How does a church obtain federal tax-exempt status?

Incorporate at the state level.  It is not necessary to file IRS Form 1023 (which results in a hefty fee) and obtain formal recognition of your exemption.  Incorporation at the state level insures you federal tax-exempt status.

As soon as you begin the process of incorporating at the state level you are considered a church in the eyes of the IRS.  As soon as you obtain an EIN (Employer Identification Number) you can open a bank account and accept contributions for which you can give tax deductible receipts.  File form SS-4 to request an EIN:  Form SS-4   If you will have less than $4,000 a year in wages or less than $1,000 a year in withholdings (federal income tax, social security and Medicare) then you will have the option to choose to file an annual report (form 944) rather than a quarterly report (form 941).

 
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