What Churchgoers Should Do If Churches Lose Tax Exemption Status

6 Ways to Remain Faithful No Matter the Cost

The Supreme Court decision regarding same-sex marriage seemed to immediately spark a conversation surrounding the tax exemption status of U.S. churches. Since 1913, the U.S. government has formally recognized churches as being exempt from federal taxes. Churches and those who give to them benefit from the current tax exempt status. However, the likelihood of this benefit being in place in the future is now being questioned more than ever.

Even though we aren’t at this stage yet, enough conversation has begun that it’s reasonable to consider the ramifications of such a scenario. So what should we, as churchgoers, do if churches actually do lose their tax-exempt status? Here are six thoughts:

1. Give

Tax deductibility has been a side benefit for those who give to their local church, but it has never been the reason why we give. At least, it shouldn’t be. We give because God has told us that this is how we properly steward what He has given to us. And because we passionately care about the mission of God. The loss of tax exemption status should not deter a Christian’s giving. The effect should be negligible. If anything, knowing that our churches are facing a financial giant should motivate us to give more. Because we believe in God and His mission.

Tax deductibility has been a side benefit for those who give to their local church, but it has never been the reason why we give.

2. Celebrate budget cuts

Especially if it is for one of your favorite ministries. Why? Because should the loss of tax exemption become a reality, budget cuts will help maintain the existence of a church. It is a sacrificial, missional move. And so it is not a time to get down or focus on how the cut affects you negatively. It’s not about you, it’s about the mission. So celebrate, knowing that your church will move forward in this new reality.

3. Volunteer

The most important resource for churches has never been money. It’s their people. A potential reduction in resources should motivate you to give your time and your energy to your local church. Right now, most churchgoers do not volunteer in any capacity at their church. If this is you, it is time to get in the game — with or without tax exemption status.

4. Help unleash bi-vocational pastors into the workforce

Should tax exemption go away for churches, the new financial reality will force them to hire fewer full-time pastors. It will usher in a whole new era for bi-vocational pastors. Assist these bivocational pastors with finding jobs. Connect them with your network. Help unleash bi-vocational pastors into the workforce, and create a new, exciting era of workplace ministry. And if you are concerned about how all of your church’s ministry will be accomplished if your pastor is not full-time, see number three again—volunteer your time.

5. Stay involved politically

Do not use this as an excuse to shy away from the opportunity to speak into the political system. Certainly, such a decision is not the desired outcome. And we could easily decide to give up. But it is a mistake to completely abandon the opportunity this governmental structure gives us. It is an opportunity that many around the world would cherish.

6. Pray

Pray for churches. Pray for their pastors. Pray for political leaders. Pray for our society. And when you pray, ask that God will use this moment in history to bring Him glory. Because God’s agenda was never going to be determined by whether or not U.S. churches were or were not tax-exempt anyway.

As Christians, we know that God is not surprised by these rulings. We know He is going to accomplish His mission. And we know that one day, at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow. Until that day comes, however, we must remain faithful to the calling to which we have been called.

What about you? How would you respond to churches losing their tax exempt status? Please place your comments in the section below.

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23 thoughts on “What Churchgoers Should Do If Churches Lose Tax Exemption Status

  1. Losing tax exemption is one piece of the puzzle needed for the end-time revival. That means most of the money no longer will go to sustain one man’s lifestyle but to supplied real needs in the church.

  2. What advice would you give a church (like ours) that is currently renting space but considering the purchase of property? The added cost of property taxes would be a burden that we likely couldn’t afford (since 3% tax on $2 million is substantial).

    This is a real and timely issue we weren’t thinking about that has sort of made us pause. Thanks for your insight.

    • Excellent question, Jeremy. I hope more churches are pondering this question. Since I don’t know your exact scenario, let me answer the question by giving you a few more questions: How easy would it be to unload (sell) the property? How efficiently is the facility? What is our plan if tax law changes, including temporary budget adjustments?

      At this point, I am not recommending churches avoid purchasing property. But they do need to be financially astute and ready to pivot should tax law change.

  3. I’m sorry, but propagating the idea that churches are going to be forced to believe something different against the 1st amendment is just plain fear-mongering. We could do with less of that right now.

    No church is being forced to change its belief. Seriously.

    Right now, if a couple walks into your church and they aren’t members in good standing and they ask to get married in your church, and your church’s policy is only to marry members, they can’t get married. The state isn’t going to force you to change that.

    This kind of rhetoric is clouding whatever real issues might still be out there.

    • Peter, Time magazine seems to think that now is a good time to talk about rescinding the religious tax exemption and the Supreme Court seems to think that religion is ok if it’s left in the home or church. And of course , the Obama administration has put Christian colleges on notice over “discriminating” against gay marriage. No fear , just fact.

    • I appreciate you sharing your concern, Peter. I assure you there is no attempt at fear-mongering with this post. I am merely speaking into an existing conversation that both Christians and non-Christians are having. We probably disagree on the trajectory of treatment for churches in the U.S., but we probably both agree that, either way, God’s mission will not be hindered.

  4. I didn’t notice you dealing with the “fear and trepidation” issue: Rezoning of land so the church no longer qualifies to remain in that zone. Thoughts? I know many are yet to consider this, but it is a great possibility.

    • Thank you for your comment, Matthew. It can be an area to watch moving forward. Fortunately, it appears the federal government has protected the church in the relatively few cases where this has occurred.

