Each person is responsible for studying the Bible, living by it and working out his or her own salvation with his or her Maker. Christ gave the church the job of helping in this process in a great many ways. This congregation is but one of many local assemblies of believers that comprise the Church of which Christ is the Head.
The writing of extensive doctrinal statements encourages people to study statements, rather than study the Bible. In order to make fellowship easier, we list the following practices which are held by most of those attending our congregation, but we do not insist that these practices are essential for salvation:
We meet on the Sabbath at 12:00 noon for singing and 1:00 p.m. for our main service.
Church meetings are private, but all men, women and children - whether they are believers or not - are welcome to attend our services as long as they are willing to conform to these practices.
When a person repents and dedicates their life to Christ, we baptize him/her by immersion and have the hands of the brethren laid on that person to ask for the imparting of the Holy Spirit. When a person attending believes they have a valid conversion experience by some other method or sequence, we acknowledge that the Bible does record some exceptions to this, and that issue must be worked out between the believer and God.
Food described as unclean in Leviticus 11 should not be brought to any congregational meal nor served to other members without their approval.
Drunkenness, theft, fighting, inappropriate sexual contact, smoking or the use of mind-altering drugs at any congregation meeting or other event are not permitted because they are a danger to those attending and a bad example to everyone.
People attending services and activities of the congregation agree not to attempt to sue the congregation or any member of it in a government court but will use the procedure found in Matthew 18:15-17 and the congregation's membership covenant.
Membership in the local congregation is available to those who regularly attend more than 25 times per year and who will publicly acknowledge that they have committed their lives to God. Such membership is not a "recognition of conversion", but a commitment to serve in the local congregation.
People who are disruptive to church meetings, who continually attempt to teach false doctrine or who openly practice sin may be removed as members and/or barred from attending according to the procedure given in Matthew 18:15 - 17 and the membership covenant.
Your church or fellowship's statement of beliefs and practices should contain the congregation's name, the date it was accepted and the people who accepted it.
How to handle church income (offerings) and expenses
Many men who help to start congregations will say something like: "I am interested in preaching Christ, praising God and spiritually serving the brethren. I would rather leave the finances to paid professionals - or to someone in the congregation who likes money." Unfortunately, this does not always work out well. Judas liked money and kept charge of it for the Apostles, but he also stole from it (John 12:4 - 6). Jesus let this happen, because He needed to keep one corrupt apostle who would betray Him (John 6:70 - 71). Responsibility for collecting offerings and paying for expenses belongs to all in a congregation. When Paul was transporting an offering for the poor, the congregations chose a person to accompany him just to make sure that the offerings were correctly spent (2Corinthians 8:18 - 21).
The approach to handling a congregation's expenses can vary greatly based upon the size of the group. With small groups, and groups that are just starting out, a very informal approach is possible. Large groups, however, definitely need a formal plan.
Tips for handling church income (tithes, offerings, gifts, etc.)
Avoid using the worship service as a place to deal with monetary issues.
Even though it may seem convenient because everyone is there, Jesus was quite upset by those who were buying and selling in His temple (Matthew 21:13). Meetings can be scheduled for other times.
Do not pass a collection vessel at services.
This may sound odd to some, but there is no Biblical example of passing a collection plate or box in a service. (1 Corinthians 16:2 talks about "storing up" things, not putting them in a collection on that day.) While a congregation may receive more money by confronting people with a collection plate, the Bible teaches that giving is not to be "of necessity" (2Corinthians 9:7). When people brought money to God's temple, Jehoiada instructed the priests to put it in a box with a hole in the top (2Kings 12:9). A box or some other container with a hole on top is a good way to collect offerings. Other people may prefer to mail them in.
People have the right to give without others knowing when or how much.
"But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing" (Matthew 6:3). Records should be kept in the strictest confidence - known only to the people who maintain the records, and shared only with those who gave, in case there is a question. Records should not be used by church leaders to check up on people or to determine whether someone is 'worthy' to perform certain church responsibilities (e.g. serving like a deacon, etc.). People have the right to give anonymously if they desire - so nobody looking at records can ever be sure how much somebody gives.
The congregation has a right to know how much money is received and how it's spent.
Members whose spiritual gift is "giving" need to know if their giving is bearing fruit. If they are giving to a ministry of wood, hay and stubble, they need to realize it so they may change and build something with eternal value (1Corinthians 3:12-15). They cannot know if they do not have any way to see how the money is being spent.
