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How to record the history of your church

Whether your church is 20 years old or 200 years old, it has a story to tell, and your congregation should have the opportunity to hear it.

When did it begin? Who was there? What happened in the years since then?

Here are a few tips to help you share the history of your church:

The media

The ways in which you can communicate the story of your church are as varied as the members in your congregation. You may want to go traditional or try something more technologically savvy.

Photo collections — For this method, all you need are lots of pictures and photo frames, albums or boxes. But in order to adequately reflect your church history, you need more than a pile of pictures. You need to sort your photos to create an organized collection. They can be organized chronologically or divided by year or subject. For example, you could have a photo box labeled “Christmas through the years.” If you use an album, you may want to add a note or label to indicate general dates or subjects of the photographs. For framed photo collections, you will want to attach a caption that may include a title for the picture, the date and names of the people in the photograph (if known), noted from left to right and the photographer’s name.

Scrapbooks — Chances are, you probably have some people in your congregation who love to scrapbook. This type of documentation requires a little more creativity and a few more supplies (craft paper, stickers, glue, scissors and other embellishments, as well as the scrapbooks). In addition to pictures, many scrapbooks include written narratives. Ask some of your older congregants to write memoirs about important dates in your church history, or look for important documents that can be copied and included in the scrapbook.

Public displays (wall timelines and bulletin boards) — This type of photo sharing is most likely going to be temporary, but it is especially fun for special events like a church homecoming Sunday. Collect pictures that represent the highlights of your church history and create a special bulletin board for their display, or simply arrange them in chronological order along a timeline in your church foyer or hall. Add index cards/labels with dates and descriptions for more detail.

Oral storytellers — Unless recorded for posterity, this too is considered a temporary way of communicating the story of your church. However, it is an especially moving and artistic avenue to explore. Find volunteers in your church with the talent of writing and performing. Ask them to research and write the history of your local church. Ask them to put together and perform an oral recitation or play that demonstrates the high points of your church’s heritage.

Highlight videos — You may choose to capture the story of your church by creating a compelling video production. This can be a slideshow of photos set to music, or you may want to produce a video compilation that includes interviews with members as well as photos and live footage of more recent sermons, worship services and events.

The method

Once you’ve decided the medium for your project, there things to keep in mind as you get started.

Here are a few tips to preserve the history of your church:

Gathering the information — Start by checking your church files and church library. Ask members to collect and copy pictures to donate. You may want to put out a social media appeal to garner the help of previous members who may no longer live in the area. You can also check your local library/city archives for important articles and dates. Don’t forget to look for written memoirs, testimonies, wedding and funeral announcements and other printed materials that may add a personal touch. Once you have collected a sizeable amount, volunteers will need to organize it by date or subject and then make the tough calls as to what actually will be included in the presentation and what will need to be left out.

Putting it together — After you have done the hard work of collecting the information, make sure that you take great care in how you put it all together. Make high-quality copies of any original documents or photographs that need to be returned to their original owners or kept in more secure locations. Determine your format before cutting, gluing or adhering anything. Preserving and framing photographs requires special care. Always use appropriate photo-safe materials to protect your photos. Consider wearing white cotton gloves to prevent fingerprints. If you choose not to wear gloves, wash your hands before handeling the photographs and refrain from rubbing using lotion while working with them. After you have completed the project, store it in a climate-controlled location that will help keep it preserved (not in a basement or attic).

Presenting the materials — Once your project is ready for public viewing, determine how you will make it available to your congregation. Remember, a lot of people may have likely taken part in contributions to the project; so you want to make it available to as many people as possible. If you have an album or a scrapbook, you may want to display it on a table in the church foyer to be viewed. In order to prevent mishandling, consider asking a volunteer to man the table. After a time of public display, place the album/scrapbook in the church library or office where it can be accessed in the future on an individual basis.

If you choose to construct a timeline/bulletin board, make an announcement and/or put a notation of the display's location in the bulletin. Encourage people to stop by and look at it, and take lots of pictures of it before dismantling. If you composed an oral presentation, play or video, make sure you highly publicize the date of presentation. Let people know that you are going to present a historical record of your church history. Invite previous pastors or members to come to the event. Film the unveiling and share it via a Facebook Live broadcast. You may even want to sell or give away copies of the recording for people to have for their own personal viewing, or post the video on your church website, Facebook page, or YouTube channel.

Compiling a church history can be a significant undertaking, but it’s one that will help the memories of your church live on from generation to generation. If your church is young, consider starting now. Preserving history year-to-year is a lot easier than playing catch-up. If your church is older, don’t delay. Help preserve the story of your church by creating a legacy of memories today.

Tricia Brown

Tricia Brown has been a freelance writer and editor for more than twenty years, ghost-writing and editing for individuals as well as for health, education and religious organizations. She enjoys reading, writing and public speaking commitments in which she teaches and encourages other women.

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