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

No matter where your congregation keeps its 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.
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.

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 Digging through archives and historical documents is a great way to study congregations.
Tool in Action