What are the basic steps
to starting a new church?
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A new congregation can be started with a prayer of faith, a temporary location, a time to meet, a few songs to sing, Scriptures to read and people willing to discuss them. Do not let ANYONE convince you that you must have more than that. You can let the spending of money and the development of more complex plans and policies wait until you know what you need. Also, do NOT start a new group by "ordaining" some folks as ministers or elders or setting up a detailed organizational structure for governing what may amount to only a handful of people. By doing so you will be ordaining (pun intended) problems for the new church that, in the future, will be very difficult to solve
The foundation of any new group of believers must be the worship of God in spirit and truth, made possible by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and the love of God in the heart of each member. Christ himself promised that, no matter what the size of the church group is, his presence will be with them.
"Again I say to you, that if two of you on earth shall agree concerning any matter that they wish to request, it shall be done for them by My Father, Who is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there, I am in the midst of them." (Matthew 18:19-20, Holy Bible in Its Original Order - A Faithful Version (HBFV) throughout)
This section of How to Start a Church! discusses some basic issues that need addressing when beginning a new group.
Finding a meeting place for services
Naming the new fellowship
Setting up a schedule for services
Organizing music and praise for the congregation
Establishing how God's word is taught
Creating a statement of beliefs and practices
Handling church finances
Finding a meeting place for church services
Finding a place to worship is an important decision, but it is not critical in the sense that any mistakes made can be corrected - provided you do not over-commit yourself. A congregation should never think about buying a building until they have successfully met together for a number of months or even years. Do not even sign a long-term rental contract until your congregation is stable. A new congregation's needs may change quickly, or you might not know exactly what they are, yet. You may be offered a cheaper rate for a long-term commitment, but the savings is not worth it if there is any chance that a poor hall choice will divide your group. Even a facility that normally only works with long-term contracts should let you meet there once to "try it out" or give you a short lease the first time.
The type of meeting place you will need depends greatly on the nature of your congregation. Small congregations composed primarily of a small group of brethren can meet in a variety of houses or other facilities and easily inform each other of changes in location. However, others want to visit your congregation without much notice, or if your congregation has begun evangelism, then a stable meeting time and place is important. Also, a building that is centrally located, easy to find and easy to give directions to is important. If possible, avoid meeting in areas that are known for lack of parking, crime, noise, or other possible distractions or problems that could hinder church attendance.
The meeting room needs to be large enough to comfortably seat all of the brethren with a little space left over for unexpected guests. If someone has to sit on the floor once in a while, do not worry, our Savior taught people while they were sitting on the ground. Seating should be arranged so that people may enter or exit during the meeting with a minimum of disruption. If small children are present, a separate room should be available for parents to take crying or fussing children that would otherwise disrupt the service. (If you feel that such a room is unnecessary, talk to someone who currently has a child under 2 years old!). Bathrooms should be located where people of all ages can easily get to them.
The facility should be cheerful both inside and out. It is very hard to be excited about going to a dreary building. Ideally, the meeting room should contain a piano, sound system, speaking stand, and chairs already set in place. These factors should enter into your decision, but not make it since there are ways to work around each of them.
Below are some suggested meeting places and the pros and cons of each. When a congregation is looking for a new meeting place, the first thing to do is ask each potential member to check the availability and cost of facilities that they already know about. If a suitable place is not found, try asking the local chamber of commerce or any association of businesses in each city where you might meet. You can also try using a phone directory and lookup halls, churches and clubs in the cities you wish to meet in, or use Internet search engines like Google, Bing! or Yahoo! to find meeting places.
Meeting in Homes
These are the obvious choice to get started. They are private, there is little cost, and bathroom, kitchen and "mother’s room" facilities are always there. Nevertheless, these facilities should not be taken for granted: it is a lot of work to clean a house, before and after a service. The host’s cost for water, telephone, heat, air conditioning, paper towels, tissues, etc. will all probably increase. If one person’s home is continually used for services, the congregation should at least offer to help clean it or to compensate them in some way. (If the host clearly wants to contribute his home for services, let him do it.)
