Excuse Me? What’s a “For Profit” Church?

A couple of weeks ago, the local news reported on a gathering of anti-gay activists protesting Indiana’s recognition of same-sex marriage. It was a small crowd (probably since people who understand how court rulings operate realized that a protest couldn’t/wouldn’t change anything), and I just skimmed the description of attendees.

Then I stopped. Read it again.

Among the participants listed were “Pastors of several For Profit Churches.” My husband’s snark when I read that description to him was “Aren’t they all?” (Yes, I know that blanket condemnation is unfair.)

I’d never heard of churches established to be for-profit enterprises. When I consulted Doctor Google, there were links to a number of articles advising churches on methods for establishing for-profit subsidiaries, and many more detailing the financial shenanigans of churches from “Mega” to storefront–but nothing about churches actually established as “for profit” entities.

The classification of a church as “nonprofit” or “for profit” has obvious tax and constitutional consequences. Traditional churches can claim certain exemptions from civil rights laws, for example, under the Free Exercise Clause. Whether a “for profit” church could do so is–so far as I know–an unanswered question.

A couple of months ago, there was a case involving a wedding chapel in Las Vegas that wanted to refuse service to LGBT customers. The owners claimed a religious liberty exemption from applicable civil rights laws. As I recall, the fact that the wedding chapel was a for-profit business meant that the exemption didn’t apply.

When you think about it, admittedly for-profit churches sort of give “coming out” a whole new meaning….


  1. While the revelation of “for profit” churches is interesting, I wonder how much distinction that really is?

    A non profit (we live in a FL condo and the association (corporation) that we own our share of, which in turn owns and maintains the common property) is one, adjusts income (our dues) to meet expenses. Our dues typically rise moderately each year to cover increasing expenses. A church has less control over donation based income but can establish, as we do, reserves to “save” for future expenses.

    A for profit corporation has an extra pot in which to put left over beans that can be saved for future rainy days or shared with debt holders as return on their investment. The biggest difference for that pot is that the government also gets a share in taxes.

    Both types of institutions of course compensate employees, some a whole lot more than others, but that pot also attracts government tax interest on their income.

    So the biggest difference between profit and non profit is income taxes. The biggest difference between a charity (like a church) and a business is property taxes.

    Do you suppose that clever accounting can deny us, government, some of our share. You betcha.

    Corporations have staffs devoted to not sharing their good fortune with us as well as staffs devoted to maximizing the benefit to them from us. Of course we have our staffs too, working for our President, using the laws passed by Congress towards the opposite goal.

    Everybody’s on welfare of one kind or another.

  2. Sorry. As usual there is some manual effort required on you effort to translate my thoughts into the King’s English. Or even pidgin.

  3. Who is a more “for-profit” church than the Catholics? Look at the astonishing wealth evidenced in the Vatican, the Pope’s royal robes and trimmings and many Catholic churches in this country. Then question why three Catholic churches in Indianapolis were closed and integrated into three other Catholic churches due to lack of funds to maintain them. The churches receiving the ousted parishioners are also in need of funds from their rich “owners” but in all probability will not receive enough additional funds from incoming members who come from low income areas…if they have transportation to continue attending church. One of the receiving churches here was taken to task by the Indianapolis Catholic Archdiocese for not doing neighborhood outreach – they can no longer afford to do this due to the disintigration of the eastside neighborhood where they are located. Once one of the most affluent areas of Indianapolis and now seedy in most areas, there is a need for neighborhood outreach from all churches in the area. I thought and still believe that giving and helping those in need is uppermost in Christianity. I can’t remember which old movie contained this line, “Them ‘as has, gets. Them ‘as needs, wants.” Fitting in this eastside Catholic church situation. I am NOT Catholic, disagree heartily with their doctrine but…this situation is just wrong.

    Of course; I left a local well-to-do Baptist church on the eastside due to blatant racism and unending demands that I tithe 10% of my income; impossible to do raising 5 children. I’m sure this is true in most churches and, should we examine closely, we would probably find that the poorest churches provide more assistance in their neighborhods than the richest do. Those in need are paying taxes that support these tax-exempt big businesses and expected to continue their Biblically required 10% tithe; always have and always will.

  4. There is certainly nothing “not-for-profit” about the Catholic Church. I can accept that their buildings used for church activities might enjoy not-for-profit status and thus pay no real estate taxes, but some of the most expensive real estate in NYC and other major cities? Certainly not. On the other hand, without all that rental income, how would they have paid the billions of dollars the sexual abuse of their priests cost them?

  5. I have a particular distaste for churches. Even as a child I never felt the power of the message delivered by a mere mortal like me. For me, this generated more suspicion than good will toward religion. And the word of god always came wrapped in a plea for money to support the message. I understand that some churches and some church members actually do good deeds, but to the naked eye the churches appear like every other organization – a few people do the work, some just show up. Judging from what is written in the news and our political discourse, the church should recognize that its message is hollow and outdated and doesn’t change human behavior – look at John Boehner for example. It also appears that there is competition for the consumer in religion like in commerce and for the same reasons. Mega churches post billions in revenues so they can afford those stadiums they build to pack the seats with more revenue generators. It seems far removed from the image of religion they want to convey to their flocks. WWJD?

  6. Thank you, Patti and daleb. I was a late bloomer coming to recognize organized religion for what it truly represents. Perfect ending to your message, daleb, a real grabber:)

  7. I have to agree with Pete that there isn’t much of a difference between for profit and not for profit enterprises. Non-profits do extremely well. It’s not hard for non profits to make profits disappear with accounting tricks.

    I have doubts about the description of the churches. Organizing as a nonprofit would be a piece of cake for a church and it would give them tax breaks such as not paying property taxes.

  8. I would like to see the IRS come down on churches that make politics their message, just to be fair and consistent. Most churches seem to be really careful about what they say and what they allow, and others who are often the most judgmental of others think they are above the rules. Maybe after a few churches have to pay taxes, their members will begin to understand that IRS rules aren’t just made for the other guy. They will begin to find out the meaning of the saying, “Those who go to bed with politicians wake up with fleas”. Maybe the members of the remaining churches will take notice, and be sure to stick to the message they said they would bring. It’s just asking folks to be honest while making sure that there are consequences for breaking reasonable rules. Sure, the violators will claim discrimination, weep, wail and carry on but they can tell it to the judge. They may also begin to understand that one should be careful not to be judgmental, lest they are judged by the same standards. After all, if the ones campaigning from the pulpit claim that their candidate is the more honest of the two, they should agree that honesty should be rewarded and dishonesty should experience some karma.

    Or maybe every organization should pay taxes.

  9. I would like to see all churches as not of profits and having to make their financial dealings public, totally removed from politics in their messages and actions. And truley see how they are improving the community with their message and deeds.
    Start with the Scintoligists here in Clearwater, you can’t believe the damage they have done to the City of Clearwater FL.

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