Billy Graham Center

A Heritage at Risk - Report of Group C: Documentation of the Evangelical Movement

Activity 1: Denominations, Fellowships, and Communities
Activity 2: Education
Activity 3: Human Services
Activity 4: Media
Activity 5: Missions, Ministries, and Evangelistic Associations
Activity 6: Political/Social Action
Activity 7: Professional Organizations


Systematic planning to ensure the future availability of fragile resources is a demanding, but not uncommon task in our society.  It is, however, an agenda which has not commonly been addressed within the evangelical Christian community.  Where it has been addressed, the planning has been focused on fiscal resources or the resource of persons.  The evangelical community has, with a few notable exceptions, been unaware of another valuable resource which is at risk:  its documentary heritage--the diaries, letters, journals, photographs, and other forms of personal or institutional records which evidence the history, development, and influence of the evangelical movement.

This report reflects the work of a group of seven persons whose professional responsibilities and personal interests motivated them to become part of the Group C, a section of the Evangelical Archives Conference held at Wheaton College in July of 1988.  The fundamental purpose of this group was to investigate the gaps in the universe of information regarding documentation of the evangelical movement and to recommend a plan of action.  

From the personal knowledge of members of this group, as well as from the survey work done by Robert Shuster in preparation for his paper "Everyone Did What Was Right In His Own Eyes:  Nondenominational Fundamentalist/Evangelical/Pentecostal Archives in the United States," it became apparent that the gaps in the documentation of the evangelical movement are of profound proportions.  It was not feasible for the "gaps" in the documentation to be discussed until an overall framework was conceived. In other words, the group resisted the concept of defining the missing pieces until the total puzzle had been described and a strategy set for defining the pieces.  Thus the group directed its efforts to the development of a strategy of documentation for the movement.

Feeling the need for an ultimate goal, the group articulated a statement of mission:  The identification and preservation of an adequate record to document the activities and significance of the evangelical movement, and the provision for full access to this information.

The term "evangelical movement" is used to describe a phenomenon, but does not actually delineate what comprises the movement or how it operates.  To begin work toward actualizing the stated mission, the group attempted to clarify the typology.  An examination of the activities that comprise or express the evangelical movement within society leads to a clearer picture as to the documentary subgroups which must be included for an adequate record of the phenomenon.  Seven activities or expressions of the movement were identified:
(1) denominations/fellowships/communities;
(2) education;
(3) human services;
(4) media;
(5) missions/ministries;
(6) political/social action groups;
(7) professional organizations.

Thus, any adequate record of the evangelical movement must include at least a representative sample of persons and organizations within all seven of these activity areas.  

As each activity was identified, the group attempted to define the functions which describe how that particular activity is carried out.  Such questions as the following were considered:  To whom is this activity addressed. Why is this activity carried out. How is this activity delivered.  The concern here was not to describe the perceived mission of organizations or persons within the evangelical movement but to set down the actual implementation of that mission in functional terms (i.e.,  convey knowledge; evangelize; influence public opinion; sustain themselves, etc.).  This step provides for the verification of whether or not the documentary record for any activity is complete.  The resultant list of functions, though somewhat repetitive across activities, allowed the group to come to a clearer understanding of the documentary problems of the movement.  

For each activity the group then outlined: (1) a definition of the activity to show what the activity includes; (2) the current status of the documentation of that activity; (3) the documentary problems associated with this activity--what gaps exist and what difficulties are associated with the collection of documentation for this activity; (4) the mechanisms which are currently available to address the documentary problems for this activity; and (5) recommendations as to what might happen in the documentation of this activity. The goal was to define the problems and sketch solutions based on the knowledge of the persons within the group.  The results of this process are discussed later in this report.  

As reflected within these results, three overarching deterrents to the adequate documentation of the evangelical movement emerged.  First was a lack of clear historical consciousness.  The relatively recent origin of many groups within the evangelical community, along with their perceived priorities, tend to inhibit attention to their own history.  Second was the issue of limited resources.  Many organizations within the movement have difficulty committing the necessary staff, space, and funds to maintain even their own administrative records.  Third was the elusive nature of significant aspects of the activities of the evangelical movement.  Functions which encompass the transmission of religious faith are difficult to capture in conventional records.  Where adequate records (written, visual, or oral) are not naturally created as by-products of the endeavors of an organization, group, or individual, alternative means must be found to provide a full-orbed picture of that particular function.

It is the expectation of the Documentation Group that the materials provided in sections below will be a springboard from which others can work to develop a list of organizations, persons, and events which best illustrate the issues of each of the seven activity areas.  Once the examples have been defined, the next step will be to assess the nature, quality and availability of the desired documentation.  Additional surveys, in the form of questionnaires and perhaps on-site interviews, will be needed to supplement and verify what has been done.  Guidelines could then be written that would contain not only recommendations for new types of records to be retained, but also suggestions about the creation of records so that the more elusive information is captured in future documentation.

