Work Group 1 - Mission Agency In-House Archives

Members: Bob Arnold, Ken Gill, Dave Howard, John Kyle, Carl McMindes, Bob Shuster, Chuck Weber, and Elizabeth Yakel (Facilitator)

Questions for consideration: What obstacles might prevent a mission from starting its own archives? What kind of archives is realistic for an independent mission agency to create and maintain? What are the benefits of in-house archives? What kind of help will a mission need to get started and what would be the sources of that help?

This report summarizes the discussions concerning the benefits of and obstacles to creating in-house mission archives. The discussion was organized around five main issues:

These questions are close to, but do not completely overlap the initial questions the group was charged with addressing. In general, the discussions among members of group 1 were lively and participants challenged each other to think of solutions. The discussions concerning the factors needed to begin in-house mission archives and the concrete list of activities were particularly strong outcomes of the discussions.

1. Why maintain in-house archives?

The discussion concerning the rationale for maintaining in-house mission archives came directly after David Howard's articulate and moving talk about the importance of the role of history in mission organizations. In the group discussion David Howard reiterated, "It is vitally important for missions leaders to keep in contact with their roots. The roots help understand where we are now and what is the vision of the founders." This understanding of where a mission has been leads to a better understanding where the mission is and where it should be going (at all levels of mission).

A related but second rationale for the need for mission archives is the on-going administrative uses for information. John Kyle stated that when new directors assume the leadership of missions they develop a long-range strategic plan, for this plan they need records, documentation and analysis of past activities. Bob Arnold noted, "The point isn't just having them, but that they're accessible." Carl McMindes added that there was a concurrent need to ensure that the information was accurate. These comments identify elements needed for an effective archival program: comprehensive, organized, and accurate records.

The discussion of in-house mission archives also touched on two other related topics: the quality of documentation and electronic records. There was a consensus that current mission records do not possess the detail of records from the past and therefore finding the best documentation is more difficult. Added to this problem is the emergence of electronic records (email, relational databases, digital video and photography). The difficulty of maintaining these recordkeeping systems and dealing with electronic records in most mission archives was also discussed. This is an area in which all archives are struggling, however, several group members noted that major decisions are communicated and documented in email and organizations need to develop mechanisms for capturing this information.

2. Factors needed to begin an in-house mission archives:

A number of critical factors were identified as being necessary for both establishing and maintaining a strong in-house mission archives. These factors were: a visionary CEO, leadership / board support, funding, space, and personnel. While these are all needed, getting the CEO and other leaders to embrace the rationale for archives were cited as the most important factors.

VISIONARY LEADERSHIP is the key element in the establishment of an in-house mission archives. This was illustrated in Bob Arnold's case study on the creation of the SIM archives and the role of the director, Ian Hays. Leaders of missions have to be convinced that the archives are important and that archives can contribute to the ongoing development of mission work. The underlying assumption here is that archives are not just there, but they are used. Bob Arnold noted that in-house mission officials comprise the majority of users of the SIM archives.

MISSION BOARDS are a second tier of leadership in mission organizations that need to understand the importance of archives in their organizations. In regard to boards, the need for education was identified. It was noted that many mission boards seem to think that histories appear and do not tie mission histories to well organized and managed archival sources. Carl McMindes discussed his difficulty in locating records for a mission history he was asked to write by the board. This lack of a connection on the part of boards between histories and records is a major problem.

FUNDING is another major issue - convincing mission organizations to spend money on archives rather than on direct support of missions will be a continual problem. The types of expenditures needed for an archives e.g., Capital /start up and on-going operating expenses were discussed in detail. Ken Gill noted the initial expenses in organizing the collection are greater than for maintaining an organization, others noted initial renovation costs for space as being a particularly large investment.

John Kyle pushed the archivists in the group to develop a cost model for the development of an archival program. He convincingly argued that lack of a concrete dollar figure was off-putting to mission directors and board members. Bob Shuster noted that the cost of establishing archives could vary widely, but John Kyle persisted in the need for some guide to the what was needed and insight into how the costs could vary depending on the various factors (size of the archival collection, renovations needed / desired, special conservation needs, etc.)

