Q: Should our ministry incorporate?

A: Incorporation does not add to or reduce a religious organization’s protection or obligation legally.

In today’s legal climate, objections to incorporating a church based on submission to the authority of the state are obsolete. Constitutional and statutory protections for the internal operations of religious organizations have been firmly established in law for over a century. However, exposure to civil liability for a wide range of actions or omissions is also well established in the law. Incorporation does not add to or reduce a religious organization’s protection or obligation legally.

The remaining issues for religious organizations to consider are:

  • The potential for personal liability of members, directors and officers for church activities.
  • The ownership of church property for both incorporated and unincorporated organizations.

How to Incorporate

When considering whether or not to incorporate, it is recommended that you consult with a local attorney to determine how the law in your jurisdiction applies to these two issues.

Proper incorporation of a new entity requires the following steps:

  1. Create Articles of Incorporation that comply with your state’s laws. Articles of Incorporation should include only the information absolutely required by your state’s laws. The Article on dissolution of the corporation should be drafted to comply with the IRS requirements for 501(c)(3) organizations.
  2. File the Articles of Incorporation with the Secretary of State, or other appropriate government office, for your state. There is usually a filing fee associated with this filing.
  3. Upon confirmation that your Articles of Incorporation have been accepted, obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS. This can be done for free on-line at www.irs.gov.
  4. Create bylaws that comply with your state’s laws. Bylaws should include provisions for the following: terms of membership; qualifications for membership; qualification for and election of leadership; hiring of clergy; relationship with denomination (if any); qualifications for and administration of congregational elections; and procedure for amending the bylaws.
  5. Hold an initial meeting of the leadership board. Minutes should be taken at this meeting. The initial members of the board should be confirmed. The bylaws, if ready, should be approved.

Because many of the steps above have significant legal consequences, it is recommended that a local attorney be involved in incorporating any new entity.

Recommended Resources

If you found this information helpful, you might be interested in these other resources from Brotherhood Mutual:

*Important information: Brotherhood Mutual is pleased to provide Legal Assist as a complimentary resource. The services we offer through Legal Assist are intended to provide general legal information to our current and prospective policyholders.

The information we provide is intended to be helpful, but it does not constitute legal advice and is not a substitute for the advice from a licensed attorney in your area. Accordingly, no attorney/client relationship is created through this process, and no legal advice will be provided. We strongly encourage you to regularly consult with a local attorney as part of your risk management program.