Glossary

Church. Certain characteristics are generally attributed to churches.  These attributes of a church have been developed by the IRS and by court decisions.

 They include: distinct legal existence; recognized creed and form of worship; definite and distinct ecclesiastical government; formal code of doctrine and discipline; distinct religious history; membership not associated with any other church or denomination; organization of ordained ministers; ordained ministers selected after completing prescribed courses of study; literature of its own; established places of worship; regular congregations; regular religious services; Sunday schools for the religious instruction of the young; schools for the preparation of its ministers.

 The IRS generally uses a combination of these characteristics, together with other facts and circumstances, to determine whether an organization is considered a church for federal tax purposes.  The IRS makes no attempt to evaluate the content of whatever doctrine a particular organization claims is religious, provided the particular beliefs of the organization are truly and sincerely held by those professing them and the practices and rites associated with the organization’s belief or creed are not illegal or contrary to clearly defined public policy.

Integrated Auxiliary Of A Church.  The term integrated auxiliary of a church refers to a class of organizations that are related to a church or convention or association of churches, but are not such organizations themselves. In general, the IRS will treat an organization that meets the following three requirements as an integrated auxiliary of a church.

 The organization must:

be described both as an IRC section 501(c)(3) charitable organization and as a public charity under IRC sections 509(a)(1), (2), or (3),

be affiliated with a church or convention or association of churches, and

receive financial support primarily from internal church sources as opposed to public or governmental sources.

Men’s and women’s organizations, seminaries, mission societies, and youth groups that satisfy the first two requirements above are considered integrated auxiliaries whether or not they meet the internal support requirements. More guidance as to the types of organizations the IRS will treat as integrated auxiliaries can be found in the Code of Regulations, 26 CFR section 1.6033-2(h).

The same rules that apply to a church apply to the integrated auxiliary of a church, with the exception of those rules that apply to the audit of a church.

 See section Special Rules Limiting IRS Authority To Audit A Church on page 22.

Minister. The term minister is not used by all faiths; however, in an attempt to make this publication easy to read, we use it because it is generally understood. As used in this booklet, the term minister denotes members of clergy of all religions and denominations and includes priests, rabbis, imams, and similar members of the clergy.

 IRC Section 501(C)(3). IRC section 501(c)(3) describes charitable organizations, including churches and religious organizations, which qualify for exemption from federal income tax and generally are eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions. This section provides that:

an organization must be organized and operated exclusively for religious or other charitable purposes,

net earnings may not inure to the benefit of any private individual or shareholder,

no substantial part of its activity may be attempting to influence legislation,

the organization may not intervene in political campaigns, and

the organization’s purposes and activities may not be illegal or violate fundamental public policy.

These requirements are set forth in greater detail throughout this publication.

 Page 23

Page 3 of the same publication

Recognition of Tax-Exempt Status

Automatic Exemption for Churches

Churches that meet the requirements of IRC section 501(c)(3) are automatically considered tax exempt and are not required to apply for and obtain recognition of tax-exempt status from the IRS. 

Although there is no requirement to do so, many churches seek recognition of tax-exempt status from the IRS because such recognition assures church leaders, members, and contributors that the church is recognized as exempt and qualifies for related tax benefits.

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