Help for Church Staff in Saving Records

What Do I Keep?

What to keep? Although it is very tempting to keep just about everything that is created by the church, it is not practical to keep every single scrap of paper. These guidelines were developed to give a general out-line of the items necessary for legal, historical and financial matters of the church’s history. A lawyer should always be consulted on any legal matter, including the maintenance of all the church’s records. For safety’s sake, it is recommended that a duplicate copy, such as microfilm, be kept in another location. Contact the Louisiana Baptists’ Archives for information on microfilming these records. This service is free of charge.

The first step in determining what to keep is getting input from all interested members of the congregation, as to not leave any important materials out of this process. After listing the materials, determine how much space will be needed to archive these items. Make sure you allow enough space to have a work area and that the area is secure with proper environmental conditions. Limit access to a special history committee or archivist. The committee or archivist should also establish goals, policies and accession procedures for the church archives collection.

This listing will give the committee or archivist an idea on what needs to be a part of the church’s permanent collection or what only needs to be kept for a few years. If there is ever a question, it’s always best to keep the item.

Permanent Collection

  • Church minutes
  • Minutes of staff, committees, deacons, WMU, etc.
  • Legal papers (deeds, trust agreements)
  • Taxes (federal, property, state)
  • Financial records (audit reports, payroll records, general ledgers, journals, annual reports)
  • Final drafts of sermons, special presentations, etc.
PUBLICATIONS (only keep one of each):
  • Newsletters
  • Worship bulletins
  • Membership directories
  • Brochures and pamphlets published by the church
  • Written and oral (recorded & transcribed)
  • Recordings of services or special events
  • Church members and special celebrations
  • Church building
  • Pastors, Ministers of Music, Education or other church leaders
  • Members
  • Plaques
  • Communion ware
  • Diaries, scrapbooks, or trophies
  • Birthday cards
  • Invitations
  • Birth/death announcements
  • Church and church members

Helpful archival hints

Do not use tape of any kind or Post-it notes. ONLY use stainless steel staples and paper clips. For permanent collection, only use acid-free boxes, folders, plastic sheets, and paper. This will insure your collection for many, many years to come.

Suggested Record Retention

2 to 3 years:
  • Bank statements
  • General correspondence
  • Voided payroll checks
  • Delivery receipts
3 to 4 years:
  • Deposit slips
  • Expired insurance policies, all types
  • Requisitions & purchase orders
4 to 5 years:
  • Correspondence with applicants
  • Employees’ applications (terminated)
  • Tax withholding statements
5 to 6 years:
  • Equipment inventory records
  • Safety, insurance, fire inspection reports
  • Internal audit reports
  • Monthly trial balances
6 to 7 years:
  • Bonds, registers & cancelled
  • Expired contracts & agreements
  • Employee records (terminated)
  • Federal/state income tax returns
  • Insurance, group disability, etc.
  • Invoices, paid
  • Payroll, general, part-time, over-time
  • Sold real estate records
7 to 8 years:
  • Checks, payroll
  • Purchase orders for capital expenditure
8 to 9 years:
  • Accident reports (after settlement)
  • Agreements, leases (after expiration)
  • Checks, general & petty cash
  • Compensation cases (after closing)
  • Vouchers, cash & numeric copy

Louisiana Baptist Story (1960’s)

Microfilming Your Church’s History

Louisiana Baptist churches are — the people, the buildings, the services. Each church has its own unique beginning, struggles and triumphs. Preserving that history is as important as the Sunday morning service. Without a plan for keeping history safe, many parts of it will be lost!

Fire, flood and other natural disasters are a few reasons why it is imperative that you have your church records microfilmed.

One way to preserve the records of your church is by microfilming. The primary purpose of microfilming church records is to provide a replacement of materials for researchers, historians and future generations of the church.

Fire, flood and other natural disasters are a few reasons why it is imperative that you have your church records microfilmed. Another reason is that the great majority of material is written on paper. Early paper-making techniques and the use of alkaline materials contributed to the longevity of paper. Contemporary high speed machines produce inexpensive paper with high acid content which sets the stage for its own destruction. Paper deteriorates much more quickly when housed under poor environmental conditions. Too often church materials are stored at inconsistent temperatures and in too humid areas (always a problem in Louisiana). Ultraviolet light, air pollutants and other chemicals may cause the paper to become unusable.

The microfilm process is reasonably inexpensive. Microfilm is durable and with the proper handling and storage can last for many, many years. If deterioration does begin for any reason, it can be caught with regular inspections, and a duplicate can be produced; therefore it has an unlimited life-span.

The Louisiana Baptist Archives are able to provide this microfilming service your church needs to preserve its history, free of charge. The earnings from a gift given by the Mr. and Mrs. Clark Williams Estate of Oak Ridge to the Louisiana Baptist Foundation in 1969 are designated for the collection and preservation of Louisiana Baptist history.

Listed below are a few steps to follow before contacting the archives.
  1. Suggest and/or obtain permission that your church’s records be microfilmed. The church history committee or clerk can present this recommendation.
  2. Organize the records and prepare a general list of all items being filmed, such as, chronological by groups (minutes, financial reports, bulletins, etc.). The Louisiana Baptists’ archivist can suggest ways that will be beneficial to historians. Remove all staples, paper clips and other minor bindings to aid with the speed of filming.
  3. Please allow 2-3 weeks for processing. The minutes and records are kept in a secure, environmentally controlled area while being filmed.

The Louisiana Baptists’ archivist keeps a copy of the microfilm available for viewing and photocopying in the archives. The Historical Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention houses the master film in a fire proof, environmentally controlled vault. If the your church chooses to have a copy of the film, it can be obtained through the Commission at the church’s cost.

If necessary, transportation arrangements can be made for the materials through your associational office to and from the convention archives.

Now you can feel secure – if fire, flood or time destroys your church’s records, a copy is and will always be available!

A New Day in Louisiana (1940’s)