Some cities may have zoning ordinances against church meetings in residential areas, though the government usually cannot take any action unless one or more neighbors complain. Obviously, brethren should be careful not to offend the neighbors of the host—not using street parking that neighbors normally use and not making excessive noise. If you live your beliefs, you will want to be a good neighbor. If your services are creating a hardship for the host’s neighbors, find a solution to the problems you are causing or move somewhere else. On the other hand, if neighbors are complaining primarily to persecute you, you probably do not need to stop. If you state that you meetings are private (not public), but that people who want to worship according to your church covenant are invited, then zoning rules for public meetings probably do not apply.
Meeting in Existing Church Buildings
These buildings are usually designed to do exactly what you want to do and are available in all sizes. Congregations that are short on money are often happy to rent their facilities when they are not using them. The major difficulty with securing the use of an existing church building is religious animosity: people may not want to rent to believers with different beliefs because that would "legitimize them".
If you approach the issue like this: "We are all trying to do our best to live as we understand the Scriptures and we will not judge each other," the chances of sharing a building will be greater. When groups actually work together and get to know each other, it is much easier to see how much they have in common—that they are each attempting to follow the Bible, even though they may not agree exactly how.
It is often difficult to know which church groups would be willing to rent their facilities for weekly services. Some groups may simply have too much trouble getting approval from their governing bodies. Others may have too many activities to make room for another group. When one group observes a Sunday Sabbath and the other a Saturday Sabbath, it can be easy to share the same space. Also, this author has heard of a few cases where one group will have morning services, another group will have afternoon services on the same day, and the two share a time in the middle— either for food and fellowship or for singing praise.
Many church buildings have a "fellowship hall" or "classroom" separate from their main "sanctuary". These rooms are frequently much better for setting up tables and chairs and studying the Bible in an interactive way. Many congregations are much more willing to rent these rooms than they are to rent their "sanctuary".
Meeting at Businesses
Numerous businesses have meeting rooms, classrooms or open-air office space that could be used for a congregation’s services. Most of these businesses are not using this space at all on weekends. Their biggest concern is the security of their business: will everything in the same place each Monday morning that it was Friday at closing? Most businesses will not let a group use their facilities unless someone who works at the business also attends the meetings to make sure that nothing "goes wrong". Nevertheless, the people who attend your services should think about the businesses where they or their close relatives might find a meeting room. Sometimes, these facilities are made available without charge. Whether charged or not, you will certainly want to make sure that you leave the facility in the same condition that you found it.
Meeting in Residential Meeting Rooms
Larger apartments, condominiums, trailer parks and retirement homes may have a meeting room that could be used for services. These facilities usually have parking, rest rooms and other essentials quite nearby. They are inexpensive, but usually someone from your group must live there. Before using, be sure that the sounds from any adjacent laundry, game rooms, pools, etc. will not bother the services. Brethren need to be sensitive to the needs and rights of other tenants. If too much parking space is consumed or if adjacent game rooms are monopolized by "children from church" after services, the tenants will rightfully complain.
Meeting in Community Centers, Schools or Libraries
From 20-person conference rooms to 1000-seat auditoriums, public facilities are often very good and can be inexpensive. Unfortunately, the people who schedule such rooms may have regulations forbidding their use by church groups. The regulations vary greatly from one place to the other. Additionally, it may not be possible to have a "private" meeting in a "public" facility - which can open up potential problems. Also consider that some public facilities are hard to reserve on a continuing basis. Civic and school special events many times take priority over someone who regularly rents a room.