Very small and/or very new congregations can sometimes be run without collection money. Members simply divide up the physical responsibilities - much like spiritual responsibilities are divided among the various spiritual gifts. For example, one member will pay for the music equipment, one for the hymnals and telephone bill, one for the refreshments, etc. Others might serve by letting the congregation use their home, vehicles or other resources. If a rental hall is used, two or three families might agree to alternate months paying the rent on the hall. Sometimes, one or more individuals can buy a church building, sound system or other assets and then lease them to the church or its members. The rental terms should be made known to any members - no member should be "getting rich" by renting to a congregation.
Still other members might agree to pay for evangelism and other church efforts. Each member is free to handle the tax aspects of their work in whatever manner they choose. The church can stay out of it completely, or if necessary, write letters to members at the end of the year acknowledging the money spent on behalf of the church. This author has seen this approach work well for years in some groups. If one person leaves the group and takes his or her resources with them, the congregation asks God to provide a replacement or show them how to get along with out it - and it usually works.
Paying expenses with cash
Sometimes, the above method covers most needs, but there is a need for some cash to pay for books, youth class supplies, evangelism needs, and other expenses. The people who have the time to do the work may simply not have the money to do it. If the brethren are willing to give offerings in cash, then the church money can simply be kept in a box in some safe place and expended by people who are authorized to do so. While this method may sound primitive, it has worked for thousands of years - even by our Messiah and His Apostles (John 13:29). Bills that must be paid by check or credit card can be paid by a member and then reimbursed with cash. While paper records of all transactions should be kept so that members can know what their church is doing, the current assets of the congregation can be known by simply counting the money in the box. This method avoids bank service charges, check purchases, accidental overdrafts and associated fees, etc.
The above two methods probably will not work for cases where the church needs to own property, pay a large variety of bills or pay church workers for their time. They work excellently for groups that are going through a certain amount of turmoil and may end up splitting into several more groups. If a congregation breaks up and the congregation owns the assets, it may take some time to decide how to divide the assets. Whereas, when individuals own the assets, they will usually take them to whatever new group they join and use them. (This author knows of cases where assets sat unused for months while a re-split church group decided how to divide them.) Sometimes, in a church "re-split", an individual can find himself owning assets that are not needed by his group. He can sell them to a group that needs them, or to anyone - this is better than trying to work with a defunct church whose governing body does not agree with its members.
Even though these methods can work for several years, it is still usually best in the long term for a sizeable congregation to develop a way to collect and spend money in its own name.
Keeping Records of Expenses
Records can be kept manually or by computer. Record-keeping will be easier for someone with accounting experience, but anyone with a good sense for math can do it. A simple journal listing the date, purchaser, the items purchased, the amount and how it was paid (cash, check, credit card) will work. More complex systems will classify each expense into categories or accounts: hall rental, sound system, music, utilities, office supplies, food, janitorial supplies, evangelism, etc. These more complex systems are much easier to do by computer. Numerous home accounting or church accounting software packages are available for $70 or less. Whatever kind of system you have should be balanced every month: the amount on hand at the beginning of the month, plus all offerings received that month, minus the amount on hand at the end of the month should be equal to the amount spent that month. If multiple people have access to the money, without some kind of method of balancing, there is no good way to tell if someone is stealing it.
Keeping Records of Offerings Received
If no record is kept of the total amount of offerings received, it will not be possible to tell if any of it is lost or stolen. Churches should be good stewards of what they are given. While money is safer with an honest man who keeps no records than it is with a room full of dishonest accountants with piles of records, most people today expect honest churches to keep some kind of accurate records "For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men" (2Corinthians 8:21).
Groups that emphasize anonymous offerings may choose not to keep records of each individual's giving. This increases privacy, but it can also produce some difficulties: it will not be possible to give people a year-end total of their offerings; if a person asks to be sure that a certain offering they gave was received, there will be no way to confirm it; dealing with checks lost by the bank or the church will also be much more difficult. All of these problems can be overcome. People should be able to keep their own records of their offerings, but many are simply used to congregations doing it - or they occasionally loose their records to fires, computer failures, etc. Pray for wisdom to know what is best for you.
For congregations that DO keep records of each individual's giving, a few points are in order:
Assign the job to only two or three people. This helps keep the records confidential, yet provides a way to continue if one person is incapacitated.
Keep the records in a safe place.
Create a page (or computerized account) for each person who might be giving. Be careful to get whatever identifying information is necessary for people with similar names - especially if there is a John Jones, Sr. and a John Jones, Jr. in the same congregation.
Make a fictitious person named "anonymous" for offerings that come from unknown sources.
Write down each offering on a separate page for each person - including the date, amount, method of payment and check or transaction number.
