The Ultimate Guide to Starting a Church in Australia

Church Support Australia

A common question that comes into our office is “How do I start a church?” These come mostly from people in home churches and immigrants who have moved here to Australia. Here is The Ultimate Guide to Starting a Church in Australia.

Australia is a diverse and multicultural country, with people from all walks of life and various faiths. Churches have always been a part of this nation. Church buildings were easily spotted along main roads and usually not far away from one another. As the population has grown in Australia, more homes and businesses have popped up, with fewer churches popping up. Adelaide, known as the city of churches, has lost the church culture to businesses and homes.

Starting a church in Australia requires careful planning, dedication, and hard work. Here are a few key things to consider before embarking on this journey.

1. Understand the Legal Requirements

Before you start a church, it’s essential to understand the legal requirements in Australia. The legal structure will affect many things, such as:

  • its legal identity (whether it can be sued)
  • its governance structure (who makes certain decisions)
  • the way meetings are held
  • the minimum number of members it must have
  • who is liable for its debts
  • other specific responsibilities like reporting or other compliance obligations.

Decide whether your church will be Incorporated or Unincorporated.
Incorporated is the most common structure for churches. An incorporation is a legal entity separate from its members. The name of an incorporated association will be something like ‘ABC Incorporated’ or ‘ABC Inc.’ They must:-
– have a minimum number of members
– have a board or management committee of responsible people
– have yearly annual general meetings
– operate in the one state or territory that it is based in
– be managed by a committee of management that meets at least once a year at an annual general meeting (AGM)
– keep minutes of ALL committee and general meetings
– have registers of members and all committee members
– have a common seal (not applicable to all states and territories)

Find out more here.

For more information on state and territory requirements of incorporated associations, visit:
Australian Capital Territory www.accesscanberra.act.gov.au
New South Wales https://www.fairtrading.nsw.gov.au/associations-and-co-operatives/associations
Northern Territory www.justice.nt.gov.au
Queensland www.fairtrading.qld.gov.au
South Australia http://www.cbs.sa.gov.au/
Tasmania www.consumer.tas.gov.au
Victoria www.consumer.vic.gov.au
Western Australia www.docep.wa.gov.au

Unincorporated structures may be suitable for trusts, foundations, or associations that do not require a separate legal entity.

2. Choose Responsible People for your board/management committee

Starting a church is not a one-person job. It’s crucial to build a core team of committed individuals who share your vision and are willing to work towards it. These team members will become the foundation of your church, so it’s essential to select them carefully. Look for people with a range of skills and experiences, as this will help you develop a well-rounded team that can handle the various aspects of running a church.

Have a board or management committee with responsible people having allocated roles such as Treasurer, Secretary, CEO etc. All the Responsible People will need to be listed on the ACNC website with their personal details such as full name, date of birth, residential address, phone number, email address, the date they became a Responsible Person and position within the organisation. These people are legally responsible for acting with reasonable care and diligence, acting honestly and fairly in the best interests of the church, must not misuse their position or information they gain as a responsible person, need to disclose actual or potential conflicts of interest and ensure that the financial affairs of the church are managed responsibly.

3. Identify Your Statement of Purpose and Rules or Articles of Association

Every church has a unique mission. The non-christianese way of saying this is “Statement of Purpose and Rules/Articles of Association”. Before starting a church, it’s essential to have a clear understanding of what your church stands for and what you hope to achieve. This will help guide your decisions and shape the direction of your church. Your mission and vision will also help you attract and connect with like-minded individuals who share your beliefs and values.

The Statement of Purpose and Rules/Articles of Association are two documents.

The Statement of Purpose needs to include:
– why the church was/will be founded, its purpose, vision, mission, goals, core values, stating the church is not-for-profit, the rules and processes that outline the way your church makes decisions, the way it is governed and how it is to be wound up.

