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Most religious organizations produce a lot of written, recorded, and often on-line materials each week. There may be service bulletins, newsletters, sermon transcripts, church school and bible study guides, web chats and twitter posts. Depending on what you need to find out, you may get your hands dirty!

Getting Started

  • Where To Look

    Where to look If they do keep records, your first step is deciding what information will best help you answer the main questions you are exploring. For example, if you are exploring the changing sources of and demands on the resources of the group, budgets and annual reports are a logical place to look. Decide on a few key indicators (total income from pledges, for instance, or spending on property and maintenance, mission gifts, denominational assessments). Then track down those figures for the time period you’ve decided is important, put them in a spreadsheet, and recruit someone with skills in working with numbers to produce a report, with a graph that clearly communicates the trends. Looking at budget records in this way can help you see the important values of the community.
  • Recording What You Find

    No matter what records you are working with, you need a plan. It’s easy to get lost in the archives! Know what sort of information you are looking for, and then make comprehensive notes. As in other forms of content analysis, start with a set of categories or questions, and add to your list as you read and discover other important themes.

The Tool Kit: Digging In The Attic

Our Studying Congregations Tool Kit features easy to use quick guides for better understanding a community of faith. This PDF download is ideal for religious leaders, seminarians and anyone else who wants to learn from archives — both formal and informal. Digging through archives and historical documents is a great way to study congregations.
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The Tool in Action

Case Study: St. Paul’s Congregation

The Alley News of the Phillips Neighborhood in Minneapolis recently posted an account and explanation of St. Paul Lutheran Church’s “Notes of Growth and Change.” This looks a lot like the basic facts people would want to have about their particular churches for a congregational timeline. The account is full of rich detail and interesting asides for people interested in understanding the past and present culture of the congregation. Some highlights: “Rev. F. H. Carlson 1880-1884 StP’s on April 9, 1883 decided to move...
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