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21 Things You Might Not Know About Evangelical Churches and Pastors

did you know

Most Americans are quite ignorant about the nature of Evangelical churches and their pastors (I use the word “pastor” as a general term that encompasses pastors, elders, missionaries, evangelists, et al.). Here are 21 things you might not know:

  1.  Churches, by default, are tax exempt. Churches do not have to apply for 501(c)(3) status in order to be exempt.
  2. In many states, churches are exempt from paying sales and real estate taxes.
  3. Anyone can start a church. (See How to Start an Independent Baptist Church) A church is a church if it says it is.
  4. In many states, churches can operate Christian schools, day cares, teen group homes, and boarding schools without ANY government licensure or oversight.
  5. In many states, Christian schools are exempt from all laws governing schools. (See How to Start a Non-Charted Christian School in Ohio and The Anatomy of an Unaccredited Christian School)
  6. In many states, churches can start colleges and grant degrees without ANY government licensure or oversight.
  7. Anyone can be a pastor. There are no educational or licensure requirements for becoming a pastor. A man is a pastor because he says he is.
  8. In many states, pastors can counsel people without having any training. In most states, pastors are not required to be licensed to counsel people.
  9. Pastors are permitted to opt out of paying social security tax. This means pastors don’t pay social security tax on their income and housing allowance.
  10. Pastors receive a housing allowance that is income tax-free.
  11. Pastors, in most instances, are treated as employees for income tax purposes and self-employed for social security purposes.
  12. Pastors can drive church-owned vehicles, thereby reducing their taxable income by thousands of dollars.
  13. The more expenditures churches pay on behalf of their pastors, the less income tax the pastors have to pay.
  14. For many pastors, their effective tax rate is quite low. Many pastors pay NO income tax, especially if they have a number of children.
  15. Pastors can incorporate, shielding themselves from liability and lawsuits.
  16. Churches can incorporate, shielding themselves from liability and lawsuits.
  17. Donations of money, personal goods, and property to churches are considered charitable, tax-deductible donations.
  18. Churches are exempt from filing non-profit tax returns.
  19. Churches are not required to do background checks on people who work with children and teenagers.
  20. There is no national database for pastors accused or found guilty of sexual abuse or other criminal behaviors.
  21. Many of the pastors who call themselves Dr. have honorary doctorates or doctorates from diploma mills. (See IFB Doctorates: Doctor, Doctor, Doctor, Everyone’s a Doctor)


  1. Avatar
    Reverend Greg

    Some of these are true for all pastors, while others depend on the denomination where the credentials are held or state laws. A few differences:

    2. I believe in Ohio any land not in use is subject to property taxes.
    3. In my denomination (Church of the Nazarene), your church must be a part of the denomination. They must abide by the COTN Manual, our governing document.
    7. Pastors in the COTN go through a process, including educational requirements and service time until ordination. We must also take 20 hours of continuing education each year.
    9. We don’t allow opt out of social security in the COTN.
    10. We can receive a housing allowance, but if you are audited you must document your expenses. Social Security is not a part of it. You still must pay it based on the value of your allowance, although many churches reimburse the pastor half of the cost because they are for tax purposes considered self-employed.
    19. We are required in the COTN to do background checks for all staff and those volunteers that work with children.
    I hope this helps. And unlike some pastors, I do very little counseling. I have been certified by Prepare/Enrich and do pre-marital counseling, but I refer people to counseling services (both secular and Christian) for most other problems.

  2. Pingback:The Lousy Education of Many Christian Fundamentalist Pastors: Is There a Doctor in the House? | Flee from Christian Fundamentalism

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