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How to Start a Religion

Three Parts:Planning Your ReligionEarning Legal StatusIncreasing Membership

Have you ever felt dissatisfied with existing religions? Have you ever become fed up with the lack of tolerance within many existing religions? If you are inspired to create change, you can start your own religion. It may take a lot of effort to organize your religion and get it officially recognized. If it is something you are moved to do, however, it will be very rewarding to see your work lead to a thriving membership.

Part 1
Planning Your Religion

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    Write a plan. Starting a religion will require a significant amount of planning. You can start by writing down your ideas about why you want to invent a new religion. Understanding the basic reason for your religion’s existence will be critical if you want it to be successful. You may want to start a religion:[1]
    • Because you are dissatisfied with ones that currently exist.
    • Because you are deeply inspired and/or have glimpsed secret knowledge that you would like to share.
    • To perform weddings and other ceremonies in your own way.
    • As a joke.
    • To be critical of other religions.
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    Develop a cosmology. If your religion intends to explain broad questions about the origin of the universe, the nature of reality, and the future, you will want to develop a cosmology, which explains all of these things. Your religion’s cosmology might describe things like a creation story and projections about the eventual end of things. Be as creative or inspired as your religion calls for.[2]
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    Select a name for your religion. The name of your religion should reflect its purpose and foundation, so do not choose it carelessly. Think about the central beliefs or messages of your religion, and try to reflect these in the word or phrase that will serve as its name. Names for religions invented in the past include:[3]
    • Discordianism
    • The Church of All Worlds
    • The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster
    • Scientology
    • Eckankar
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    Develop a list of your religion’s core tenets. These might explain things like how it views relationships between people (Should you be charitable toward others? Act on your own interests?). These principles might also contain philosophical arguments, which can explain how your religion views the world differently than others. For instance, your religion’s principles might contain arguments proving the existence of its god(s), if any.[4]
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    Talk to people about your religion. Once your religion’s core ideas are worked out, you can start inviting other people to join you. Many experts suggest working slowly at first. You might talk to some of your own acquaintances, then build from there by word of mouth. When you have a trusted and fairly stable group, you can work with them to develop bylaws that explain how your religion will be organized and managed.[5]
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    Find a meeting place. Followers of your religion might start out by meeting at your home (or someone else’s). As it grows, you might look for a place that is more public, such as a café, a park, or somewhere else that is convenient. As your religion grows, you may look into more permanent meeting place, such as a rented or purchased building.[6]
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    Read about historical examples. If you are looking for inspiration while planning your religion, you can look into histories of other religions. Studying the world’s major religions can give you ideas, but you can also read about more recent examples of invented religions, such as:[7]
    • L. Ron Hubbard’s Scientology.
    • The Church of All Worlds, inspired by Robert Heinlein’s science fiction novel Stranger in a Strange Land.
    • Discordianism, and its foundational text Principia Discorda.

Part 2
Earning Legal Status

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    Learn the benefits of official recognition. Churches that are recognized as nonprofit according to Internal Revenue Code (IRC) 501(c)(3) are automatically considered tax-exempt. You do not have to apply for this protection if you meet the code’s guidelines. This tax exemption can provide financial and legal protection to your religion, allowing it to practice freely according to its principles.[8]
    • Though tax exemption if automatic for recognized churches, you can still apply formally for it. This might be a good idea if you just want to be sure your religion qualifies for this protection, or if you think that officially applying will give it some legitimacy.
    • If you want to apply for tax-exempt status for your religion, use IRS Form 1023-EZ.[9]
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    Meet the guidelines for legally establishing a church. The IRS uses the term “church” broadly, taking it to mean any recognized religious group. The primary guidelines for recognition stipulate that any revenue the church earns may not be used to financially benefit an individual or shareholders, or to influence political decision-making (lobbying). The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will consider whether or not a religious group officially qualifies as a church if it meets some combination of features, including:[10]
    • It has a creed and worship practices
    • It has formal leadership
    • It has a clear history
    • Its membership is distinct from other religious groups
    • There is a recognized course of study to ordain leaders in the religion
    • The religion has some form of foundational texts or literary tradition
    • There are recognized or regular places to worship
    • The religion has a regular congregation and services
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    Apply for a certificate of formation. A certificate of formation (sometimes called articles of formation) is a document used in many locations to formally incorporate a religion as a legally-recognized entity. If describes what a nonprofit organization will do, how it will be managed, etc. Check your local laws to see if it is necessary to file this document.[11]
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    Get an Employer Identification Number (EIN). Even if you qualify for tax-exempt status, you will want to apply for an EIN number from the IRS. This number will be necessary if your religion ever has any employees.[12]
    • Even if your religion is tax-exempt, you must withhold income tax on its employees.
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    Keep records. Tax-exempt status allows religious organizations to have special audit protection. Nevertheless, it is very important to keep excellent records of all your finances. These may include salaries, expenditures, money collected from members of your religion, etc.[13]

Part 3
Increasing Membership

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    Hold frequent services or meetings. Studies have shown that the most successful religions have congregations that meet often. If your religion has services or worship procedures, consider holding them several times a week. You will be more likely to increase your religion's numbers if members and potential members have the flexibility to choose when to attend services.[14]
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    Increase your religion’s visibility. It is more important than ever to get the word out about your religion if you want to increase its members. Make sure that your religion has active representation on all social media, make flyers to distribute in your community, give away T-shirts, etc.[15]
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    Create a welcoming feel. People are more likely become regular members of your religion if you offer them a welcoming place to visit. Whatever your religious services entail, consider having them in a comfortable environment that is easily accessible. For instance, people that are intimidated by or turned off of traditional religious services might be more likely to attend an informal, coffee-house style service.[16]
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    Offer lots of programs. Worshiping and increasing understanding of your religion’s core tenets might be the most important aspects of your services. However, offering additional programs can increase the sense of community among your religion’s members, while still keeping people close to the religion itself. Consider incorporating activities like:[17]
    • Music for services and entertainment
    • Game nights
    • Potlucks
    • Sports
    • Reading groups
    • Social gatherings (youth groups, retiree meetings, etc.)
    • Community service (beautification projects, prison outreach, food drives, etc.)

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Categories: Religion