Also, record each offering on another page where all offerings are recorded - include the name, date and amount.
Balance the total offerings page for each month with the totals for all the individual's offerings for each month.
If anyone is ever suspicious that these records are not being kept properly, the congregation can appoint individuals to verify that the individual records match what the member actually gave, and then verify that the total offerings match the amount of money available for church purposes.
Operating as a Church
Larger and longstanding congregations often need to own property, establish bank accounts and deal with other institutions. The best way to do this is by operating with the legal status of a CHURCH. This has been done since the United States of America was founded - without the use of corporations, associations or trusts. We will use the term 'Free Church' to distinguish it from churches that are corporations, associations, etc. (Please realize that our use of the term "free church" is not a reference to denominations or groups that use the term "free church" in their title - many of those groups are now incorporated.). A free church needs a legal existence so that its members can collect offerings, spend them, own property and take other actions on behalf of Jesus Christ, rather than themselves. In order for a free church to have a legal existence, it should have documents that answer the basic questions of: who, what, when, where, why and how:
Who are the members?
The names of the initial members are frequently listed in the foundational document. These documents also contain either a procedure for becoming a member or a reference to another document describing membership.
What are they creating?
A local congregation of the one spiritual Church headed by Jesus Christ. The church is private, not public ("public" implies "government"), though all are invited to attend the congregation's meetings for their stated purposes.
When are they creating it?
The date that the documents were approved by the members will probably be considered the starting point of the church for any legal purposes. The documents can state that the congregation actually began at a previous date on which people began to meet together, but establishing a legal existence prior to the date the documents were written can be more difficult.
Where is it being created?
It is best to name the country, state and county in which the church is domiciled. Without a specific location, jurisdictional problems arise. If the church is to hold property, the county stated should be one in which the property exists. Otherwise, the church can be domiciled in a county where most members live or where the records are kept. A provision to amend the location should be added.
Why is it being created?
A clear, Biblical purpose should be stated. There is no difficulty in quoting Scripture in the foundational documents of a real free church. Its purposes should be both spiritual and physical.
How is it being created?
The foundational document must explain how people acquire the authority to act on behalf of the church. This could be as simple as naming a pastor as having authority over all church matters (this author does not recommend using this form of hierarchical church governance). Or it could describe a detailed process of church functions and how to fill them (appointment or election). Individuals need to be authorized to collect offerings, to open a bank account, to buy things for the church, to make agreements and other things on behalf of the church. The foundational document can spell this out in detail or it can refer to other documents that contain the details. Sometimes the foundational document gives a lot of authority to a few current members to act on behalf of the church - and then refers to other documents that will replace this initial plan.
There is no standard government form or laws explaining how to create a free church because governments and courts do not have authority or jurisdiction over them. There is not even a standard title for the document that creates one, but names such as Declaration of Establishment, Church Covenant, Establishment of Congregation, etc. can be used. The name is not as important as the need to clearly and truthfully write what is being done in church and biblical terms (not business or government terms).
Other documents might include procedures for fulfilling church service positions, a statement of beliefs and practices, accounting procedures, a description of the worship service, and procedures for handling complaints by members. (Matthew 18:15 - 17 should be used, but a written plan of how to "tell it to the church" helps define who will attend such a meeting, who will moderate, when it will be held, how a decision will be reached, etc.)
The details of all that could be done to establish a free church would take many more pages. See our section on resources for operating as a Free Church for some suggested information sources.
Operating as a Corporation or Association
When I began the research for this paper, I intended to include this as an option. After studying the issue much more thoroughly, I have concluded that this is such a significant mistake that I cannot recommend it at all. There is no doubt that a lot of good works have been done and a lot of people have turned their lives to God because of the work of incorporated churches. But the same can be said for religious cults and groups led by evangelists who taught some false doctrines or who were addicted to various sins. The solutions to all these problems is for all people to keep seeking God and keep doing their good works - but to also learn to stop the sins, disband the cults, correct the false doctrines and terminate the corporations. These struggles sometimes take years. But then, it took centuries for churches to break free of the church-state system; we cannot expect to instantly undo the slide back toward state-churches that incorporation has brought for about the past hundred years. It will take time, but if each new church begins without incorporation, and existing churches began to disband their corporations a few at a time, the progress will be steady and sure. It is much easier to begin a church without incorporation than it is to try to undo incorporation later.
One final thought. While the operational foundation of a congregation is important, the entire congregation must never forget that we are the representatives of Christ on earth and that we are to live as he lived and walk as he walked. If our lives do not reflect Christ, the perfect procedures and methods of operation will not make up for it.