Sources for Historical Information
There are several important sources that will help you document and interpret the story of your church's ministry.
Your Church's Archives
What are archives? They are the memory of your church, contained in membership books, committee minutes, annual reports, photographs, and all the other paper records generated by your church over the years. Some churches have full and well-organized archives. Most churches, though, have lost records through fire, flood, or carelessness.
Make a list of all the records you can locate. Work with the congregation to find missing records. Gather the records in a safe place and use them as you develop heritage events and projects. They will reveal much about your church's activities, priorities, and personality.
For more detailed information on keeping local church records, contact the General Commission on Archives and History.
Journals of the Annual Conference
Conference journals are published every year. They contain detailed information about the churches, clergy, lay leadership, and ministries of your annual conference.
In the conference journal for any given year, you will find such statistical information as your church's membership, attendance figures for worship and the Sunday school, the value and condition of the church and parsonage, budgetary allocations, and a record of giving for the year. Each conference journal reports on the activity of the previous year. (That is, the 1870 journal contains statistics for 1869.)
The conference journal also records information about your pastors, including obituaries. In addition, the journal is an important source for understanding the life of your annual conference in different eras, and helps you place the history of your church in context.
Every predecessor denomination of The United Methodist Church published conference journals. Your annual conference archives should have an extensive collection of journals for your conference. The General Commission on Archives and History also has a large collection for The United Methodist Church and each predecessor denomination.
Your conference newspaper may contain a wealth of information about your church's activities. Although it can be tedious to read through decades of a weekly newspaper, your reward may be significant information about persons in your church who have been active on the conference and general church level. In addition, you may uncover details about camp meetings, conferences, and social events held at your church over the years.
The same is true of a town or county newspaper, which should have many references to your church, its activities, and its members. Like the conference journal, local newspapers help lend perspective and breadth to your understanding of your church's history.
If possible, read all the published histories of your annual conference, town, and county. Look for references to your church and its members. More generally, these accounts will help you understand local and regional history. This will help you interpret your church's historic role in the community and its response to social and economic issues at different eras in its history.