The state of California is notorious for having numerous requirements and forms to register any kind of entity as a business. To start a church in California you have to fulfill the legal requirements to register as a recognized church in order to conduct any kind of business. Church business may be as simple as paying your pastor or renting a hall. Having a fully recognized church in California will help you apply for tax-exempt status as well.

Fill out the IRS form SS-4; this is an application for an Employer Identification Number. You will need this to open a checking account and pay your employees. The state of California may require your church to get a state EIN as well; that is at the state's discretion. Contact the Employment Development Department in your city to determine if you also need to apply for a state EIN.

Write the constitution and bylaws for your church. You can find forms on the Internet or at any office supply store. This describes the purpose of your church and how it will govern itself in legal, financial and ethical affairs. Take your time in writing this. Look up samples of other church constitutions and bylaws to help you formulate one that will be specific to your church. Submit your completed constitution and bylaws for your church to the secretary of state's office in Sacramento along with a $30 filing fee and an additional $15 handling fee. If you want them to send you back certified copies (a good idea), include an additional $8 for each copy.

Read IRS publication 557 Applying for Tax Exempt Status for Your Business carefully. Fill out IRS Form 1023 Application for Tax Exempt Status, and mail this to the address listed in your current form.

Fill out and submit form 3500 from the California Franchise Tax Board. This is your application for exemption from California corporation franchise tax.

Call your insurance agent and arrange both liability coverage and workers' compensation coverage. Even if you are only paying the pastor, you must have workers' compensation insurance.

Items you will need

  • IRS Form SS-4

  • State EIN application (if required)

  • Constitution

  • Bylaws

  • $45

  • Proof of incorporation

  • IRS Publication 557

  • IRS Form 1023

  • Franchise Tax Board Form 3500

  • Proof of liability coverage

  • Proof of workers' compensation insurance

Tip

  • When you are writing the constitution and bylaws of your corporation, take the time to write a policy on how to protect the security of children in the event that you wish to provide child care or Sunday school in conjunction with your ministry.

Tip

  • Not all nonprofit corporations are considered tax exempt, and not all corporations who are tax exempt for federal tax are considered tax exempt for California tax.