Monday, April 7, 2014

14 (or 15) Points that make a Church...according to the IRS

I was listening to a radio news report on the definition of what a church is according to the IRS.  In a segment by John Burnett he discusses the idea that the TV Network, Daystar, is considered a church by IRS standards.  Here is a link to the show.  I had never had to deal with making sure the congregations I have been a pastor of were considered a church by the IRS.  I was interested to learn what these 14/15 points were that made the IRS consider an entity a church.  Here is what I found..
In applying the analysis to determine whether a religious organization may
properly be characterized as a church, the Service considers whether the
organization has the following characteristics: (a) a distinct legal existence, (b) a
recognized creed and form of worship, (c) a definite and distinct ecclesiastical
government, (d) a formal code of doctrine and discipline, (e) a distinct religious
history, (f) a membership not associated with any other church or denomination,
(g) an organization of ordained ministers, (h) ordained ministers selected after
completing prescribed studies, (i) a literature of its own, (j) established places of
worship, (k) regular congregations, (l) regular religious services, (m) Sunday
schools for religious instruction of the young, (n) schools for the preparation of its
ministers, and (o) any other facts and circumstances that may bear upon the
organization's claim for church status. See IRM 7(10)69, Exempt Organizations
Examination Guidelines Handbook, text 321.3(3).

These terms seem so broad I was wondering if anything could become a tax exempt church?  What about a coffee house?  Could a prison?  Could a fast food restaurant become a church if they changed a few names of people?

I guess what disturbed, but not surprised, me about this piece was the Television Network's claim that since they produce worship services as TV shows that it counts as worship.  There is no formal service outside the ones shown on TV.  Now I confess I have not seen any of these shows.  I did visit the website and it looks like any other TV network website.  You can see clips from their shows but there is no scheduled worship time or location.

I am not worried that my church is not a church.  By this list we fulfill the necessary requirements.  It is a shame though that there are those people out there that are taking advantage of the system and making millions upon millions of dollars off of a loophole that the IRS is too busy to fill.

It is a great piece by John, take time to listen.

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