There were numerous references to foundations that might potentially be interested in funding mission archives. Some group members were optimistic about this possibility. In terms of the traditional archival sources, funding for start up costs is a hard sell.

SPACE and the location of the archives were cited as a factor in developing in-house mission archives. In terms of the current locations of significant archival records group members noted finding records near furnaces, in attics, and scattered around missions. Locating sufficient, secure, and suitable space for the archives was identified as a major problem. Bob Shuster noted that in the beginning the space did not have to be ideal (full temperature and humidity control); it just should be secure and equipped with some storage equipment.

PERSONAL was the final necessary factor for in-house archives. While potential sources of personnel were discussed (missionaries on home leave, retired missionaries), training of those personnel appeared to be a key issue. The lack of knowledge about appropriate training opportunities was discussed.

3. What obstacles might prevent a mission from establishing its own archives?

Many of the obstacles to establishing an in-house mission archives have already been discussed. Major obstacles include

These obstacles led to a discussion of alternative funding sources and alternatives to the model of an in-house mission archives. While this was not directly our charge, the discussion of the following models was useful.

4. Models for Mission Archives

In a bit of a departure from our charge, group 1 explored different models for caring for mission records. These models were: a stand-alone in-house mission archives, academic institutions collecting records of mission organizations, an independent cooperatively run archives that housed the records of multiple mission organizations, a mega-mission archives center operated by one organization, and a central coordinating organization performed clearinghouse and broad-based activities that would help the entire mission archives community.

A majority of the discussions focused on IN-HOUSE MISSION ARCHIVES, so this model is not discussed in great detail in this section of the report. The in-house mission archives is focused on serving the parent mission. One problem with all the other models is that taking the archives out of the mission would endanger the tie of the mission to its records and its roots and make administrative use more difficult. From the SIM example, we saw that officials in the mission organization are the major user group.

ACADEMIC INSTITUTIONS were seen as natural allies in the effort to develop mission archives as mission archives could be used as resources for a variety of classes. Ken Gill referred to this as an "affinity between archives and institutions of learning." The idea of using colleges and seminaries was that no one educational institution would take a large number of mission archives, but each educational institution would take a few that were of particularly importance to them. For example, the institution itself or alumni might have been very involved in a specific organization. These educational institutions as a whole could also act as regional centers for mission studies and be geographically dispersed across the United States. The lack of established archives in many of these educational institutions, though, was seen as a major drawback to implementing this model.

A less-tested approach would be an INDEPENDENT COOPERATIVE ARCHIVES housing records from a number of mission archives. No existing organization would be in charge; rather the participants would enter into an agreement that laid out finances, governance, rules, etc. for the archives. The archives would probably have to be in a neutral site and a substantial amount of negotiation would be involved. There would also have to be clear protocols for joining and leaving the archives.

The group discussed the problems that might occur if the records were separated from the organization and not available for immediate use. This is one of the downsides to this model. However, if the organizations contributing to the archives geographically close to one another and the archives itself, items could be retrieved more easily by participating missions. Colorado Springs was seen as a potential place where this arrangement might be feasible given the number of mission organizations in that area.

The idea of ONE LARGE MISSION ARCHIVES housing the records of a variety of missions was also discussed. This places a tremendous burden on one organization and any organization attempting this type of comprehensive collection would probably need to both establish a large endowment and tax organizations that contributed their archives. The main audience for this archives would be scholars and students and not the organizations themselves. There was some discussion about the Billy Graham Center becoming this location, but Bob Shuster noted that financially, logistically, as well as practically this might not be a good idea to move all the records of all missions into one place. There was also a thought expressed that nondenominational mission archives are the responsibility of the entire community.

A final model not discussed in great depth is the model of a CENTRAL COORDINATING AGENCY / ARCHIVES that would serve as a resource center for mission archives, conduct large scale projects (such as the survey of mission archives discussed below or large scale cataloging records project), identify and advocate for archives in missions and perhaps even broker the placement of mission archives in other institutions. This agency would only act as an archives of last resort. This is the model pursued by the American Institute of Physics (AIP) in documenting modern physics. In general this has worked fairly well and its work has identified and provided increased access to collections worldwide.

