Eighteen things to include in the story of your church.

John Roxborogh

 1. What was it like to live as a Christian at different times.

  e.g. How did Christians worship at home. What happened at baptisms? on Sundays? What did people think about missionaries?

 2. Lists of factual information.

 These may not be the most interesting parts of the story  but it is important to record them. If possible there should be lists of:

3. Analysis of church membership.

 This can be helpful for seeing what groups of people (language group, occupation, location) your church is most effective in ministering to and also to assist in the planning of future outreach. If carried out at intervals (say 5 years) it will indicate how the congregation is changing. The analysis could consider items such as:

4. Stories told about people, places and events.

 Do you know about the missionary who smoked a pipe after worship, but no one could tell him they did not think it was appropriate? Do you remember what happened when the church hall was burnt down? Who came when the new church was dedicated?

Simple descriptions of ordinary things make history live. Every congregation has its stories about characters and events. Too often they are not written down. Next time you hear a story about your church go home and write it down. Sometime you may be able to check dates and details - but don’t wait -  write it down anyway!

 5. Photographs.

 Effort needs to be made to get names and dates, but photographs of weddings, baptisms, Sunday School outings, Boys Brigade parades, visitors and families at church, are all helpful in showing what life was like at different times.  Here are some suggestions:

6. Changes in direction and policy.

 Studying minute books and church magazines will tell you something, especially if you read between the lines. But in order to find out why changes were made it is essential to talk to people who were involved who remember what was actually going on.

 7. Conflict in the Church.

 Most congregations and church organizations have their crises and their colourful characters who stir things up from time to time. From reading most local church histories you would never think so.

It is possible to mention disagreements without necessarily taking sides. It is possible to express another’s point of view with understanding even if you believe them to be wrong in some way. Always seek to be fair and objective. You can write `some in the church felt this way ...  others in the congregation felt ... .’

Of course conflicts should not be exaggerated, but without some mention of conflict, church history is not only dull, it is unreal - life is just not like that! Also it is often through our handling of conflict that we experience and prove what the gospel really means. What did people learn from these experiences?

 8. How people became Christians.

 It can be inspiring and helpful to record the testimony of individuals and groups. How did they come to Christ? When? Who was involved? What was it like? What difficulties did they experience? What did non-Christian relatives and friends have to say? How did they manage learning to live a Christian lifestyle?

 9. Why did people join your church or organization?

 Ask them! It will tell you a great deal about how you appear to others and how things actually work.

 10. Changes in the language of worship.

 When were there changes? Why? In what way? Did they work? Was there opposition? How was the matter decided?  What groups were happy? Which were not?

 11. Changes in worship style, in preaching or in theological emphasis.

 Again; when, why, how, and did they work?

 12. Life stories of ordinary Christians.

 We need biographies of bishops, presidents and missionaries and quite often these are eventually written. It is also vital to have life stories of lay Christians, leaders and ordinary folk who experience God in the ups and downs of daily life.

 13. Ways in which pre-Christian ideas carried over into the church.

 Christians are likely to go on having different opinions about what non-Christian practices can be modified and `baptized’ to be made useful in the church, and what practices should be rejected as being incompatible with acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.

One way to find out what happens, whatever the theory,  is to examine what people do in times of crisis and transition - what happens in connection with birth, death  marriage, sickness, conflict, adolescence? What prayers are requested at these times? What are people really expecting?

 14. How has the role of women changed?

 What avenues have there been for women to exercise leadership and how have these changed? What could a dedicated Christian woman do in the church at different times? What has been the reason for any changes that there have been in this? What models were being followed? What is the relationship between the theological understanding about the place of women and attitudes and practices which are cultural in origin? How much should our theology modify our practice? What women’s organizations have there been? What are the needs now?

 15. How local has the church become?

 This is not only a question of language, but also a question of art, music, architecture, culture and food. Where does the church look for models of how things ought to be done? 

 16. When was the `golden age’?

 Everybody has one or thinks they do! When was it that everything seemed to be going well?  What factors, internal (prayer, leadership, preaching) and external (social change and unrest, visiting evangelists, denominational or national programmes) help explain the success of this period? How much of this is repeatable and how much would have to be different if it was to happen again?

 17. Money.

 How is money raised and how is it spent? Who decides?  What has been the teaching about stewardship? How does this relate to the lifestyle and values of the people? Does money come from outside the congregation?

 18. Learnings.

 What has God taught you through the historical experiences of your church?

See also: Ten ways to go about writing the story of your church
More ideas for writing the story of your church