The IRS and the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) offer guidance to churches that run or hope to run a business.

They recommend:

Proper Governance—an independent board of no fewer than five members, of which three or more should be non-employees and not personally related to the head of the entity. It should meet three times a year to review the business's policies, performance, and finances.

Accounting Controls—Trust should not replace generally accepted accounting principles. Standards ensure documentation for income and expenses, as well as property and asset maintenance.

Transparency—The business and church should have nothing to hide and therefore be open to inspection. A tax-exempt organization should file all necessary paperwork. If it joins the ECFA, the organization should document all money going in and coming out—even when the government doesn't require it, such as for a church.

According to the IRS, even tax-exempt organizations may have to pay income on profits over $1,000 from "unrelated business." However, "substantially related" activities don't count. The IRS offers guidance on the definitions of "unrelated" and "substantially related."

The ECFA has more information on its website (, as well as the Church and Nonprofit Tax Guide, by Dan Busby. Church Law & Tax Report and Church Finance Today (formerly Church Treasurer Alert!), both CT sister publications, also provide guidance on legal and accounting issues.

Related Elsewhere:

This article accompanies "California Dreams," which is about ministries that run businesses.

More articles about business and missions are available on our site.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.