The Rules/Articles of association needs to include:
– a constitution that includes goals/mission, location of the church, criteria for members, staff, board members etc, rules around voting of leadership and how it is to be done (physically/digitally etc,

4. Apply for an Australian Business Number (ABN)

An Australian Business Number (ABN) is a unique number that identifies your church to the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) and other government departments and agencies. An organisation must have an ABN to be registered as a charity with the ACNC and can also apply for endorsement as a deductible gift recipient (DGR).

A not-for-profit organisation is required to have an ABN if it has a goods and services tax (GST) turnover of $150,000 or more (in which case it’s required to register for GST, and must have an ABN to do this).

Church websites can register an Australian domain business or unique address eg www.church.com

Register for an ABN here.

5. Register your church as a not-for-profit organisation

A not-for-profit organisation is an organisation that operates for its purpose and not for the profit or gain (either direct or indirect) of its individual members. Rather, any profit made is used to further the aims of the organisation

Register your church as a religious institution and abide by all the laws and regulations for non-profit organizations. To register with the ACNC your organisation will need to meet the standards.
You need to provide some details about your organisation. This includes:
– Provide a list of Responsible People (their names will be visible on the ACNC website). ACNC require their personal details such as full name, date of birth, residential address, phone number, email address, the date they became a Responsible Person and position within the organisation. These people are legally responsible for acting with reasonable care and diligence, acting honestly and fairly in the best interests of the church, must not misuse their position or information they gain as a responsible person, need to disclose actual or potential conflicts of interest and ensure that the financial affairs of the church are managed responsibly.
– provide governing documents.
– provide ABN.
– provide the date your church was established.
– estimated revenue for the current financial year.
– a description of where your organisation will get its revenue in the current financial year.
– a description of where your organisation intends to get its revenue from in the future.
– You need to provide the name and details of the organisation’s Responsible People.
– You need to identify your organisation’s main group of beneficiaries.
– You need to indicate every location where your organisation intends to undertake activities (including administrative activities, fundraising, and activities in collaboration with third parties) and send funds or other resources (including to third parties).

6. Sign up to an insurance plan

Insurance will need to be taken out to protect members, staff, buildings and contents. Insurance that you will need to look into are:- public liability, building insurance, contents insurance, volunteer protection, cyber insurance, professional indemnity, Insurance companies will help you look into what your requirements are and help you set up Risk Assessments.

Some insurance companies that specialize in church insurance are:-

www.acsfinancial.com.au
https://www.faithinsurance.org.au/
https://www.ansvar.com.au/commercial-faith-communities/
https://www.ccinsurance.org.au/
https://www.gjic.com.au/church-insurance/
https://www.airs.org.au/church-risk-insurance/
https://www.baptistinsurance.com.au/
https://www.cofcinsurance.org.au/
https://www.eainsurance.com.au/

7. Licence required for Music

To many churches receive fines for using music without having a licence. CCLI Australia will help you get the licences you need, to cover all your worship and live streaming needs. Get the required licences for your church at https://au.ccli.com/copyright-licences/#church-licences

8. Print off Forms, Brochures, Flyers, Policies, Procedures and more

There are various templates of forms that you may find useful to help run your church smoothly. Some important forms that you can even use electronically are connecting forms, attendance forms for kids etc. Find templates here or we can create personalised forms and other printed material for you here.

9. Open a bank account

When you have a board/committee meeting, state in the minutes that your church is opening a bank account, with which bank, what type of account, along with the names of people who have access to the account/s and the type of access they have permission for. These minutes will need to be taken to the bank, along with the people who will be on the account, to set up the account.

At the time of writing this article, many churches have been very happy with Bendigo Bank.

10. Connect with the Community

It’s vital to connect with the local community where you plan to start your church. Australia is a diverse country with people from different cultural backgrounds and faiths. Take the time to understand the needs and interests of the community and find ways to build relationships with them. You could participate in community events, volunteer at local organizations, or simply have conversations with people in the neighbourhood.

11. Raise Funds and Plan Finances

Churches require financial resources to operate, especially in the early stages. You will need to develop a budget and plan how you will raise funds to cover expenses such as rent, utilities, and outreach initiatives. You could hold fundraising events, seek donations from the community, or apply for grants from religious organizations. It’s essential to be responsible and transparent with the finances to build trust and credibility with your congregation.

