I’m about to engage with a new church in a transitional coaching role. One of the things out of the gate we’ll be doing is assessment and the history of the church is a big part of that. I’ve started making requests for the documentation I need and I thought I’d just pass on the process I follow to get to the bottom of a church history.
I know I’ve talked about this before, but I want to share more of a process with you here. In a transitional role it’s not just about the celebratory church history, but about the real history of the church. Here’s a process to work through to get a grip on the history of your church, whether you’re in a new situation or have been in one for a while.
The very first place to go is any actual church history documents. Maybe the church had a 20th or 50th anniversary and somebody did up a history. That’s the starting point and what you’re trying to do out of the gate is develop a timeline of the major events and major personnel, often lead pastor changes, in the life of church. So you get any official church history documents and start drafting out this high level view and the timeline.
From there you go to the annual reports. The churches I’m apart of have an annual meeting every year and there’s annual reports, usually a document with reports from the different ministry areas, a report from the pastor or pastors, and a report from the board of elders. In those reports, I especially want to pay attention to items in the church history that need some more detail to understand. Often a church history will just have a sentence or half a sentence about some event in the church that was actually quite significant, but doesn’t go into detail.
So I want to pay attention to those annual reports to see if anything more is said and see if there’s been been any big items that are missed in those church history documents. The big items such as facilities changes, building programs, changes of the name of a church, and changes of lead pastors. You want to capture all those things and major crises as well. In the annual reports I especially pay attention to the lead pastor report and the elders report. Again, if there’s things flagged there I will dig more into the other staff or ministry reports just to round out my understanding.
From there, you might not want to go through all the board minutes in the whole history of the church, and unless it’s a newer church, you probably don’t need to. But you use the minutes of the board meetings to drill down further into those issues that came up in the church history and through the annual reports that don’t have a lot of detail where you need to figure out exactly what happened.
Why did this person leave? Why was this ministry ended? What exactly happened here? The church board minutes should contain the answers to those questions. Once you’ve done that, if you still see some gaps or even if you don’t have gaps, it’s really helpful to interview people who’ve been in the church, both a long time or a short time, if they’ve been there for critical moments in the church. Unpack the from their perspective exactly what’s gone on in life for the church.
Once you’ve done this process from church history documents, reports, board minutes, and interviews, you will know the history and the current reality of the church your in better than almost anybody, because it’s the history of the church that explains where it is right now.
So if you haven’t done a history work over in your church that you’re in right now or you’re going to a new church, this is a process you can follow. You will find it immensely helpful. It will accelerate your time of understanding the culture and the location and the ministry you’re in much more than just kind of waiting to discover these things by chance.
Hope there’s a nugget in there you find useful. Thanks for listening. Press on.