Although there are various means by which to determine if your church is a corporation, the best option is to check with your state's division of corporations. While churches may be organized as various types of business entities, filing as a non-profit is the most common and advantageous.
Determine Filing Status
Under state law, churches may organize under various statuses; however, most file as non-profit corporations. Churches are not required to file for non-profit status although many do for the sake of their members and contributors who are more likely to donate when assured the church has received that recognition. Besides tax exemptions, officials of not-for-profit incorporated churches are free of any personal debt liability that the church may incur.
A comprehensive list of all organizations that are able to receive tax-deductible contributions, known as Publication 78, is available from the Internal Revenue Service. A searchable version of Publication 78 is available from the IRS at http://www.IRS.gov/app/pub-78/. (See Resource 1.)
Most states offer an online searchable database of corporations through their department or bureau of corporations. Accompanying the business listing, the state should also provide the church’s filing status, i.e., non-profit, for-profit, etc. Many state databases allow you to use the company name or uniform commercial code as search criteria.
The U.S. Government offers the Securities and Exchange Commission’s EDGAR database for all publicly-traded corporations. (See Reference 2.) The Securities and Exchange Commission allows the general public to search its EDGAR database of filings for all publicly-traded corporations. EDGAR allows users to search corporate listings from the most recent to a host of those contained in their archives. Filings may also be searched using other user-friendly options such as a full-text search and file number searches. Hard copies of individual filings are also available via link from the SEC’s EDGAR search.
There are also private means to determine if your church is a corporation. Sites such as AmericanChurchlists.com allow you to find churches that are listed as businesses for a fee. (See Resource 3.) An online resource that is free but a bit daunting is Hoovers.com. (See Resource 2.) Hoovers will be able to inform you as to whether your church is a for-profit or non-profit corporation.
It is important to note that while churches are, by default, tax-exempt organizations, religious organizations that accrue more than $5,000 annually are not. When searching state, federal or private databases, the church’s entity name may be different from the name by which it is publicly recognized. These churches are often smaller divisions of a larger entity.