Inside Tithe.ly: Dean Sweetman, CEO and Co-Founder
Meet our fearless CEO and co-founder: Dean Sweetman!
October 17, 2019
A comprehensive how-to for building a meeting into a full-blown church.
March 28, 2019
You shouldn’t start a church.
It will be embarrassing if (when) you fail.
It’s hard work.
Everybody’s already got a church.
There are bigger churches out there.
There are better churches that already exist.
You couldn’t possibly create something meaningful by planting a church.
Has God called you to start a church?
Is a community missing something?
Are there more unbelievers you could reach?
Are there more believers you could encourage in a fresh way?
Has God called you beyond your limitations to build the most important thing in this world—the institution he founded to share Christ with the world?
If he has, then to forget about the naysayers.
Ahem, I mean ... them come to your church to hear you preach Christ’s saving message.
But you just have to build it first.
You need to know how to start a church.
Here, I’ve included a comprehensive protocol to take you from concept to community in the church-building journey. I will teach you how to start a church legally so that you can start your own church legitimately. Don’t cut corners. Don’t get excited about the exciting parts and neglect the logistical elements. Follow the protocol, and you will have everything in place.
Follow the steps below, and you’ll have started a legitimate church to which you can bring people.
Before you can “start” a church, you have to have a community of people who buy in who are committed to growth. If you just have a few friends committed to growth, that’s not a church. If you just have a large spiritual meeting of people who are satisfied not to grow, that will never become a church.
You must first start a spiritual meeting or prayer meeting of people with a common vision for the Christian life who want to grow that vision by sharing it with other people. Once you have this meeting in place, you have to do something very important.
Before writing a doctrinal statement, before buying a building, and before organizing a leadership structure, you must hone your message.
Answering these questions should be your first conversation about starting a church.
Don’t front-load any of the sexier list items like branding or website building before you’ve answered these basic questions about messaging.
It’s important for you to properly conceive of how your small group will serve to start a church.
They are more than just the “first members.”
Your small group is more than a group of “early adopters.”
They are the actual launch team.
These are people who are invested in starting a church.
This is the difference between a home church and a launch team. Your launch team functions as a kind of informal small business in starting your church. Each person has a role and responsibility.
Once you’ve honed your message and built your small group as a launch team, you can put your launch team to work doing all the details work of starting a church.
Let’s take a look at the work involved.
Your launch team needs to answer the following questions:
There are a variety of ways you can structure your church’s leadership.
Some churches are governed by the church members through direct voting on issues at regular meetings
Different churches are led by elders who are held accountable to act ethically by other churches.
And other churches are self-governed by electing officers who serve as elders of the church.
You must determine what your organizational structure is, and ultimately what small body of officers will represent your church as leaders. Don’t skip this last step.Your church board will later serve to fulfill the requirements of a non-profit entity registered with the United States federal government.
This might be the most difficult stage for a church to reach a consensus.
You’ve got three options for naming: Location + Doctrine, Tree + Water, or Theology + Point.
In all seriousness, you can name your church whatever you want. Don’t follow trends or fads. Just pick something memorable and meaningful with no double entendres.
This means that:
This is the most important legal portion of starting a church.
As far as the government is concerned, it’s the only action you need to take to opening your church. However, it is wise to break this action down into several sub-points to start your church legally.
Don’t try to start a church without legal counsel.
Many lawyers who specialize in a simple non-profit will charge you around $1,500-$2,500 (averaging $500 an hour) to double-check your non-profit documents.
The IRS provides online training for those submitting an application to become tax-exempt.
Again, this is the IRS’s official page explaining what you must do in order to properly become and remain a legitimate non-profit entity, which is referred to by the IRS as a 501(c)(3).
Once you have completed the 501(c)(3) application, you can request confirmation of its approval by filling out the IRS’s 1023 form.
Once the IRS grants you 501(c)(3) status, your church will be an official tax-exempt entity.
Then, you will be eligible to apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN) with the IRS’s SS4 form.
Once you have your EIN, you can do two things.
First, you can use that EIN to open a bank account which belongs to the church.
Second, you can hire and pay employees.
Oh, and you can also start a free account with Tithe.ly once you have your EIN.
After you’ve completed your due diligence with the IRS, you can consider joining a church planting network or denomination.
There may be other parachurch organizations (or church denominations) who have a very similar vision and mission as your church.
The benefit of joining a network or denomination is that you often receive infrastructural support in providing spiritual, health, and economic benefits to clergy. Likewise, joining a network or conference can increase your access to networking and growth resources.
The potential liability of joining a network or denomination is that you will be obligated to the theology and internal workings of that group. In other words, the benefit of being an autonomous church is that you have the ability to make decisions on your own.
Whether you choose to join a network or denomination, or choose to remain an autonomous church, it comes down to your own theology. But recognize that there are pros and cons to both.
Once you exist, you should continue the work of the launch team and seek to grow the church into weekly services. Here’s how you grow your church into weekly services.
Write down a service structure on which the launch team can agree:
Before you can answer any of these questions, you need to get Tithe.ly’s ChMS church management software.
This software will help you to smoothly manage your church, empower your volunteers, and enable digital giving, and as a pastor, you will be able to manage visitor/member check-ins, organize events, and see tithing trends.
If you don’t use Tithe.ly’s ChMS, you could be left spending hundreds of dollars a month on unique, “one trick pony” services that only provide email lists, only provide web hosting, only provide sermon archives, and only manage group contact data. Tithe.ly does this all for you.
If your church plant is raising money, the first thing you should do as a responsible 501(c)(3) is consolidate all your giving to the Tiithe.ly app so that there isn’t one cent given to the church that doesn’t go directly into the church’s bank account.
Hold outreach events, cook-out events, and small group meetings.
Use these events to grow your church by inviting people in your community to attend the church and offering some kind of give-away — an iPad, tickets to the movies, etc.
The psychological payoff of giveaways is that they help people overcome their subtle bias against trying new things.
But the important takeaway here is: put on weekly events as a church that aren’t the service.
Collaborate with other local churches. Don’t compete.
If you have honed your message (Step 1), then you already know how you’re different.
You don’t need to worry about stealing people from other churches.
Work with other churches, support them, and ask if you can help out in their community service projects. It’s a great way to network your church into the culture of the town you’re in.
If you’re too competitive at the start, other churches will be hesitant to work with you in the future, and you’ll get a bad reputation. This is the exact opposite of what you want.
My final piece of advice is a generic piece of marketing wisdom:
—Interesting people are interested in people.
If you want to grow as a church, visitors must get the sense that you care about them.
If people get the sense that all you care about are numbers, getting bigger, or your theology, they will sense it and move on to another church.
Seek to add value to people's’ lives, and the community’s word-of-mouth will work for you.
There is no better plan for long-term sustainability than excellently adding value to a community.
Be a light for Jesus Christ in your town as well as you possibly can. Shine his light in dark places. People are attracted to churches that are attracted to them.
Be attracted to the lowest of the low.
Author: Paul Maxwell, Ph.D., is the Content Strategist at Tithe.ly. He lives in Fishers, IN with his beautiful wife and rowdy wheaten terrier.