When Can a Ministry Count as a Church?

“The research team counting all the nondenominational congregations in America did not add any marks to their tally when a conservative Christian think tank in Washington, DC, declared itself an association of churches.” - C.Today

Related at RNS: Religious right groups’ tax-status changes demean both church and state


The FRC, a family values advocacy organization that spun off of Focus on the Family in 1992, is one of an apparently growing number of parachurch organizations that has asked the IRS to reclassify it as a church or an association of churches. Focus on the Family made the change in 2016, along with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA).

I get that there are advantages for them in doing this, but in the long run—or maybe the short—I can’t see how this sort of thing can fail to be harmful to real churches and real associations of churches. In the case of BGEA, it at least appears to at be mostly about spreading the gospel. In the case of FRC… they’re almost entirely political, as far as I can tell. (There’s a nontrivial difference between helping churches learn how to take biblical principals to social and political questions vs. helping political advocacy by engaging churches.)

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.