Watch Your Step
Business activity in your church can impact employment policies and zoning.
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Launching a business at a church may provide a needed bridge to connect with the surrounding community, providing an evangelistic opportunity. But launching a business likely poses less obvious implications for a church. Below is a compilation of key points and examples from several sources that a church should keep in mind as it anticipates the launch of a business. Use this information to further investigate local, state, and federal laws and to prepare accordingly.

Zoning Laws

Many courts have been asked to decide whether a particular use of property comes within the definition of a church under municipal zoning laws. The following activities and uses have been held to come within that definition:

  • Use of a home across the street from a church for women's fellowship meetings and religious education classes.
  • A single-family residence used by the United Presbyterian Church as a religious coffeehouse for university students.
  • A priest's home, convent, and parochial school.
  • A kindergarten, play area, and parochial school.
  • A private school operated by a Baptist church.

Other courts have concluded that certain uses of property do not constitute a church in the context of zoning laws. To illustrate, one court has held that an area restricted to residential and church uses could not accommodate temporary, open-air camp meetings. The court observed that not every place in which religious services are conducted is a church. It inferred that a church at the least must consist of "a building set apart for public worship," and thus could not include camp meetings.

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Posted: January 19, 2009

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