Frequently Asked Questions for Churches
Planting a new church? Need to know what's involved? Get started by looking through this list of FAQs. Do note that this FAQ is not exhaustive. Further enquiries can be made by calling the NECF Malaysia office.
Some of the answers here are drawn from the book Doing the Right Thing: A Practical Guide on Legal Matters for Churches in Malaysia by Dr Ng Kam Weng (2004). The book is available free here, courtesy of the Krisis & Praxis blog run by Dr Ng.
Click on a question or scroll down to see all questions and answers:
- Does a church need to be registered with any government authority in order to exist?
- Which is the correct government department to register a church with?
- What are the pros and cons of registering a church with the ROS?
- Can NECF help churches with ROS registration?
- If we don't register with the ROS, are there other options so that a church can conduct transactions, hold property, etc?
Registration of membership with NECF:
- What are the types of membership under NECF?
- For churches, what are the criteria for Ordinary Membership?
- For individuals, what are the criteria for Associate Membership?
- What is the process for membership application?
- How long does registration take?
- If we register under NECF, do we need to register as a Sdn. Bhd?
- My church has planted a sister church. Should we register a new membership for the new church?
Church Property/Land issues:
- Are churches allowed to own land?
- How does a non-registered church buy properties?
- Our church wants to apply for land to build a church from the state government but they only process applications for churches registered with the government. As we are not registered with the ROS, what should we do?
Taxation, Financial and EPF issues:
- Are we subjected to tax? / Please advise if our church income is taxable.
- How does my church apply for tax deductions for our congregation members who give tithes and offerings?
- How does a non-registered church open an EPF account?
- What are the criteria for Missionary Visa applications?
- How long is the visa for?
- How can NECF help with my church's application for a missionary visa?
1. Church Registration
Does a church need to be registered with any government authority in order to exist?
It is not necessary for a church to register with the government on the basis of Article 11(3) of the Federal Constitution, which gives every religious group the right to:
- manage its own affairs
- establish and maintain institutions for religious or charitable purposes
- acquire and own property and hold and administer it in accordance to law.
There are no conditions found in Article 11 or anywhere in the Constitution that requires a church to form a legal association before they can be regarded as lawful.
Which is the correct government department to register a church with?
Churches that wish to be registered may do so with the Registrar of Societies (ROS). For para-church organisations and institutions, they must register with the ROS as required by law.
What are the pros and cons of registering a church with the ROS?
The pros: A church will be able to acquire and manage properties, open bank accounts, and enjoy greater ease when applying for government permits and approvals.
The cons: A church becomes subject to ROS requirements and faces the risk of deregistration due to technicalities.
Can NECF help churches with ROS registration?
You need to engage the help of a company secretary to guide you through this process.
If we don't register with the ROS, are there other options so that a church can conduct transactions, hold property, etc?
Churches can operate under their own constitution that provides for the appointment of trustees to facilitate ownership of property and conduct other commercial transactions. Some churches also incorporate themselves as private companies limited by guarantee. Please refer to Section 45 of the National Land Code 1965 and engage help from a qualified lawyer or company secretary.
2. Registration of membership with NECF
What are the types of membership under NECF?
There are two types - Ordinary and Associate memberships. Ordinary Membership is for legally constituted local churches and registered Christian organisations or institutions. Associate Membership is for individual Christians.
For churches, what are the criteria for Ordinary Membership?
The basic criteria for churches and organisations:
- The church must be in existence for at least one year. If the church is in a split situation, it must wait 3 years before registration, unless a letter of blessing is obtained from the church of origin.
- It must have a congregation of at least 25 adult members.
- The church must have a proper constitution.
- 2 referees from among existing NECF members must support the application.
- The Church must subscribe to the cardinal evangelical doctrines.
- For para-church organisations, they must first be registered with ROS
For individuals, what are the criteria for Associate Membership?
Individuals must agree with the NECF's Statement of Faith which is attached to the Associate Membership application form, downloadable through this link.
What is the process for membership application?
First, determine the type of membership application - Ordinary or Association. Ensure that you meet the stipulated criteria. Download the relevant application form through this link and submit it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
How long does registration take?
It can be as fast as a few months, but largely depends on whether the church has fulfilled all criteria and how speedily it provides the necessary documents to NECF.
If we register under NECF, do we need to register as a Sdn. Bhd?
Registering as an incorporated body is entirely the church's prerogative. There is no legal requirement for churches to register with the government as a Sdn Bhd.
My church has planted a sister church. Should we register a new membership for the new church?
Yes, it is advisable for the newly planted church to have her own membership. The application should be submitted with a list of office bearers and a cover letter from the parent church.
3. Church property/land issues
Are churches allowed to own land?
Yes, they are, as long as they are incorporated as private companies limited by guarantee or have set up a trust. This qualifies churches as either a corporation (a Sdn Bhd) or a body empowered to hold land under any written law, which are categories of person/bodies eligible to hold and deal in land/immovable property as specified under Section 43 of the National Land Code 1965.
How does a non-registered church buy properties?
Non-registered churches can buy property through a trust. Consult a lawyer or a company secretary to draft a trust deed, stating precisely the purpose of such a trust, the subject matter or trust property, and the beneficiaries. The trust instrument should clearly define the trustees' duties and limits of powers to minimize abuse.
Our church wants to apply for land to build a church from the state government but they only process applications for churches which are registered with the government. As we are not registered with the ROS, what should we do?
In absence of ROS registration, NECF can assist by issuing the government authority a letter to certify that your church is a registered member of NECF. This however, is not a guarantee that you will obtain the land. The other option is for your church to create a trust deed to enable trustees to hold the land on behalf of the church.
4. Taxation, financial and EPF issues
Are we subjected to tax? / Please advise if our church income is taxable.
The Income Tax Act allows for tax exemption under specific circumstances -
- a religious institution or organization.
- not operated or conducted primarily for profit.
- established in Malaysia.
- exclusively for the purposes of religious worship, or
- for the advancement of religion.
How does my church apply for tax deductions for our congregation members who give tithes and offerings?
You need to create a TPRI Fund by opening a separate bank account and drafting a set of rules to govern the Fund (House of Worship Fund Regulations). Please refer to this link at the Income Tax website for instructions and other details: Garis Panduan Permohonan Untuk Kelulusan Di Bawah Subseksyen 44(6) Akta Cukai Pendapatan 1967 Bagi Tabung Pengurusan Rumah Ibadat (TPRI) Dan Contoh Peraturan Tabung Pengurusan Rumah Ibadat, dated 27-9-2012.
To start the Fund, you also need an endorsement letter from the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM). The template of the letter/form is downloadable from here.
How does a non-registered church open an EPF account?
Under the EPF Act, an employer is defined as a person(s) with whom an employee has a contract of service or apprenticeship. 'Employer' includes any group of persons whether statutory, non-statutory, incorporated or non-incorporated. Non-registered churches fall into the category of non-incorporated entities and are therefore obligated to open an account with them. Please refer to the EPF which can guide you through this process.
5. Missionary Visas
What are the criteria for Missionary Visa applications?
- There is no local expertise or person with the required qualification, including ethnic requirement to pastor foreign-language congregations.
- There must be an understudy to succeed the person after the visa expires.
- The application must be endorsed by a national body representing the respective faiths (NECF is one of the appointed and recognised agencies).
How long is the visa for?
Each visa is given on a year-to-year basis. Only one visa will be issued per applicant. There is no stated policy limiting the number of applications which can be made.
How can NECF help with my church's application for a missionary visa?
NECF can issue an endorsement letter upon request. Even with this letter, the issuance of the visa is still subject to discretion of the Malaysian Immigration Department.