There are grants available to church plants and they can be found:-
https://gospelfuturefund.com.au/church-plant-grants/
https://www.newandrenewingchurches.org.au/what-we-do/grants/#:~:text=Church%20plant%20grants%20are%20for,and%20ministry%20in%20their%20locality.

12. Creating a safe place

Working with children checks are common today and many people have them. In NSW and QLD they are known as “blue cards”. These checks can be free for volunteers in churches and it would be a great idea to have every volunteer complete these checks, but more importantly, have those who are working with kids and youth complete the Working with Children Checks.

Pastors and leaders should sign up for Working with Children Checks from the beginning.

To apply, visit the appropriate website.

NSW volunteers check – https://www.service.nsw.gov.au/transaction/apply-for-a-working-with-children-check
NT volunteers check – https://forms.pfes.nt.gov.au/safent/
NT church concession form – https://nt.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0018/237321/working-with-children-volunteer-concession-form.pdf
QLD volunteer check – https://www.qld.gov.au/law/laws-regulated-industries-and-accountability/queensland-laws-and-regulations/regulated-industries-and-licensing/blue-card-services
QLD blue card check – https://www.qld.gov.au/law/laws-regulated-industries-and-accountability/queensland-laws-and-regulations/regulated-industries-and-licensing/blue-card/organisations/valid
SA church sign up – https://www.sa.gov.au/topics/rights-and-law/rights-and-responsibilities/screening-checks/screening-wwcc
SA volunteers check – https://www.sa.gov.au/topics/rights-and-law/rights-and-responsibilities/screening-checks/apply-for-a-screening-check
TAS volunteers check – https://www.cbos.tas.gov.au/topics/licensing-and-registration/work-with-vulnerable-people
TAS status checker – https://www.cbos.tas.gov.au/topics/licensing-and-registration/work-with-vulnerable-people/check-the-status-of-application-or-registration
VIC volunteers check – https://www.vic.gov.au/working-with-children-check
VIC status checker – https://service.vic.gov.au/services/working-with-children-check-status-checker/home
WA volunteers check – https://www.workingwithchildren.wa.gov.au/online-services
WA church check – https://www.workingwithchildren.wa.gov.au/registeremployees

13. Wages and more

Wages, super, workcover, fringe benefits etc will need to be set up correctly and there is no one better to assist you , than Church Finance Central. Let them know we referred them, for a great deal of advice.

14. Set up social media and website

Set up your website and social media accounts. These are ways you can reach your community. Set up a Google business account and add your church location to Google Maps. Use Facebook events to spread the word about your services.

For website assistance and an affordable way to reach your community, read our website article here.

Here is a great guide to help use Facebook for churches.

15. Create a Welcoming Environment

A church is where people come to find peace, hope, and community. As such, it’s crucial to create a welcoming and inclusive environment for everyone who walks through your doors. This could mean having a diversity of voices and perspectives in your services and events or simply making sure that everyone feels valued and accepted.

16. Tools, hardware, software and gear

Always shop around and research reputable reviews BEFORE purchasing anything. From projectors to chairs to communion cups. Always spend time looking around as you don’t want to waste money on lemons.

For some things, like software, churches can receive not-for-profit discounts. Take advantage of asking “do you provide non-for-profit discounts?”

Starting a church in Australia can be a challenging but rewarding experience. It requires a deep understanding of the legal requirements, a clear mission and vision, and meaningful connections with the community. With determination, hard work, and a strong core team, you can establish a church that positively impacts the lives of those around you.

Author

  • Karen Stuckey

    Karen Stuckey is a dedicated church administrator Pastor with a passion for technology and closely supporting pastors. With over 25 years of experience in Church Administration, she founded Church Support Australia in 2011, offering Virtual Pastoral Administration and website creation services. Karen is a proud wife to Gavin and mother to three children, two in-loves, and grandmother to four adorable grandchildren.

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