event, you should submit information showing that your organization is a church, synagogue, association or convention of churches, religious order, or religious organization that is an integral part of a church, and that it is engaged in carrying out the function of a church.

In determining whether an admittedly religious organization is also a church, the IRS does not accept any and every assertion that the organization is a church. Because beliefs and practices vary so widely, there is no single definition of the word church for tax purposes. The IRS considers the facts and circumstances of each organization applying for church status.

To be found at http://www.irs.gov/publications/p557/ch03.html#d0e4423

There's plenty more to be found at http://www.irs.gov/publications/p557/ch03.html

And there is the IRS Publication "Tax Guide for Churches and Religious Organizations"(PDF).

All wonderfully helpful - but still no replacement for legal help and tax advisors. Now, if only we can find someone willing to donate those services...

Edited by Rev. Matt
Link to post
That's incredible Von! I sincerely hope that such compassionate people come to aid the development of our congregation. I just really hope we may be so welcomed in the community, as ours is a Pagan centered church. I'd REALLY like to know how you managed the $1 Lease agreement.

Simple enough - one of our church members voluteered an acre of land. We got lucky!

I have to admit things may be a bit more difficult if you advertise the Pagan angle in some communities. WE would certainly welcome you as neighbors and be happy to share the church.

I have found other churches in a hurt for money are willing to rent/share their builldings as well. Some will have difficulty with a Pagan group in their church but not all of them will.

Some never asked what we believed. Only if we could pay in cash :)

A local Unitarian church gave up on building a new church building and just bought an older home in an affordable neighborhood and that has worked for them for the past 30 years.....They bought it cheap and work on it as a group project one Saturday a month at least. At least two of the churches not too far from us are in buidlings that started out as trailers and were eventually converted - in time - to more standard looking buildings.

There is nothing wrong with humble beginnings (or middles or ends for that matter) :)

There was an attitude here with some of the folks that ANY church is better than no church ....and these people building a a church is better for the area than someone putting in a liquor store so let's help them.

I hope that is your experience as well.

Von

Link to post

Very good advice, as always Von.

Just wanted to provide an update.... We received our Congregation Certificate from HQ this week, so as far as HQ goes, we are official. We (the rest of the board and I) are planning on going to Trenton (NJ state capitol) on Monday the 29th to file our Incorporation in person with the State Corporate Filings Unit as a Title 16 (Religious) Non-profit Organization.

So at that point we will then be an officially official group, outside our affiliation with HQ. This way, if anything ever does happen to HQ, we still exist as a congregation in perpetuity. We won't have to rely on HQ's existance.... though as long as they are fine there, and I hope they will always continue to be, I'll still maintain our affiliation with them. It is because of them that all of this is possible.

So...wish me luck with the bureaucrats on Monday. No doubt I'll have to explain the law to them. As it stands so far, I've spoken to them on the phone 3 times, and gotten 3 different answers. So I'll be sure to go with the written laws in hand.

Link to post

One quick question for all who have congregations....

I'm wondering how many of you charge membership dues, and how much? We are currently pondering this subject, trying to keep things very fair, but still making it possible to finance our congregation, as nothing comes free.

Thanks!

Link to post
  • 2 weeks later...
One quick question for all who have congregations....

I'm wondering how many of you charge membership dues, and how much? We are currently pondering this subject, trying to keep things very fair, but still making it possible to finance our congregation, as nothing comes free.

Thanks!

On our board we had one person who insisted strongly that we NOT become a "pay to pray" church......and on the opposite end we had a person well qualified telling us that people NEED to have a stake in the success of the church. They don't want and in fact would be unsettled by a church where they get something for nothing.

Our solution. Keep the door open in that regard.

People can PAY/INVEST as members in many ways. Some give talents. Some give time. Some give treasure. ALL CAN GIVE SOMETHING.

So we recieve gifts-in-kind donations (plumbers, electricians, florists etc.)....we also receive those who volunteer time to do landscaping, buildling maintenance, yard work etc......and we receive cash donations.

We considered this aspect for quite some time.

Our final decision was membership in our little church requires ACTIVE participation. You gotta show up with some degree of regularity/consistency....giving money without giving of self ain't workin' for this group :)

Many churches suggest a tithe of 10 - 15%.

We don't make any suggestion other than we expect participation and an investment of time, talent or treasure (and most give all three).

How did it go in Trenton?????

Von

Link to post
  • Amulet locked and featured this topic
Guest
This topic is now closed to further replies.