Meeting in Clubs or Service Organization Buildings
There are numerous social, partly-political, and partly religious organizations that build halls and may be willing to rent them every week. In the United States, groups such as the American Legion, Eagles, Elks, Kiwanis, Knights of Columbus, Lions, Masons, Moose, Odd-fellows, Rotary, and Veterans are examples. Most of them rent their hall as a sideline to defray expenses, and will always put the needs of their own group first (weddings or even parties). Some may have a few annual events that will prevent usage some weeks. Some will have non-biblical symbols and paintings that you may wish to cover up during meetings. Some of these groups have connections with occult practices; if brethren in your congregation are offended by them, it would be better to meet somewhere else. Not all of these clubs will be listed in the phone book, but the local chamber of commerce will usually know about them. They frequently have good kitchens, mother’s rooms, and other extras. Make sure several people see the facilities before agreeing to rent them—some have a permanent odor of cigarettes; some are poorly maintained.
Meeting in Halls for Rent
These facilities are usually more expensive, but dealing with them is straightforward since their owners are in business to make a profit. If you agree to their price and make reservations before other customers, they will usually agree to rent their facility years in advance. There may be extra charges around holidays when hall demand is higher. It is generally better to pay a higher price than to go through the confusion of changing to a different building. Realize, though, that if someone else wants to book the facility for a solid week or more, the owner would not like to refuse them just because a congregation has booked the facility for part of a day. It is important to keep friendly communication open and even ask if there are any fairs or other local events where the facility has been booked solid in the past. The last thing you would want is to show up to your service location, find a convention in progress and a manager who "forgot" that this 2-week convention and your weekly contract have a "point of collision". A good facility, available 51 weeks of the year, is usually better than a poor one available 52 weeks. But the larger a congregation, the more important is a consistent meeting place.
Hotel and Restaurant Meeting Rooms
These kinds of meeting rooms are easy to find, but relatively difficult to book on a consistent basis. Hotels and restaurants build meeting rooms to attract customers to their main business, not to specifically make money from rentals. A hotel may rent a meeting room for $100 for one day, but they would much rather give it away free to a convention that uses 50 rooms at $50 per night. A restaurant would rather have a room full of people ordering food and drinks, than just a room full of people studying. Other difficulties with these types of rooms include noise from other customers, lack of privacy, no "mother’s room" and often a complete prohibition from snacks or pot-luck meals (hotel/ restaurant food only). The environment just frequently oriented toward worldliness rather than worship. These rooms may provide a place of meeting in an emergency, but usually do not work well on a long-term basis.
Naming a new church
All believers must first and foremost recognize that we are part of the one Church (from the Greek Ekklesia, meaning "assembly") made up of all people with the Holy Spirit. Congregations should not try to give themselves a name that describes them entirely (Catholic, Universal, Global, International, All-Inclusive, Transcontinental, etc). One humanly devised group does not represent the entire Church. Churches that use such names often get mixed up and begin thinking that they are the only true assembly of God.
The opposite reaction is to say "God knows His people and our human congregation is nothing, so we will not take any name." Invariably, outsiders will make up a name for a group that does not name itself, even if it is something like "John Smith's Church", "that former-Baptist Group", "the Town Hall Congregation", or "those heretics". It is probably better to choose a name for a group than it is to let others choose a name. Furthermore you will need a name if you want to place a phone book or newspaper add, write any correspondence or literature in the name of your congregation, establish a bank account, etc.
While the word "church" in the Bible sometimes refers to all believers everywhere, it also sometimes refers to a single, local congregation. The names used for congregations occur many places in the Bible. These local names start with the word "Church", frequently add "of God" or in one case "of Christ" (Romans 16:16), and usually conclude with a preposition and place name ("at Corinth" or "of the Thessalonians"). This formula can still sometimes be used today but with two additional issues that need to be considered.
The names "Church of God", "Assemblies of God" , "Assemblies of Christ" and others that use common Bible words are used (and owned) by existing denominations. An independent group may wish to avoid those names simply to avoid being confused with those denominations.
Believers are much less unified than they were in the first century. One independent congregation usually does not represent the entire set of converted people in a particular geographic area. There are many other believers in Seattle who do not attend "The Church of God in Seattle".
