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How to Start a Church: Your Guide to Ministry Building

executive pastor

Starting your own ministry and taking the lead is a significant decision that requires confidence and careful planning. It’s normal to feel scared at first due to the unknowns, but starting a church requires a commitment to face those fears.

Despite the decline in church attendance, now is actually an opportune time to start a church. Simply put, many people are looking for a new spiritual home. Many Americans have already taken this step and you can too.

Although many startup churches fail, this is often due to poor planning. With a solid strategy, effective marketing, and your unwavering commitment, you can establish a lasting worship sanctuary.

Planning for How to Start a Church

Having a well-crafted plan is crucial to start your congregation on the right track. However, as a newcomer, figuring out what to include in your strategy can be overwhelming, given the many variables involved. That said, we will provide you with some valuable insights into the key factors you should consider while planning for your startup church.

So, let’s get started:

Who will you be?

Understanding your role within your congregation is crucial.

Will you be serving as a preacher or solely as a director?

Who will you need? 

Which roles are currently vacant, and who have you already recruited?

What are the church’s values?

Define your church’s unique values and stick to your vision without deviation.

These are straightforward considerations to reflect on. Let’s now Get Started with the remaining tasks.

What’s the Church’s Denomination?

The denomination of a church is its main focal point. Assuming it’s Christian-based, the most common denominations to choose from include:

  • Roman Catholicism (1.313 billion)
  • Protestantism (920 million)
  • Independent Catholicism (18 million)
  • Eastern Orthodox (270 million)
  • Anglicanism (85 million)
  • Non-trinitarian Restorianism (35 million)
  • Oriental Orthodoxy (80 million)

These figures represent the number of worldwide church members, according to Wikipedia. In the United States, the most popular religions are Protestantism (48.9%) and Roman Catholicism (23%).

While it’s important to stick to your beliefs, it’s also crucial not to alienate potential church members by being too specific with your denomination. If it applies to you, it’s best to choose either Protestantism or Roman Catholicism and avoid going too niche by further specifying your denomination.

Your message and goals can still align with specific beliefs while being welcoming to all Protestants or Roman Catholics. Alternatively, you may want to consider starting a non-denominational church.

Knowing How to Start a Church Means Understanding Branding

Similar to launching a business, establishing a new church requires effective branding to attract potential members. A well-crafted brand can be critical in increasing attendance and fostering a community of committed followers.

Building a strong team dynamic within the church can also contribute to its growth and success, but this is only possible if the branding resonates with enough people.

What’s the name? 

Begin by reviewing some suggestions for naming a church to help you comprehend this subject. This determination will stay with you, so think it over carefully. You don’t have to be excessively imaginative with the name you choose – many churches are named after the street or neighborhood where they are situated. Don’t worry too much – it’s the identity you represent that truly matters.

Who is your target audience?

Determine your church’s target audience by identifying their mindsets. Denomination is a significant factor, but it’s important to delve deeper. As a pastor, consider which mindsets resonate with your sermons and beliefs to describe your ideal church member. While there’s no need to overthink this matter, it’s beneficial to broadly outline your target audience.

What are your church’s goals?

Knowing how to start a church requires specifying your goals. Starting a church is often motivated by a sense of calling to address a particular need or gap in the community. Reflect on what sparked your interest in ministry planting in the first place. Consider the potential impact your church can have through discipleship, and set both short- and long-term goals accordingly.

To effectively plan your church’s goals, it’s essential to adopt a strategic approach. Use the SMART goal-setting framework, which stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. This will help you to define clear and realistic goals that are aligned with your vision and mission.

Who are your pastors? 

At the beginning of the planning stage, we suggested the question, “Who do you need?” In any church, pastors play a crucial role and are the backbone of the congregation’s success. Identifying and planning around these individuals is essential.

It’s crucial to determine who your regular pastors will be and also establish connections with potential guest speakers. During the planning phase, it’s important to choose individuals who will represent your church well. While circumstances may change, always be selective and only invite quality fits for your congregation.

How to Find Pastors for Your Church

Finding a dedicated preacher for a startup church can be challenging, especially for smaller congregations. In such cases, it may be a good idea to consider an interim pastor to fill the role for the first 3-6 months, who could potentially become a permanent speaker. Putting too much pressure on a prospective pastor, especially when attendance is uncertain, can be detrimental.

With an interim pastor on board, even if they have less experience, it becomes easier to attract other preachers to your church. This could help you fill the role with a senior pastor as the lead preacher. It’s important to avoid building a congregation based solely on convenience, and make sure you’re patient when finding the right people for your team.

Ensure that all roles are filled, and consider checking online for tips on finding the right pastor for your church to better understand your options.

