Permit to operate a church in South Africa

Starting a church is easy. Starting a church and staying on the right side of tax and other laws is slightly more work. Here’s what you need to do to claim religious tax breaks, and be able to conduct legal marriages. A franchise-type option is not entirely out of the question either.

Megachurches, which bring together thousands of worshippers from all walks of life, are also known for generating significant income through tithes, donations, and merchandise.

Rhema Bible Church, led by multi-millionaire televangelist Ray McCauley, has long been among the most prominent megachurches in South Africa. In one of very few public statements about revenue, the church reported turning over more than R100 million per year in 2009.

Grace Bible Church, a spin-off of the Rhema movement, is also in positive financial standing. According to its 2016 financial report, the church possesses assets in excess of R200 million.

In the case of Grace Bible Church, the majority of this income came from tithes and offerings. In 2016, this generated more than R60 million for the church. Bookshop sales brought in another R1.5 million for the year.

Many of these churches operate like businesses, complete with a highly-paid CEO/pastor who lives a lavish lifestyle. If that sounds good, just keep in mind that given the substantial tax breaks churches enjoy in South Africa, the South African Revenue Service is starting to take note of those high-flyers.

It is surprisingly easy to open a church of your own, regardless of where you stand on the topic of either preaching prosperity as a gospel of living it as a lifestyle.

And if you’re unsure how to go it alone, there are some established churches in South Africa who will help you out – for a fee.

Here’s what you need to know about starting up your own church in South Africa.

If your primary motivation is to conduct religious gatherings, formal or informal, South Africa’s Constitution offers you full protection.

South Africans have the right to start a simple church in a backyard, living room, or much larger space with little to no paperwork and administrative requirements.

However, large churches that wish to open bank accounts, benefit from tax exemptions, raise funds, sell merchandise, and officiate marriages, must first register.

Churches and other faith-based organisations in South Africa operate as non-profit companies or organisations. Like any civil society organisation, a new church must officially register as such in order to become a legal entity.

The Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC) manages the process of non-profit company registrations in South Africa, including churches. A non-profit company, registered without members, costs R475. A Memorandum of Incorporation for a standard non-profit company is R175.

There are several steps required in this process, depending on the exact nature of the organisation. Once submitted, the registration of the non-profit organisation should take 25 days. 

It’s also possible to register a faith-based organisation, such as a church, as a non-profit organisation.

Non-profit organisation registration is free, but it can take several months to complete.