These problems can be avoided by calling the group a "Fellowship", "Congregation" or "Meeting" rather than "the Church." Greatly limiting the geographic area can also help. The Market Street Seattle Fellowship" is more accurate. It does not claim to define who is in the Church at all - it just declares that certain people get together to fellowship at that place. This kind of name may sound too local or too humble, but that may be exactly what you want: a local, humble group through which God can do great things.
You want to avoid using the same name as another group both to avoid confusion and prevent legal problems. If you include a place-name in your title, it is much easier to be sure you are not duplicating someone else's name - you need only look in your local phone books and newspaper church listings to be sure that you are not duplicating another group's name. (If you do not include a place name, e.g. "Congregation of the Almighty God", you would have to search your entire state or country to avoid a name conflict.)
It is also highly recommended that new congregations not be named after leaders, dead or alive (1Corinthians 1:11 - 17; 3:1 - 10). Also, do not name a congregation after a particular doctrine or practice (baptism, form of government, speaking in tongues, etc.). While many groups do this, it tends to serve as a point of division. By placing a doctrine in the name, it may attract people who already believe the doctrine, but it will discourage those who do not believe it. Yet, if the doctrine is true, the very ones who need to hear it are those who do not yet believe it. For example, a person who does not believe in baptism might avoid the Hill Street Baptist Church, but be willing to attend the Hill Street Congregation and learn about baptism when someone there simply decides to teach about it.
Setting up a schedule for services
Some groups operate quite successfully with little more than a starting time and place for their meetings. Others print a timed schedule each week and largely stick to it. In general, more scheduling is needed for larger groups and less for smaller ones. Long-time friends are comfortable with each other even if the service is delayed and they end up waiting for half an hour talking. People just beginning to attend for the first time may be uncomfortable if they do not know what to expect or if there is nothing to do. Nevertheless, no schedule should be so strict that it cannot be changed when the Holy Spirit provides direction.
The items that will go into a plan for services will depend largely upon the people and the spiritual gifts available. Most schedules will include opening and closing prayers, congregational singing, special music, prayers for those in need, announcements and some either Scripture reading or a message with comments and questions. Some include a time for people to prophesy or speak in tongues and interpret. Some hold a communion service (bread and wine - 1Corinthians 10:16; 11:17 - 33) every week, others only occasionally. There should always be a time reserved for any member who believes he or she has something God wants them to say to the congregation.
Activities and teachings directed at younger people are necessary if they are a part of the congregation. Find the brethren that are most gifted at teaching young people. This author has seen much debate about whether young people should be separated from their parents during a service. Obviously, if young people are separate, teaching can be tailored directly to their level of understanding. On the other hand, it is vital for children to see their parents participate in the main service and for them to understand as much as possible of what actually takes place there. Lessons directed toward children can be presented with adults present - the children can learn and the adults can frequently learn something from the children. The overall schedule of your services should be based upon the congregations and its needs.
Breaking the service up into sections with a short break in between allows people to come and go for the parts of the service most applicable to them. Some groups have youth lessons before the main service. Others have a praise service of all singing for 30 to 60 minutes. Still others have a prayer service. People can then attend those sections that are important to them. When this kind of format exists, it is important for brethren to encourage each other not to "hide" from things that they might actually need. If God wants someone to learn to sing or pray for others, that person may need to be encouraged to attend the praise or prayer service, even though they may feel like they do not want to.
When people begin a new service, especially if they are participating as they never have before, they often want to stay much longer than when they just "went to hear a message". This is a very good thing, but it also makes serving food important - either a snack or a full meal. People simply stay at any event longer when there is food - especially if it is good food. Groups that have several different segments to their services, or a service followed by a Bible study may want to serve the food between events. If all of the events run one after another, it is best to serve the food at the end - more people will stay and talk. Serving at the beginning is better than not at all - this may be required if the meeting facilities do not have refrigeration. As with everything else, there will probably be people in your congregation who are gifted with preparing, organizing and serving food. Let them serve in this way, and thank God for them.