What Else You Should Know About Team Building

Keep in mind that selecting a new pastor can be a challenging process, especially when multiple parties are involved. To make the decision-making process easier, it’s recommended to create a constitution that outlines the steps for filling important roles. A congregation vote can be a useful tool, but it’s important to adjust the percentage of votes required as the church grows to prevent division among the team.

If you’re starting a non-denominational church, you may find it easier to attract pastors who are drawn to the idea of preaching in a more flexible and accepting environment. Emphasize the benefits of being part of a non-denominational church when recruiting new speakers.

In addition to a lead pastor, it’s essential to have multiple preachers on board, such as an associate pastor, executive pastor, assistant pastor, and youth pastor. Having a diverse team of speakers can help ensure the needs of all members are met and encourage growth within the congregation.

Interview Other Potential Staff

Ensure that the message of your team aligns with the goals you have set for your church. It is crucial that your team shares your passion for the mission and vision of the church. It is not wise to force your congregation to align with your goals just for the sake of having everything organized. All members of the church should have a genuine commitment to the cause.

Establishing the Church

Now that you have a general outline, the next step is to establish the church. This process can be exhausting as it involves mostly logistics rather than emotions. However, it’s a crucial step, and we will guide you through the most important tasks.

Location, Location, Location

As a disciple of God, you may feel called to undertake the challenge of planting your own church. With God’s guidance, you can overcome any obstacle that comes your way. Seek His direction as you embark on the journey to find a suitable chapel space for your ministry.

Once you have a clear sense of your mission, begin exploring your options and identifying your preferences.

Where do you want to plant your church? 

If you have a specific area in mind for your church plant, finding the right location can be a challenge, especially depending on your local real estate market. To start, consider looking at currently vacant churches that may fit your criteria. If none are in the right area or don’t meet your needs, you could explore converting a zoned-appropriate building.

It’s important to remember that you don’t need a full-size venue from the beginning. You can start small by renting out spaces for meetings and sermons in the early stages of your growth. This way, you can build up your team and establish relationships with members of your congregation before making a significant real estate investment.

Determine Your Costs

To ensure financial stability, it is important to establish a budget and carefully analyze your expenses. If you do not have prior accounting experience, consider taking a basic course or hiring a professional to assist you. Utilizing an accounting software program can also simplify the process.

Research cost estimates for church planting to get an idea of the expenses associated with launching and operating your own church. In addition to launch costs, consider ongoing operational costs. And to raise funds, explore fundraising and sponsorship opportunities. Be creative and seek input from your team members.

Here are some fundraising tips that can assist you in generating capital for your startup church.

Get Your Finances in Order

Ensuring that your church meets the necessary financial and legal requirements involves several critical steps that cannot be overlooked. Below, we will discuss a few key points to keep in mind.

How can you secure an EIN?

Obtaining an EIN (Employee Identification Number) is a necessary step for your church, and to do so, you will need to fill out Form SS-4. This can be done online, through mail, or by fax. For detailed information on how to get an EIN for your church, visit the IRS information page.

How do you open a church bank account?

Before opening a bank account for your church, it’s important to gather the necessary documentation. These documents typically include proof of incorporation, meeting minutes from the board meeting where the decision to open a bank account was made and signed for, your EIN number, and personal identification. It’s a good idea to check with the bank beforehand to ensure that you have all the required documentation.

How about Proof of Incorporation? 

The process of incorporating a church can vary from state to state, with most locales requiring the submission of forms to the Secretary of State. However, in Louisiana, the incorporation request is approved or rejected by the state — but the documents are stored with the local Parish. However, Michigan and Virginia have a Corporations Commission to handle the process. To determine the exact requirements for incorporating your church in your state, visit the appropriate website or contact the Secretary of State directly for information.

Incorporation is crucial for protecting the church from personal liability in case of incidents involving members or staff. Additionally, incorporating allows the church to qualify for grants from both the federal government and certain faith-based organizations. It also comes with other benefits, such as lower mailing costs and various discounts. If you are unsure about why or how to incorporate your church, educate yourself on the subject to ensure your church is adequately protected.

How can you find grants? 

If your church is incorporated, you may be eligible for various grants. To explore the available options, take a look at this easy guide for finding church grants. These grants can help with both startup and operational expenses, as well as with fundraising for a specific mission or event. You can also find more advice here on church grants and the faith-based organizations that offer them.

How do churches become tax-exempt?

Tax-exempt status is available for churches through the IRS. Once this status is granted, no further actions are required to maintain it. More information about this exemption — as well as exceptions from filing the annual information return (Form 990/990-N/990-EZ) — can be found on this page.

