So You’re Starting a Home Church: Do I need to set up a non-profit or bank account?

When you’re starting a business, it’s good to apply for your business license, set up bank accounts, get a website, insurance, and all those structural elements right up front. Those are necessary for you and your business to function and to protect yourself and your assets. Depending on what you’re building, you want to find out what those foundational systems and elements are so you can establish them. Buildings need plans and permits before you even start laying the foundation. Writing a book requires a premise, thorough research, and an outline before formatting and cover design. Starting a home church requires a foundation too. Fortunately, that’s been provided for you.

“For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building. By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work” (1 Corinthians 3:9-13).

We aren’t building a business, we’re building Christ-centered community. We don’t need plans or permits… because we don’t need a building. We are God’s field; we are God’s building. We simply need the Love of Christ—to receive it, and to pass it on to others. Before we rush to a 501(c)3 application or the local bank we need to ask, what are we building and what is necessary? What is the purpose of non-profit status? It’s to get government tax breaks. With those tax breaks come certain restrictions and requirements. To attain a 501(c)3 designation you also need articles of incorporation, legal documentation declaring your group to be a corporation. That means you will need to name officers whom the government can identify and hold responsible. You will also need governing bylaws which tell the government where your principle office is, who those officers are and what they do, what your purpose as a corporation is, and how you are going to function as an organization. It effectively outlines what you can and cannot do and how you may and may not do it. As a part of being able to prove you are functioning as you stated in your governing bylaws, you will need to hold regular business meetings and record meeting minutes that can be reviewed. Part of those minutes are discussions regarding what your non-profit is doing with any money it receives, so you will also need a bank account and an annual budget. There are other reports to file, requirements to meet, and so on and so on. The bottom line is that non-profit status and bank accounts are for partnership with the government, not building the Kingdom.

You don’t need to set up a non-profit, nor do you need to open a bank account. In fact, it’s better if you don’t. We aren’t starting a business. We aren’t establishing a corporation. That is “wood, hay, and straw,” highly flammable. We are building Christ-honoring relationships and a community of Jesus followers on the foundation of who Jesus is and what He has done. We don’t need a bank account because we simply love one another and thus help each other. We don’t need to collect “tithes and offerings.” We’ll know if people are faithful in their giving  if peoples’ needs are being met. Nor do we need to issue year-end giving statements for tax purposes. These things are more necessary for traditional churches with buildings and a corporate presence. Home churches are different. We aren’t looking for what the government might give us. We are celebrating and honoring what God has already given us. Have you ever come across someone who decided not to be generous because there wouldn’t be a tax write-off? What are your thoughts on that? Probably, that giving tethered to what one gets out of it isn’t actually all that generous. That said, if you can take advantage of a tax write off, don’t throw those dollars away, but that’s not why we give.

The money for your home church will better serve where it is: in the possession and authority of each member. The tithe, as it’s taught in most churches, is an Old Testament construct. It started with Abraham before the law as a foreshadowing (more showing Abraham’s heart and demonstrating what honors God) and was written in the Law of Moses as a regulation. In our culture, we often treat that tithe (10%) as something to aspire to, but actually, it was the floor—the bare minimum. What we see in the New Testament—in the spirit of the law—is the command toward generosity. “Not under compulsion, for the Lord loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). Leaving money in the hands of the people to whom it has been given fosters 1) personal responsibility as opposed to passing the burden of faithfulness and obedience to “the church,” and 2) genuine generosity and the opportunity to act on compassion. This was a hallmark of the early church: people selling their stuff so they could meet needs within the community. It’s what drew outsiders in!

The only purpose for a 501(c)3 is government cooperation. A bank account can make certain things easier, but it can also be divisive and can disconnect people from their personal responsibility to be compassionate and generous—to reflect the heart of God. Aside from saving you an enormous and unnecessary headache, forgoing non-profit status and bank accounts and such affords you so much more freedom to build the kingdom, invest in people, and participate in the mission of Jesus. We strive to “store up treasure in heaven,” that which cannot be lost or stolen. Do we want to spend time, energy, effort, and resources on perishing things that are unrelated to our eternal hope? Being incorporated is a yoke of slavery, and it’s one reason why I felt my time in formal pastoral ministry was over after 18 years. I wanted greater freedom to love, serve, and minister to the people God placed in my life and to be less obligated to play the game of business and marketing and maintaining perishing things.

As a home church, your mission is to equip the found and find the lost with the love and truth of Jesus. The government has a very different mission, business models take more than they will ever give, and you’ll find you have much greater freedom (and, not to mention, time) if Jesus is your only Lord. The early church saw the Lord add to their number, daily, as they loved one another as Jesus loves them (John 13:34-35, Acts 2:42-47, 4:32-37)… not because they had the best mission statement and the most comprehensive bylaws.