Church Criteria

The IRS does not define a church in its Regulations. However, to receive the IRS determination of what qualifies as a church, an organization must meet at least several of 14 criteria:

  1. a distinct legal existence;

  2. a recognized creed and form of worship;

  3. a definite and distinct ecclesiastical government;

  4. a formal code of doctrine and discipline;

  5. a distinct religious history;

  6. a membership not associated with any other church or denomination;

  7. an organization of ordained ministers;

  8. ordained ministers selected after completing prescribed studies;

  9. a literature of its own;

  10. established places of worship;

  11. regular congregations;

  12. regular religious services;

  13. Sunday schools for religious instruction of the young; and

  14. schools for the preparation of its ministers.

Because few, if any, new organizations can satisfy all 14 criteria, the IRS does not give controlling weight to any one of them.

These criteria are an outgrowth of a 1959 IRS ruling that determined the Salvation Army to be a church. See Revenue Ruling 59-129, 1959-1 C.B. 58 and GCM 37116 (1977).

See also Tax Guide for Churches and Religious Organizations.


This text is provided with the understanding that ECFA is not rendering legal, accounting, or other professional advice or service. Professional advice on specific issues should be sought from an accountant, lawyer, or other professional.