How to Start a Church: Marketing

After completing the administrative tasks, it’s time to focus on gaining attention for your startup church. Once you have established a presence, your next goal is to increase attendance. As your congregation grows, you can shift your focus towards increasing financial contributions and fostering a deeper commitment to the church’s mission among your active members.

Two quick pieces of advice: 

This YouTube video offers insights on how to optimize your church for growth.

The first advice provided by pastors-turned-entrepreneurs is to measure your metrics. While this is common practice in the business world, many churches fail to track enough factors to truly optimize for growth. To compile a comprehensive list of metrics to track, you can check online resources such as list-based articles and metric-tracking tool feature pages. This list can give you a good start of 20 metrics to track, and you can also consider borrowing some standard business metrics.

The second piece of advice is to strategically hire by outsourcing tasks to qualified people instead of keeping everything in-house. While it may seem easy to do everything yourself, a church marketing expert can be a step ahead. While you can handle most tasks yourself initially, it’s essential to outsource to experts as your church grows. Some tasks are more critical to outsource than others, so use your judgment and always consider their impact on your church’s growth and reputation.

Gaining Attention for Your Church

Generating exposure for a new church can be a challenging task. However, here are some proven strategies that have worked for others in similar situations:

Host a neighborhood day

Host a community BBQ event that is non-denominational and family-friendly. Think of it as a “housewarming party” for your church and an opportunity to network and establish early relationships.

Target those who live in close proximity to your church, as they are the easiest leads to convert into regular attendees. Even if they do not continue attending, they are likely to visit your church for special events or sermons.

Live stream your events on Facebook

Utilize social media platforms to increase interest in your sermons and promote your church’s message. Facebook is particularly useful for this purpose. You can live stream your sermons, talk about your church’s mission, and discuss the goals you want to achieve. Live streaming sermons held in rented venues before launching in your official space is also a great way to generate interest.

Facebook’s social reach is incredibly powerful. Use live streaming to connect with potential church members and encourage them to share content from your page, thereby increasing exposure to your church. Announce your opening day and continue to promote your church every week through this platform.

Use paid advertising tools

Utilizing local advertising techniques can be effective in promoting your church. For instance, sending out pamphlets can be a costly approach, but it can be done efficiently to minimize expenses.

Focus on targeting households within a 2-5 mile radius depending on the population of the area. Employ various means to promote your church, such as displaying posters, distributing flyers, purchasing a radio or newspaper ad, etc.

Your launch day is crucial and requires meticulous planning. Prepare your marketing materials as early as possible. Consider all possible promotional channels available and don’t hesitate to seek external assistance.

Plan separately for member retention

Maintaining church attendance can be challenging even after visitors have attended a few services. To ensure continued attendance, it is essential to foster a sense of community and build relationships with members. Engaging with everyone and creating a welcoming environment can go a long way in keeping attendance numbers up.

Establishing a Digital Footprint

In the modern era, it is crucial for every church to have a strong online presence. With people constantly seeking information and engagement online, having a well-established position on the web and social media can help your church grow.

To achieve this, there are three essential components you must have: a social media presence, a website, and a church app. In the following sections, we will discuss each of these elements in more detail.

Social Media Marketing for Your Church

Having an active Facebook page is the minimum requirement for any church in today’s digital age. You can also engage with people through other platforms like Instagram and Twitter, which have the most populated user bases and create the best marketing results.

To ensure the most ideal techniques are used, it’s recommended that you hire a social media marketing expert to handle your social pages. Each social network requires a different approach, and adapting on the fly is crucial for success. While learning how to use your church page, keep in mind that it represents your brand image and reputation.

The way it’s presented can create the first impression for potential members and impact their decision to join. Moreover, the page can engage current church members, sustaining the growth of your church. The more happy and engaged members you have, the more disciples you’ll have to serve your church.

Every Ministry Needs a Website

Your church’s website serves as a landing page for both current members and potential newcomers, making its homepage presentation critical in determining visitor engagement. The layout of your website can influence visitors to move through the various stages of a marketing funnel, leading them to take specific actions that align with your goals. Understanding website conversion funnels and their potential impact is crucial to your website’s success.

Your website has the power to direct visitors to act in ways that align with your church’s goals, such as encouraging new visitors to try your church or inspiring current members to become more involved in discipleship or financial contributions. To help you create an effective church website, we’ve compiled a list of the best church website designs we saw recently.

We provide insightful commentary on the key elements of each design, including page tabs and typography choices, and discuss the marketing strength of various design features. Taking the time to learn the intricacies of your website design can greatly enhance its effectiveness in engaging and converting visitors.

How can you easily set up a website?

