Which records does your local church needs to keep for the everyday business of the church? Which records do you no longer need? Which records do you need keep in the permanent historic records of the church? The information on this page can help you find the answers to these questions. It represents suggestions, not mandates; local churches must use their discretion to decide which records to retain or dispose of. For a full explaination, see the "Guidelines for Managing Records of the Annual Conference and the Local Church" created by the General Commission on Archives and History.
It is recommended that records used in the everyday business of the church be kept for three to five years. This would include minutes, correspondence, reports, memos, financial records, and many others. After three to five years, these records are referenced less and need to be appraised for their continued value. Knowledgeable members of the church can use a retention schedule to sort the records. A particular record may not always be useful in the way its initial creator intended it but could later be of use in a different way.
An example of this is the minutes of the church. Minutes should be kept for every meeting that takes place—board meetings, council meetings, women's meetings, youth meetings, Sunday School meetings, etc. Office personnel, boards, and members may use the minutes to record what has been done and said at meetings and refer back to them to see what needs to be done. They are initially used as an accountability tool. After years have passed, they instead become a window into the history of the church and significant events that took place.
A records retention schedule should also give us permission to dispose of some records. For example, most detailed financial records can be tossed, but summary documents, statements, and audits should be kept.
For a more in depth look at records retention please consult the "Guidelines for Managing Records of the Annual Conference and the Local Church" created by the General Commission on Archives and History.
Many church records are now “born digital.” Board minutes are created on laptops; financial records are recorded in Excel spreadsheets or databases. While these technologies help us be more productive, issues surrounding the keeping of digital records are complex. The General Commission on Archives and History document “Guidelines for Managing Digital Records, 2017” explores many of these complex issues.
Digital records should be retained on the same schedule as paper records. If minutes are a permanent record of the church, then minutes created electronically are also a permanent record of the church and a plan should be created to retain them.
For questions or additional information, contact Conference Archivist Heidi Heller (612) 230-6149.
Minutes should be created by all boards, commissions, committees, and sub-committees. Minutes are a permanent record of the local church and should be retained by the secretary of the committee during their active life, about three to five years. When the minutes become inactive, they should be deposited in the local church archives.
How to take minutes
This task isn't reserved for secretaries only. Any person who attends a meeting may be asked to do this. Since the minutes will serve as an official record of what took place during the meeting, you must be very accurate. Here are some pointers to help master this skill:
Before the meeting
During the meeting
After the meeting
Given the technology available today, very few people hand-write minutes in a book with numbered pages. As the pen has given way to the computer, organizations need to find a way to print their minutes and keep the minutes on consecutive pages in notebooks or folders.
A note of caution: When changes and corrections need to be made to minutes, there is a tendency to want to change the electronic document. This is not the correct thing to do. Changes to this month’s minutes are noted in the next month’s minutes, and the current minutes are kept in their uncorrected form as part of the permanent record. Those looking for information in the minutes should look at the following meeting’s copy of minutes for possible correction.
Heidi Heller, Minnesota Conference Archivist
firstname.lastname@example.org / 612-230-6149
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church