If you're wondering how to start a church in Alabama, this article will provide the steps required to successfully navigate the process:

  1. Choose and register a name.
  2. File organization documents with the Secretary of State.
  3. Name an incorporator and a board of directors.
  4. Obtain a Federal Employer Identification Number (EIN).
  5. Apply for tax exemption through the IRS.
  6. Apply for Alabama tax exemption.

Starting a Legal Church in the Heart of Dixie

Starting a church begins simply enough. First, decide upon a name for your church. The name you choose for your church begins to establish your brand. Your name cannot conflict with any other organization already registered. Follow these steps:

You can reserve an available name by submitting the proper paperwork to the Alabama Secretary of State. In Alabama, this step is mandatory. The form that must be filed is title "Name Reservation Request Form for Domestic Entities."

You can file by mail, courier, or online. Turnaround for Standard mail is dictated by the order received. Expedited processing takes less than three business days, and online processing takes less than 24 hours. The processing fees for these three options are $10, $25, and $28, respectively.

IRS Requirements

The Internal Revenue Service requires some combination of the following to start a religious organization with tax-exempt status:

  • Distinct legal existence.
  • Recognized creed.
  • Defined and distinct ecclesiastical history.
  • Formalized doctrine.
  • Regular church services.

Additionally, the church cannot lobby or intervene politically, take part in anything illegal, or financially benefit individual/shareholders.

Starting a Legal Church: Next Steps

In order to ensure legal and tax standing, take the following step:

  1. Incorporate with the Alabama Corporation Commission.
  2. Complete initial organization documents as required by the Secretary of State. Be sure to include a dissolution clause.
  3. Apply for a Federal Employer Identification Number (EIN) using IRS Form SS-4. An EIN is required before 501(c)(3) status can be secured and is required to open a bank account and/or establish PO Box.
  4. Establish incorporator(s) and Board of Directors. Do your best to recruit people with personal and professional status in line with your vision to provide support and insight and even community outreach. The incorporator(s) sign the Articles of Incorporation. Be sure to enumerate board responsibilities.

Director/Officer requirements in Alabama include the following:

  • Must include three or more naturalized persons.
  • Majority quorum.
  • A two-director committee minimum: president, one or more vice-presidents, secretary, treasurer, and other officers. Two or more offices may be held by the same person, except the positions of president and secretary.
  • 1- to 3-year terms.
  • Appointment of a Registered Agent to receive legal notices.

Your First Board of Directors Meeting

At your first board of director's meeting, you should elect officers of the board. Describe, detail, and adopt bylaws and other required policies (including authorization to open a church bank account). You may want to discuss the details of bylaws regarding the following:

  • Qualification requirements of membership.
  • Selection and expulsion requirements for board and staff.
  • Time and place of the required annual meeting.
  • Staff/clergy/board compensation policy.
  • The process to fill vacancies.
  • Notice for meetings.
  • Directors/officer responsibilities.
  • Conflict of interest policies.
  • The method for amending bylaws.

Next, apply for 501(c)(3) status with the IRS. Note that this process can take 12-18 months. Include your church bylaws and constitution in your application.

Upon securing 501(c)(3) status, set up a bank account as a nonprofit. Ensure appropriate management and oversight of account. The bank account can be established as a regular account prior to obtaining 501(c)(3) status and then updated to a nonprofit account after the status update.

Finally, secure Alabama sales tax exemption. This step requires 501(c)(3) status, so consider the 12-18 month nonprofit application schedule in your planning

Steps For Church Planting

Sometimes referred to as mission-driven "church planting," this process mirrors and supplements the establishment of an Alabama church, following the same requirements. Additionally, you should follow these steps:

  1. Meet with Associational Missionary to secure an endorsement from the Alabama Association for Planting. Register with the North American Mission Board (NAMB). NAMB will inform the Alabama State Board of Missions (ALSBOM), which will, in turn, contact the prospective planter.
  2. Complete the online application. Include four references, who should be encouraged to respond quickly to help ensure efficient processing. ALSBOM will verify references as well as perform background and criminal checks of the applicant.
  3. Upon favorable application processing, you will receive an invitation to a two-day assessment retreat where multiple candidate couples will be assessed by experienced planting professionals. Passing the assessment report provides the opportunity to apply for congregational assistance, which can include a $5,000 startup grant, a 25-percent grant (not to exceed $25,000) for property purchase, meeting site rental cost assistance, and assistance with loans for first unit buildings.

Note: Each funded planter and, at minimum, one additional church leader is required to attend Alabama Church Planting Basics before being approved or within six months of approval.

While the process can first seem daunting, taking each step described above one by one will get you one step closer to realizing your dream. And if you need help with starting a church in Alabama, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.