Here are some options you can consider:

  1. Hire a freelancer through platforms like Upwork or PeoplePerHour, either locally or online. You can find affordable designers and developers who can bring your vision to life.
  2. Use a website builder like Wix, Weebly, or Squarespace to set up your website on your own. Although there is a recurring cost, these services offer simplicity and ease of use, making it easy for beginners to create their sites without requiring outside help.
  3. Build your website using a premium WordPress theme. You can check out the church themes available on ThemeForest, which is the most popular site for buying theme licenses. Most of the themes are very user-friendly, and the WordPress backend is also easy to use and update.

Increasing Engagement and Donations With a Church App

To boost engagement with their members, many churches are now utilizing mobile apps, which also serve as a secure donation source. With push notifications and relevant content, the right app can further increase commitment to your church. Common app features include access to regular sermons, event invitations, volunteer requests, contribution requests, and more.

Our Church Giving App is equipped with numerous payment options — including Apple Pay — and can be used to accept donations from mobile users. For even greater donation success, we have also designed a tablet-style kiosk machine, which has been shown to receive an average of 24% more donations. However, if you prefer to wait on investing in a mobile app, you can still benefit from text-to-give donations or embedded give forms for your website.

How to Start a Church: Managing Everything

In the final segment of our comprehensive guide, we will focus on crucial aspects of managing your church. We have already explored the initial planning phase and marketing strategies to increase attendance. However, it is imperative to ensure that your church is efficiently operating and fulfilling all obligations.

Some vital considerations include accounting practices, on-site security measures, event planning, and fostering discipleship growth.

How to Handle Church Accounting

It is advisable to seek the assistance of a professional for your accounting needs. While you might manage the books initially, as your church grows, it would be best to entrust this task to an expert. You may want to consider utilizing well-known church accounting software programs such as FlockBase or Aplos Church Accounting.

You can refer to this list of reviews to compare and evaluate your options.

How to Handle Church Security

Ensuring the security of your church should be a top priority. As your ministry grows, it becomes even more crucial to protect your members and staff. Below are some points to consider:

  1. Clearly define and detail all assigned roles for security personnel
  2. Run background checks on all members and volunteers
  3. Develop emergency scripts for speakers and other church leaders
  4. Invest in communication tools such as walkie-talkies for quick response
  5. Install security cameras and cover all entry points
  6. Consider the position of the pastor’s pulpit for visibility and safety
  7. Make sure everyone is aware of the exit points in case of emergency
  8. Communicate, discuss, and develop security plans with your team
  9. Watch out for any other sources of potential disruption
  10. Create a welcoming and joyful atmosphere within the church

Planning and Scheduling Events

To ensure efficient event planning and scheduling, it is advisable to involve all staff members in the process. Holding weekly meetings to discuss church activities, community engagement, and planned events can help keep everyone informed. For events involving third-party participants, you can invite guests to these meetings.

Each event requires a unique approach based on the circumstances. For instance, when planning a missionary trip, you must consider the availability of most members. In such a situation, creating a poll to determine suitable dates could be the best approach. The aim is to ensure as many members as possible can participate and maintain their discipleship.

Using a live schedule spreadsheet or a mobile app designed for teams like yours, such as Asana or Trello, could help streamline your scheduling efforts. Additionally, you must consider the financial implications of planning an event, and ensure that it aligns with your church’s budget. To offset costs, you can seek fundraising and sponsorship opportunities before the event. You could also conduct a vote with your board members to determine if the event is worth the cost before proceeding.

Building Discipleship

Growing a strong and committed congregation requires developing a meaningful relationship with each new church member. This involves fostering a sense of unity and teamwork where everyone feels like they are a valued member of your church family. The key to achieving this is to create a culture of discipleship that permeates every aspect of your growth strategy.

To learn more about cultivating a culture of discipleship in your church, read this informative article. As the article suggests, people do not become disciples overnight. Instead, they go through a process that involves attending church, getting baptized, and then becoming teachers and servants of the Lord. As a church, it is your responsibility to evangelize non-believers, establish their beliefs through baptism and teaching, and equip them with the knowledge and power to become disciples.

To build discipleship within your church, consider incorporating disciple-making sermons into your weekly services and providing opportunities for your members to teach and serve. You can also seek the guidance of a senior pastor to help you develop a comprehensive conversion strategy.

It’s Possible Once You Know How to Start a Church

Starting a church from scratch can be daunting, but that doesn’t mean you should abandon the idea altogether. With the help of God, no challenge will be too difficult to overcome. However, it will require significant planning to make everything come together successfully.

DonorWerx offers hands-on consultation services for new and established churches if you need assistance. Feel free to contact us for help. Visit our Online Coaching Page to learn more about how we can assist you in growing your church and maximizing your donations.

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