In these models several themes emerge. One theme is audience. Who is the primary audience for mission records? The rationale for mission archives leads to the conclusion that the primary audience is the mission organizations themselves. However, in many of the models and in the discussion, other audiences, such as students and scholars, emerged. These categories are not exclusive, but the answer to the audience question will guide other decisions about responsibility, funding, and location of the collections. It should also be noted that in all of the models that remove the archives from the institutions, the mission would probably be "selective" (Carl McMindes' phrase) in what would be donated to another institution. It also follows that few electronic record from missions would become part of an archives donated to another institution. This bifurcation of archives may not serve either outside researchers or the missions themselves very well.

5. Activities

During the three breakout groups sessions ideas for concrete activities to promote mission archives were voiced. These activities included: ways of promoting the mission archives guidelines, a survey of mission archives, networking for archives through established mission organizations, developing a cost model for establishing an archives, creating a knowledge base of information resources on archives, establishing the position of an archival associate in Evangelical Fellowship of Mission Agencies (EFMA) and / or Interdenominational Foreign Mission Association (IFMA), securing funding for an itinerant consultant to work with mission organizations, and involving colleges / seminaries in the discussion of saving mission archives through such organizations as Evangelical Missiology Society (EMS) or American Society of Missiology (ASM)..

The most immediate activity discussed by the group was how to promote the complete mission archives guidelines.

Activity 1: Publish the guidelines in a missions periodical or in some other form. Have a leader of the EFMA draft a letter in this issue of EMQ discussing the importance of archives and the publication of the guidelines.

Activity 2: The leaders of mission associations such as EFMA or IFMA could provide an encapsulated report of the Consultation on Nondenominational Mission Archives that pointed to the guidelines in a letter. This letter would also contain a brief survey asking 4 questions:

The results of this survey would lead to the next activity, #3, a more detailed survey of the collections held in mission archives.

Activity 3: Survey of mission archive using the names of the contact persons identified through the CEO letter questionnaire. This survey was seen as essential to identify what archival records exist and to develop a list of those responsible for the archives for future networking efforts.

Activity 4: Get a small group of medium size mission group directors together prior to EFMA for 2-3 days.

This group could strategize about what could be done about mission archives in their individual missions and as a whole.

Activity 5: Develop a cost model for establishing in-house mission archives

Activity 6: Create a knowledge base of information resources on (mission) archives

One of the outcomes of the group discussion was a lack of knowledge of what publicly available and good resources existed on archives. The idea is to develop a website that contains information on:

This site would be refereed to ensure that only good links were added and would be hosted be a major organization that would be a logical place for mission archivists to look for the information. Other major mission organizations would be encouraged to add pointers to this site from their own websites.

Activity 7: Create the position of archival associate in mission associations such as the EFMA and IFMA

Associates are an established mechanism for bringing diverse expertise into the organization and making this expertise available to member missions. Associates are screened by EFMA, but the cost of their services is born by the employing organization. It was envisioned that associates would work on a high level with mission organizations to help interested individuals to form an argument for an archives and help to put the archival planning package together for the board, or develop an implementation plan for starting an archives.

Activity 8: Seek funds to hire an itinerant consultant.

This activity was based on a project in which Elizabeth Yakel participated in the early 1990's, the Religious Archives Technical Assistance Project, developed by the New York based group, Archivists of Religious Institutions (ARI). ARI was awarded grant funds to hire an archival consultant (Yakel) for 2 years to help small religious and non-profit organizations make decisions concerning their historic records. The consultant did an overall evaluation of all participating archives, provided assistance for the archives in developing a plan for either moving ahead with their own archives or in locating an alternative site to maintain the archival collections and acted as an overall resource person /mentor for archivists in these small organizations..

Activity 9: Involve colleges / seminaries in the discussion of preserving mission archives.

This might be done by enlisting participants in the consultation to use their contacts in existing organizations such as EMS, ASM to make colleges and seminaries more aware of the need to identify and preserve their own archives as well as the archives of mission organizations.

Return to Resources for Evangelical Mission Archives
Last Revised: 12/03/01
Last Revised: 1/5/05
Expiration: indefinite

Wheaton College 2005