Definition of a Church

Under the Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(3), charitable organizations, including churches and religious organizations, are exempt from federal income taxes and are generally eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions.

What is a church? What are the characteristics of a church?

According to **, "church" can be a noun or a verb. As a noun, a church can be defined as:

1. a building for public Christian worship.
2. public worship of God or a religious service in such a building: to attend church regularly.
3. the whole body of Christian believers; Christendom.
4. any division of this body professing the same creed and acknowledging the same ecclesiastical authority; a Christian denomination: the Methodist Church.
5. that part of the whole Christian body, or of a particular denomination, belonging to the same city, country, nation, etc.
6. a body of Christians worshipping in a particular building or constituting one congregation
7. ecclesiastical organization, power, and affairs, as distinguished from the state: separation of church and state;
8. the clergy and religious officials of a Christian denomination.
9. the Christian faith: a return of intellectuals to the church.
10. the Christian Church before the Reformation.
11. the Roman Catholic Church.
12. the clerical profession or calling;
13. a place of public worship of a non-Christian religion.
14. any non-Christian religious society, organization, or congregation: the Jewish church.

Church is classified as verb and can be defined as:

1. to conduct or bring to church, esp. for special services.
2. to subject to church discipline.
3. to perform a church service of thanksgiving

The word “church” has a broad definition and has a universal recognition in our society. Despite a number of references to the word “church”, the tax code provides no definition. A definition that is too narrow or too broad could interfere with the constitutional guaranty of religious freedom or encourage abuse.

However, the IRS has attempted to fill this void by developing a list of 14 criteria that characterize a church. See our next post, as we discuss these characteristics.

** - obtained from, unabridged version 1.1. Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006.