Fortunately, the Scriptures clearly indicate how to handle the issue of dress at services:
"Now then, if a man comes into your synagogue wearing gold rings and dressed in splendid apparel, and there comes in also a poor man in lowly apparel, And you give preference to the one who is wearing the splendid apparel, and say to him, "Seat yourself here in the best place"; and you say to the poor man, "Stand over there," or, "Sit here under my footstool"; Then have you not passed judgment among yourselves, and have made yourselves judges with evil opinions?" (James 2:2-4)
Some people will be quick to point out that priests, Levites and others who came before God were told to wear special clothes that were to be clean and in good repair. Cleanliness and neatness are goals for us to individually strive for, but James makes clear that a "dress code" should NOT be enforced. God looks at the heart more than the clothes. Even though many Christian groups have their ministry or choirs wear special robes, there is no New Testament example of this. Indeed, the design of such robes is often not like the garments described for Old Testament priests, but like clothes worn by other religions. People in the New Testament always perceived that Christ and the Apostles were servants of God by what they said or the miracles they did, not by what they wore. The principles of cleanliness, neatness, and modesty can be taught without invoking a dress code or judging people who attend.
It is also important to realize that the Bible does not command us to dress according to "the upper class style of the day." Would services be better if all men wore tuxedos and women wore formal dresses? Should men always wear suits and ties? Should women always wear dresses and high heels? Should people buy clothes for services that they would otherwise never wear? There does not seem to be any biblical precedent for any of these things. Paul teaches that services should not be a place where impressive clothing is shown off for its own sake (1Timothy 2:9).
Some people take the opposite approach. They study the history of clothes and may conclude that neckties are patterned after ancient phallic symbols and therefore cannot wear them in good conscience to a worship service. Other people believe that prostitutes invented high heels and that wearing them is physically harmful to the body. Still other people believe the Bible teaches that they should wear fringes, hats, beards or other things. This author has seen long papers written on all of the above subjects. We should not be offended at people for following any dress custom they believe is Biblically based. We might learn something if we ask them why they do it. We might not agree with what we hear, but at least we will understand. Those who believe they have knowledge about the history of certain clothing should not be offended by those who do not. Nevertheless, if someone becomes offended, Matthew 18:15 - 17 is there to handle the difficulty.
Music and Praise
The Bible contains hundreds of references to the use of music to praise God. Angels sang at the creation (Job 38:4 - 7) and Christ and His Apostles sang just before He suffered (Matthew 26:30).
Many believers understand the need for music and praise and have a good idea as to how they will implement it in their new congregation. They may not learn too much new from the rest of this section. But this author knows of congregations that were started for important doctrinal reasons, and music and praise were simply considered an "extra" - possibly something that might give some people a good feeling, attract a few visitors, or give musicians a place to perform. Any plan to start a new service should make music an integral part of service. Praise can take the form of a shout, clapping hands, musical instruments and a whole lot more.
A service must utilize the kind of music and praise that those who attend are capable of producing. You must start with what is available. Many congregations prefer to use overhead projectors or computer projection to provide song words to their congregation. Others prefer hymnals - or may have to use them until they are able to obtain the projection equipment. Even with projection equipment, a certain number of copies of hymnals are usually needed for choirs and/or musicians. A new congregation must also decide what will be used for the source of congregational music. Below is a list of some FREE sheet music that can be used to worship God during services.
If most of the people forming a new congregation are from a previous group, the simplest thing is to keep using the same music. However, it can be quite a problem. When an independent group splits from a major denomination, how are they really independent and separate if they go on to use the old group's hymnal? Furthermore, the old denomination may refuse to sell hymnals to independent groups. In other cases, the brethren forming a new congregation have no common musical background.
Musicians and leaders of the congregation will simply have to make a decision to procure the most appropriate music available to begin praising God at the new services. Hymnals and overhead transparencies of all kinds can be obtained at a discount from book sellers or from the Internet.
How many ways are there for setting up music during services? It is important to understand that it is possible to praise God whether your congregation has a lot of musical talent or a little. Thanks to inexpensive electronics, a number of affordable options are available. This author believes that live music is preferable to recorded since it is produced by men and women with the Holy Spirit in them and can capture and express the inspiration of what God is doing at the moment. Recorded music can be inspiring, but it will always be predictably the same, every time. The Bible commands us to continually praise God, not to offer Him re-runs of old praises.