  5. Well then they would have no hold over us…..the Bible can be taught as it should be…without being censored. My sister’s church in SC is not tax exempt on purpose, so the government can not tell them what can be done in their church

    • Thank you, Rhonda. That is an interesting move by your sister’s church. I am not so sure that going for-profit protects a church more than remaining a non-profit religious organization.

  6. In some ways, maybe this is exactly what is needed in order to separate the wheat from the chaff. I’ve wanted justice for false teachers for a long time and this will make them scatter like the cockroaches they are while we as the true church are strengthened and emboldened.

  7. The title of this should be “What Churchgoers Should Already be Doing Even if Churches Lose Their Tax Exempt Status.”

    My question is, and I’m sure a quick google search would provide the answer, do churches in other countries enjoy the same tax exempt status that we do? We don’t hear much about the church internationally it seems. If so, then are we worried about? They’ll be hard pressed to take that away from us if most of the world has that same benefit. If not, then why are we so spoiled? Church has become big business for a lot of people, and as Brad pointed out, if it happens, we’ll see who stays around because their heart is truly in their ministry and not in the offering plate.

    • Thank you, Isaac. Certainly, governments around the world treat churches differently. Some governments have laws that encourage the work the church while others have laws that persecute the church. The post was not meant to discourage or create fear, but to encourage. We should pray for our nation and her leaders. And know that, whatever the outcome, God is in control.

  8. A little clarification please, exactly what does allowing justices of the peace, etc to marry gay people have anything to do with the church or its tax status?

    • Great question, Dana. There are several articles out there about the connection. It is being discussed by both Christian and non-Christians alike. I recommend doing a quick search on the topic. If you have any trouble, let me know.

  9. Following the Supreme Court’s June 26, 2015 decision finding that “The Fourteenth Amendment requires a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-State.” I undertook to find out what leaders in various denominations had to say on the subject.

    In my denomination L. Roy Taylor Stated Clerk published a statement in byFaith the online magazine of the Presbyterian Church in America.

    http://byfaithonline.com/statement-on-same-sex-marriage/

    Dr. Taylor’s remarks are well said and good as far as they go. Likewise remarks of leaders in other denominations.

    Mark Galli, editor of Christianity Today suggests the six things we need to do are: rejoice, repent, rethink, re-engage, reach out, and rejoice.

    http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2015/june-web-only/6-things-to-do-after-supreme-court-gay-marriage-decision.html?start=1

    Also well and good as far as it goes. Those six Rs will provide great comfort to the business owner facing death threats for declining to serve a same sex wedding.

    There are reaffirmations of faith, doctrinal statements, and manifestos in abundance.

    What we seem to be short of is guidance for actually navigating the very rapidly shifting cultural scene although Art Rainer does a pretty good job in this post.

    As we embark on a test of the hypothesis that Traditional Marriage (one man, one woman) is a bearing wall of civilization, it is important to keep several things in mind now that it’s been removed and the entire structure it was holding up begins to creak ominously:

    1. God is in control. He has “foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.” No need for worry. We just need to act prudentially, like getting ready for winter.
    2. God does not need a tax exemption. This critically important point needs to be understood and probably will need to be repeated over and over.
    3. God will always have a Church. Whatever is left after tax exemptions and cultural favor are burned away will be the Church

    Having attempted to keep up-to-date on current thinking on the subject in Reformed circles it seems we’re like a herd of Calvinist ostriches, our theology is perfect, but our heads are in the sand.

    Pastors, Sessions, and Presbyteries need take this seriously now, and devote quality time to prayer and consideration of how to prepare for the cultural shift that is upon us now. It’s time to sit down in a hard chair with a strong cup of coffee and prayerfully think through issues we are likely to face in the very near future like (not a definitive list of course):

    • What if we lose our 501c3 status? What does that mean for the ministry, for our contributors? Are our finances in good enough shape that we can meet that challenge? What’s the plan if that does happen? What’s the plan if we lose our property?
    • How do we support members who face losing their livelihoods in consequence of standing for scriptural teaching?
    • How do we support the pastor and/or members who find themselves facing criminal charges for standing for scriptural teaching?
    • Are we prepared to be named as defendants in a lawsuit for discriminating against homosexuals?
    • How do we support students who will be subjected to false teaching on the subject of marriage in their public school, and likely face ostracism if they speak up for Traditional Marriage? How will we support their parents? Is it time to get serious about starting a Christian school and/or supporting families who choose to homeschool?
    • How do we support families with children who claim they are homosexual, pansexual, transsexual, and who want to procure a same-sex marriage, or live together in a polyamorous grouping? If the kid’s a church member and wants the ceremony in the church what’s our position?

    The list will only continue to grow.

    Conventional form is to end with words along the lines of “But we know Jesus has it all under control, and everything will work out according to his plan.” Well of course Jesus has everything under control, and of course things will work out according to his plan. Jesus is in control in North Korea and in ISIS-controlled territory too. However bad things get for Christians in the United States, they are unlikely to get that bad. But it will be bad enough to merit preparing ourselves spiritually and temporally.

    May God bless you and give you wisdom in the challenging times to come.

  10. Churches located in low property tax areas may not feel the pinch, however, some churches and ministries are located on prime real estate. Some have ocean front property and exclusive addresses. With the passage of time, land like this has become pricey tax wise. So please consider that for churches with this profile, losing tax exemption could easily close their doors overnight.