The Definition of "Church" May Need to be Re-Examined in a Social Media World

It is fair to say many non-profit lawyers would prefer not to file Form 990 every year. It is long, complicated, and truth be told, a bit intrusive if you prefer salary confidentiality. But it is the law.

Churches are lucky non-profits because they don't have to file the form. That's why the definition of a "church" is so important to non-profit religious organizations. Yet, oddly, neither Congress nor the IRS ever spelled out exactly what a church is. The courts filled the breach by coming up with the crucial characteristic that defines a church. They call it the "associational test." It means you're not a church unless you have a congregation that meets regularly--an opportunity for members to form a religious fellowship through communal worship. In other words, people have to be with each other in the same room to pray, cry, touch, sing, rejoice, laugh and engage in other such human interactions.


Bruce D. Collins

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