“Thanks, but I think I’m good.”
That was my naive, dismissive response to a CPA from the church I was a part of. He volunteered to help get our church plant established as a 501(c)3 organization, write our bylaws, and a bunch of other things I had no idea about that I was sure I didn’t need help with.
The legalities of church planting were some of the furthest things from my mind at the beginning. Vision, passion, Bible teaching, evangelism… those were the things I wanted to focus on. After all, those are the things God is focused on, right? Yes, but there’s a catch.
Reaching people requires resources.
Resources require stewardship.
Stewardship requires faithfulness (see 1 Corinthians 4:2).
It’s the nature of the beast.
I wish business and buildings and budgets had nothing to do with church, but if we’re going to be successful in funneling resources into reaching people, buying buildings, and paying staff, we have to be good at this technical, legal, administrative side of ministry.
Ministry has a business side.
You can run a Bible study potluck out of your house till Jesus comes back, but to build a church and function legally within our culture, we have to recognize and be faithful with the business side of the church. You cannot afford to ignore it or do it halfheartedly.
Make sure those who handle the money are trustworthy and experienced.
You should know them, trust them, and they should have a track record of integrity. There’s a lot that can be said here about best accounting practices, checks and balances, etc., but I’m not here to write an accounting handbook. Just know this: Getting the right people in these key positions can make or break you.
Build a board who will support and guide you.
Apart from the fact that a Board of Directors is required for all 501(c)3 organizations, your Board can be one of your greatest allies and support systems. A word of warning: Giving power is easy; Removing power can be ugly. Be prayerful and careful who you appoint to a position of leadership and authority.
Make sure you have legal council.
I waited way too long to secure a lawyer for our church. I’d recommend a Christian (if at all possible) lawyer who knows the laws in your state and city and who can advise you and your Board on legal matters and, preferably, even real estate. Our attorney is all of those things + a pot of gold. He’s joined a few board meetings and helped us navigate some tricky terrain. It would be great if you didn’t need an attorney, but don’t kid yourself. People will surprise you.
Back to that CPA…
“Hey! About that offer you made me a while back… I think I could use some help after all.” Once I came to my senses and realized I had a professional CPA offering to help me be legal and setup for success, I jumped at the opportunity. Here’s the cool part: I asked him to join my board as a legality at first, but he’s turned into one of the longest-lasting and most influential board members I have. Ten years running, and I couldn’t be more thankful for his help and influence. The right people in the right places are worth their weight in gold (which should be accounted for, budgeted, and reported to the IRS!).
If you’re like me, the business side of church is boring and over your head. Do your best to be as well-versed as possible in business, budgets, and legal matters, and make sure to surround yourself with people who are much smarter than you when it comes to these things!
K E V I N • M I L L E R
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