Definition of a Church

According to the IRS

Definition of a Church

The definition for a church in the United States can get a bit complicated for tax purposes.

Let me start by saying...the IRS doesn’t actually have an exact church definition.

A former commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, Jerome Kurtz, stated the following in presenting guidelines for IRS agents in determining if an organization is a church or not:

“Since beliefs and practices are so varied, the IRS cannot define a church, but resorts to a case-by-case approach to determine whether an organization is a church.”

In order for a church to be qualified to receive tax-exempt status for the IRS, they must meet certain conditions.

IRS News Release 1930 listed the following guidelines for its agents in determining whether an organization is indeed a church.

14 Points of Criteria

  • A distinct legal existence.
  • A Recognized creed and form of worship.
  • A definite and distinct ecclesiastical government.
  • A formal code of doctrine and discipline.
  • A distinct religious history.
  • A membership not associated with any other church of denomination.
  • An organization of ordained ministers.
  • Ordained ministers selected after completing prescribed courses of study.
  • A literature of its own.
  • Established places of worship.
  • Regular congregations.
  • Regular religious services.
  • Sunday schools for the religious instruction of the young.
  • Schools for the preparation of its ministers.

**The IRS generally uses a combination of these characteristics,together with other facts and circumstances, to determine whether an organization is considered a church for federal tax purpose.