But more than homeschooling, I love the church. Not just my church, but THE church, the universal body of Christ, the ekklesia ("called out ones"), my brothers and sisters in the Lord, which is expressed in thousands upon thousands of locally established congregations around the world.
These days, especially in our country, homeschooling and the church intersect a lot. Many churches have their own homeschool programs, as a ministry of the church to the greater homeschool community. Others "host" homeschool programs begun and led by someone else. Some of these relationships are beautiful, and others honestly make me cringe, especially when the church either hasn't done its homework and, sometimes, that ignorance is being exploited by the homeschool program in question.
With that in mind, here are some questions that every church should ask BEFORE they agree to host a homeschool program. They are also questions that should be asked if a church is CURRENTLY hosting a homeschool program. I hope it helps.
What governs the use of the church facilities?
Another part of the church policies has to do with the church's insurance policy. What does your insurance policy say about other groups using your facility? A simple call to your agent will give you this information.
Let's start at the federal level. Most churches are exempt from paying income tax, which makes most of their money available to actually do the work of the ministry. Connected to that exemption is the expectation that the church (as with all nonprofits) will not cross the line into areas of private benefit or inurement. (This article does a good job explaining those terms.) The importance of this will be discussed later.
At the state level, most churches are also exempt from paying property taxes, which also helps to make most of their money available to actually do the work of the ministry (this is a good thing). Connected to that exemption are expectations from the state, and these expectations vary from state to state.
Some states require very little of churches to retain their property tax exemption once it is established. Some require a church to use their facilities and property EXCLUSIVELY for ministry or exempt activities - meaning activities run by organization that would also be exempt from paying property taxes if they had their own facilities (usually nonprofit, though not even all nonprofits meet that requirement). Other states require a church to use their facilities PRIMARILY for ministry or exempt activities. Some have an actual count of how many days a church can be used in support of activities that are NOT exempt.
The bottom line for all of these is that since the state grants the property tax exemption, the state makes the rules, and the churches that accept that exemption need to play by those rules.
How do you know what your state's rules are? Ask. Contact the Department of Revenue for your state, ask to speak to someone in the property tax division and ask these questions: As a church exempt from paying property tax, what would be the consequences of allowing an outside entity to use our facilities? What if that entity is a nonprofit? What if that entity is a for-profit business? How is that impacted by the number of days a week and the number of hours per day? Get their answers in writing, if possible. (This document, while it may be out of date in some states, is an excellent starting place.)
At the local level, a church needs to consider fire codes and zoning laws. Sometimes, agreeing to host a regular activity for children requires upgrades on exit doors, fire extinguishers, etc., and in some cases, allowing a business to operate in a church, even if allowed by the church documents and state laws, would violate zoning laws.
What is the business structure of the homeschool group? Is it for-profit or nonprofit?
Also, please note that for "educational" activities to be "exempt", they need to be run by a nonprofit. A for-profit business engaged in "educational" activities for profit (meaning owned by a business owner, rather than organized as a nonprofit and run by a board) is not considered "exempt" for legal and tax purposes.
Back to the church's organizing documents - do they support allowing a for-profit business to use its space? If so, under what circumstances?
Back to the state's rules about a church retaining its property tax exemption - Is the church required to notify the state Department of Revenue about a change in use to determine its continued eligibility for its property tax exemption if it allows a for-profit business to operate in its facility?
Nonprofits should be registered with the state and possibly with the IRS. Look it up (go here for the IRS search tool). If you cannot find the nonprofit in those places indicating that it is active and up to date, ask for an explanation.
Ask who is on the Board. Are there are least three unrelated persons? This isn't a law, but it's a good idea.
Ask what the mission of the nonprofit is. Is it secular or faith-based? If faith-based, is it supportive of the mission of the church? Is it compatible with the church’s stance on current hot-button issues (consider if the nonprofit and the church are on the same page about Creation, abortion, sexuality, gender, and marriage issues in particular)? In short, is the mission of the nonprofit supportive of or in opposition to the mission and values of your church?
Ask if any others outside company or organization will have significant influence or control over their decisions, especially regarding leadership or curriculum used. (This is particularly important if the nonprofit will be operating with a license from Classical Conversations.)
Final Questions for Either Business Structure
Is the group/business new or already established?
Who is the group/business associated with ?
What are the group's/business's policies?
What will the group teach?
If science is taught, what view of evolution and creation does the group teach? If any of this is different from your church, is that a deal-breaker?
Remember, your church facility was entrusted to you by God, paid for with the tithes and offerings of faithful members over the years, to be used to promote the gospel. Do not take that responsibility lightly or allow it to be used to promote something that is in opposition to that, especially to vulnerable children!
A few notes for churches considering, or already, hosting a Classical Conversations program
- Most “CC groups” are privately owned for-profit businesses. They are NOT co-ops. The business owner is known as a “Director” who has signed a licensing agreement with Classical Conversations.
- That business owner will pay a per-student licensing fee to Classical Conversations, Inc., a for-profit homeschool company located in North Carolina. A portion of that licensing fee will also be paid as a commission to the "Support Representative" and the "Area Representative, both independent contractors (except in California where they are employees) working for CC, and both in the "upline" of the Director. If that sounds like an MLM like Avon or Pampered Chef, it's because it's very close to it.
- Most tutors for the K-6 classes are also for-profit business owners contracting with the Director to lead their class.
- In a "full" CC community, there could be fifteen for-profit business owners running their business activities on the same day.
- To enroll in a CC-affiliated tutoring program, families must also "enroll" in Classical Conversations, Inc., with a cost of $103 to $309 per year.
- If the Director (aka CC-affiliated for-profit business owner) happens to be a pastor or other key leader, or the spouse of a pastor or other key leader, the church needs to be careful not to risk accusations of inurement, which could place a church’s income tax exemption at risk with the IRS.
- Some churches who have “hosted” CC-affiliated tutoring programs have been charged property tax (you can find some information HERE, as well as in the Facebook Group Let Us Reason For Real (LURFR).
- For more information about CC, read my reviews of the program itself and of the business opportunity.