Planting a new church begins with evangelism, discipleship, and the development of diverse leaders, but eventually, you have to focus on some of the nuts and bolts of solidifying your organization.
These details become the foundation for continuing the adventure in church planting. If they aren’t in place, the scaffolding can break away leaving you with problems that take the wind out of the sails of ministry.
Let’s cover three areas to focus on as you begin to plan for making your church a legal organization.
It’s easy to put the cart before the horse and call ourselves a Vineyard church without actually legally becoming one. Here are some questions to consider as you join the Vineyard family:
Are you a legal Vineyard church?
This happens after your sending pastor, area leader, regional leader, and the Vineyard National Director sign off on your release paperwork. The national office will also do a background check and then you will sign off on the trademark agreement. Unless this is done you cannot represent yourself as a Vineyard Church.
Are you participating with the Vineyard?
While attending area meetings or conferences may feel like time, energy, and financial sacrifice that takes away from church planting, these are critical times of fellowship that keep us and our leaders encouraged and equipped for the road ahead. They are not worth missing!
Are you contributing to the Vineyard?
Census updates and regular financial contributions may feel like a chore, especially if we have insecurity about our numbers. These kinds of regular contributions tell the real story of what’s happening in your church.
When our church plants are in real, vulnerable relationship with one another, the leadership of our movement can make decisions that are relevant to your situation. Without this, planters often lose steam and focus along the journey.
Church planters are often great entrepreneurs who are good at starting things. Here are some critical questions to ask when you’re building the foundation of your church organization:
Who is your board?
These are the people you trust to help you formulate your mission and vision and hold you to this task as your primary focus of ministry. Sometimes the best board of a church plant is the planting pastor and a few other pastors. This creates a safe place for mission and vision to be firmed up before developing leaders within that framework of values and priorities.
How are you measuring what is going on?
Church databases may feel out of place for a church plant but it’s often true that things grow when we keep track of them. Whether it’s a detailed spreadsheet or a more formal database, simple things like giving, attendance, names, addresses, and baptisms are critical to record and report.
How are you protecting kids and other vulnerable people?
Volunteer job descriptions, background checks, and volunteer agreements, especially for those who watch over youth and children, are written expectations that we have for one another. These create clarity and are great ways to maintain safe boundaries in how we treat the most vulnerable members of our community.
Who else do you need helping you?
It’s critical that we refer complicated and legal tasks to professionals as soon as possible. You’ll probably need to have a bookkeeper, accountant, and attorney to help define your organization in legal terms and keep your finances in order.
Every state is different but each one requires you to formally declare that you are a church. Using Texas, my home state, as a reference, they require incorporation with specific filing and reporting that leads to benefits like tax exemption, insurability, and participation with other non-profits and corporations. Here are some basic questions to help you do that:
How does your state know you are a legal, non-profit church?
This can often be answered by searching for your state’s Secretary of State and State Controller's Office. Their websites should provide every answer you need about incorporation and tax exemption.
How does the United States government know you are a legal, non-profit church?
This can be found on the IRS website. It should answer questions about receiving an Employee Identification Number and becoming a 501(c)3, tax-exempt organization. These take some financial investment for the filing and to an accountant or lawyer to help you get all the necessary documents together.
These are not the only areas to consider when taking the steps to become a legal church plant with the Vineyard and this is certainly not legal advice, but I hope these questions can help get you started on your journey!
Don't know where to start?
View Multiply Vineyard resources on Articles of Incorporation, Bylaws, Tax Exempt Status, and more.
John Aureli was on staff at the Sugar Land Vineyard for 3 years as an associate pastor leading compassion ministries. John and his wife Arleta planted the Mission Vineyard in 2011. Their desire is to send out 17 churches by 2035. John is also involved in Vineyard church planting in Argentina. John and Arleta love spending time with their two kids and do their best to adventure to Maine or Padre Island National Seashore for vacation.