A worship team with a choir and musical instruments is the best. Large scale musical productions are staged to honor all manner of individuals and groups in this world; we should give our best to honor God. Make the most of whatever talent you have - do not try to imitate some other group. Accept imperfect musicians as long as the overall effect is enjoyable for most people - musicians get better by doing it.
Lacking a choir or band, a piano accompanist is probably the most flexible. Finding a piano is not the problem it once was. Electronic pianos that sound and feel much like the real thing are in music stores at a reasonable price. The smaller keyboards may need an external amplifier - a portable home stereo can work. If your congregation does not have a piano player, most praise and worship music can be played by someone with a guitar, accordion or auto-harp.
Lacking live musicians, many hymnals have matching CDs and tapes - featuring either piano, small group or full orchestra accompaniment. Tapes specifically designed for accompaniment do not have the main melody voices recorded, which is good. The most important part, the singing words of praise, must be supplied by the congregation. There are some massive DVD-based systems for church accompaniment that have 5000+ songs, options for projection of words, transposition into any key and a host of other features for about $1000. Christian stores and music stores usually sell them.
If accompaniment CDs and tapes are not obtained, the congregation singing along with any hymn or praise and worship tape will work.
Putting all technology aside, a strong singer who will stay on key and in rhythm can lead inspiring music. This method has a many-thousand-year track record of success.
Any group can READ or praise in unison. Responsive readings hold attention and can be inspiring.
Encourage everyone to get involved in music and praise. Those who can play instruments should be encouraged to do so. Since no instruments are specifically condemned in the Bible, we conclude that we may use any of them. If someone sings or plays an instrument poorly, do not shut them out, but every few months or so encourage them to do something that they have learned well (do not let services become a burden to others by often forcing them to listen to poor music).
Anyone can buy or borrow pre-recorded music, listen to it, and bring the best to services to play as "special music" during church. Part of the listening job is to listen for words that have an acceptable message. Accept a wide variety of styles. While some styles (e.g. "punk" and "heavy metal") may be too devoted to destruction and negativism to be useful in a service, most popular music styles can be used for positive, uplifting praise. Parents' and children's musical tastes can often be united around an energetic praise song with a good message. Hand-clapping, foot stomping and rhythm instruments are great ways to involve almost everyone. It is biblical, relaxing and fun (Psalm 47:1; 98:8; Isaiah 55:12).
Use wisdom in trying not to offend others with music that they are not used to. Music should be a force for unity, not for division. If you have visitors that like only older hymns, that is not the day to bring out your most energetic praise music. Furthermore, Paul clearly instructs that services should be conducted "decently and in order" (1Corinthians 14:40). People should never be wild and "out of control" no matter how excited they are to praise God.
Scripture reading was a part of Synagogue worship when Jesus attended (Luke 4:16 - 17; Acts 15:21) and it still is today. Synagogues have a system in place whereby the entire first five books, plus parts of other books are read every year. On any given week, the same scriptures will be read everywhere throughout the world. However, if you use this system, you will never cover large parts of the Old Testament or any of the New Testament. Some people augment this system with other readings, but most Christian congregations simply set up another system of Bible reading that makes sense for them.
Scripture reading can be the main part of a new service if there are few people with the gift of teaching. People who are used to "being preached to in church" may find some difficulty in going to church without a sermon, but this usually wears off after a few weeks.
If the topic is published beforehand, brethren can read the scriptures ahead of time and will usually be ready with questions and comments. Some groups have people stand to read, others remain seated. Some use a microphone, some do not. Some have only adults read, others see it as an important activity for children to participate in. Most importantly, the scriptures need to be read so that they can be heard. Some allow questions and comments after a few verses, others wait until an entire chapter or section is complete.
