My husband is notorious for brushing off the dreaded check engine light that appears on his vehicle dashboard. His lovable, easy-going personality occasionally chooses to overlook this early warning sign rather than address a potential costly problem. In the same way, you will face many “check engine lights” throughout the journey of your church. You may not know when, but they will appear — leaving you with the decision to address them now or later. Choosing to ignore the issues, rather than confront them immediately, often leads to accidentally sabotaging what you’ve worked so hard to build.
Luke 9:23 Ministries has had the amazing opportunity to walk alongside over 450 church plants and guide them through these important decisions. We not only assist you in overcoming these obstacles early on, but we also prepare you for those to come.
Part I: Articles of Incorporation or Certificate of Formation/Incorporation
The first area of your church we help to protect is the Articles of Incorporation or Certificate of Formation/Incorporation. This essential governing document needs to properly reflect whether your church is governed as an Elder Ruled Church or formed under a Congregational Rule model. Failing to do so opens every aspect of your church to potential legal impact. If you are formed as if you are governed under the Congregational Rule, but functioning as if you are formed under an Elder Ruled Church, you lead your Church into very messy legal pitfalls that could very well backfire on your Church.
Now let’s look at this example where a check engine light went unchecked.
About a year ago, a new church plant came to Luke 9:23 Ministries and a similar organization with questions on establishing their church plant and filing their Certificate of Incorporation within the state of New York. Unfortunately, the other organization encouraged the church to file their Certificate of Incorporation under the wrong Article of the New York Religious Corporation Law (RCO). Because this route required less work and time to form, the church plant chose to follow their advice. As an Elder Ruled, non-denominational church that was filed under Article 8 of the New York RCO, they left themselves wide open for legal issues down the road. The only options to file a non-denominational church in the state of New York are under Article 9, Free Churches or Article 10, Other Denominations.
The word Independent in Article 8, Churches of the United Church of Christ, Congregational Christian, and Independent Churches does not mean standalone church or nondenominational church. In fact, if you are an Elder Ruled Church and filed under Article 8, you are formed legally as a Congregational Ruled Church. This means everything you have voted upon becomes null and void, as you are not governing your church within the laws of the state of New York under Article 8 of the RCO.
While the intentions of the other organization may have been to help the church plant, it opened them up to serious legal implications in exchange for immediate results. This is just one example where ignoring the check engine light can lead to sabotaging your church.
If you are a church in the state of New York filed under Article 8 and would like assistance amending it, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would be happy to help your church get on the right track and operate safely. Otherwise, stay tuned for Parts II & III!