No matter what format is used, the congregation will learn truth - because they are reading God's words. Certainly, there will be some incorrect comments made, but this is a chance for the experienced person to gently correct errors, and a chance for everyone to exercise discernment. There is no need to have everyone read from the same translation. It is an advantage for people to silently read along from different translations. That way, it is easy to notice and discuss places where translations are significantly different.
Teaching the Word
Most people are used to extensive, one-way teaching in services - usually called a sermon. If groups do not have someone to give a sermon, they may play a pre-recorded message from an audio tape, CD or DVD. With the advent of the Internet, the option also exists to listen to messages LIVE over the Web from church groups that provide such services. Such presentations of God's word, however, do not allow for the questions and answers so frequently found in the Bible. A speaker can sound like he knows so much and cause many new believers to trust in his words - until someone asks good biblical questions about his teaching - questions that he may not be able to answer. Christ and the Apostles were able to answer the hardest of questions that were asked of them. That is the sign of a good teacher.
Obviously, there are few teachers who are as gifted as Christ and the Apostles. However, it is better to have a teacher who is truthful and willing to admit what he does not know, than it is to have a teacher who is powerful, eloquent or charismatic.
The goal of teaching is to ask God to use people to teach what He wants taught at each service. Even poorer live speakers are often better than tapes. People clearly pay more attention to live presentations. Also, there is no possibility of asking the speaker questions when a tape is played.
If your congregation progresses to the point where you are teaching many new people, experienced teachers who can expound a topic at length are sometimes needed. One way for brethren to learn to deliver quality live messages is to give "book reports" or "article reports" on truthful, inspiring literature. This approach maximizes speaking opportunity and reduces the amount of research work (only one source is used). Another approach is for teachers to take lessons from their own experience and explain them in the light of Scripture.
Services should be edifying and encouraging to all. They are probably not the best place for detailed discussions of complex or controversial doctrines (such as the exact nature of Jesus Christ before His human birth, the Hebrew calendar, speaking in tongues, etc.). Such teachings are important, however, and can be held after services or as a separate Bible study.
Exhortation (encouragement) is different than teaching - a person who exhorts says little that his listeners do not already know, but encourages and motivates them to do a better job of what they already know they should do. ("Preaching" often encompasses both "teaching" and "exhortation".) Some people clearly have the gift for exhortation, and some do not. A person who encourages others must be able to do so in love - without making himself appear better than others.
Creating a statement of beliefs
It is a mistake to try to write an all-inclusive statement of beliefs. Such statements do not have the space to explain exactly how such doctrines were derived from the Bible. But no one should believe any doctrine without such an explanation. Doctrinal statements have a tendency to leave members complacent, reasoning that their congregation has all of the important doctrines "worked out." It would be far better if each member would write for themselves a summary of what they believe and why on each important issue.
Also, it is important to realize that people do not have to believe exactly the same thing in order to fellowship and serve Christ together.
On the other hand, there is a need to have some agreement on the practices that will be used in your congregation. You will not be very effective if you cannot agree on the day to worship or what constitutes Scripture. A person who intends to become a member of a congregation should have a written idea of what the group is about. Any governments or businesses that deal with the congregation should be able to see that it really does have a religious purpose and is not a sham.
Handling church finances
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.
Do not pass a collection vessel (e.g. plate or box) at services. This may sound odd to some, but there is no Biblical example of passing a collection plate or box in a service. (1Corinthians 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 your alms, 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 not only how much money is received but how it is 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.
Lastly, although it is tempting, avoid using church services 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.
Very small 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 efforts. Each member is free to handle the tax aspects of their work in whatever manner they choose. The congregation 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.
Sometimes there is a need to pay cash 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.
Please note that the above suggestions will likely NOT work for cases where the fellowship 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. 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.
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 a reasonable cost. 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.
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 - "Providing honest things not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight 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. For example, it will not be possible to give people a year-end total of their offerings or to confirm if a person wants to be sure that a certain offering they gave was received. 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 fellowships and churches that do keep records of contributions the following is suggested.
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.
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.
- 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.