Clearly then, this document is only the beginning of the development of a documentation strategy for the evangelical movement.  More information will be needed and further analysis required before a definitive plan of action can be put into place.  In the interim, however, this report can be used in at least two ways.  First of all, those individuals or organizations who are currently involved in preserving the documentation of the evangelical movement, at any level, can use this report to clarify or enlighten their own documentation procedures and more easily understand how their efforts complement the efforts of others.  Secondly, this report can be used by specific groups of individuals who will consider the documentary problems and potential solutions of each of the seven activity areas, or by those who are considering the documentary strategy of a particular element or tradition (e.g. fundamentalism, Holiness movement; Pentecostalism; Black evangelicals, etc.) within the evangelical movement.  Those using this report in pursuing the documentation of an activity (e.g., education) could use it in a horizontal manner focusing on that activity across the mosaic of the traditions within the movement.  Those working in a particular tradition could use this report in a vertical manner focusing on the tradition (e.g. Holiness movement) but with full awareness of the necessity to include representative documentation across the seven activity areas.  An adequate documentary record of any particular evangelical tradition could therefore be assured.

To this end, this group recommends that an ongoing group be established to oversee the continuation of this work and formulate a proposal for a follow-up meeting or series of meetings.  At such a time, appropriate experts (historians, administrators, curators, etc.) in each of the activity areas and representing each tradition within the evangelical mosaic, would be included in a process of refining this preliminary document and devising a specific plan of action to address the documentary problems of each activity.  In the meantime, attenders of the Evangelical Archives Conference and other interested persons may use this report to generate discussion on documentation issues within the evangelical community and beyond.

Activity 1: Denominations, Fellowships, and Communities

Definition: These agencies are ecclesiastical groups of evangelical Christian believers who regularly assemble for purposes of worship, evangelism, and nurture.  The groups include legally incorporated denominations which may be large (e.g., the Southern Baptist Convention) or small (e.g., the Open Bible Standard Churches) as well as some which prefer to be styled as fellowships rather than denominations (e.g. Assemblies of God).  Included are others which, though "evangelical" by theological measures, do not commonly speak of themselves as evangelicals (e.g., Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod). Also placed in this category are groups which are loosely organized either because they oppose complicated organization beyond the local church (e.g. Independent Fundamental Churches of America) or because their recent origin has not allowed sufficient time for institutionalization (e.g., Calvary Chapel, Vineyard Fellowship).

Charismatic communities, often including a majority of "evangelical" Roman Catholics, bring together, sometimes in common living arrangements, groups of covenanted believers for purposes of worship, evangelism, nurture and service.  Geographically specific (e.g., Reba Place, Evanston, Illinois; Word of God Community, Washington, DC/Gaithersburg, MD area), such communities often consist of persons who are members of various local churches.

The larger and wealthier of these ecclesiastical groups have generally begun archival projects.  Such bodies as the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, Assemblies of God, and the Southern Baptist Convention have well developed programs.  Several of the smaller incorporated bodies have made significant strides in recent years (e.g., the Wesleyan Church) in caring for their records; however, many of the smaller denominations have no policies in place to assure the preservation of their historically significant materials.  There are no known programs for either fellowships or communities.

Documentary Problems: Limited resources, perceived priorities, and sometimes recent origin are among the problems which arise in attempting to document bodies within this activity category.  A distinctive impediment blocks archival advance in many of the loosely organized and especially charismatic organizations.  This deterrent lies in the absence of historical consciousness typically characteristic of sects.  Theological elements compound this situation where the group understands itself as the sphere of God's primary and present activity--the past being useless, the future inaccessible, and other Christians underprivileged.

Mechanisms Available: Umbrella agencies like the Christian Holiness Association, the National Association of Evangelicals, and the National Black Evangelical Association typify service organizations which link large numbers of these ecclesiastical groups along specific lines.  Scholarly organizations connect working professors in many evangelical institutions along professional and academic lines (Evangelical Theological Society, Wesleyan Theological Society, Society for Pentecostal Studies).  A significant number of these uniting organizations and academic societies already have established their own archives.  These associations can be used as a starting point to extend awareness of the value and urgent need for a documentation strategy for each member body.

Recommendations: An article or two in familiar language, and with conventional theology for saving the past, might appear in periodicals of wide circulation and interest among evangelicals (Christianity Today, Moody Monthly, Eternity).  A network of evangelical archivists, backed up with SAA personnel, could be developed and put at the disposal of denominations/fellowships/communities whose consciousness has been raised and who are looking for advice and assistance in dealing with their own records.  A well-conceived grant could, given the umbrella ecclesiastical organizations like the N.A.E. and others, provide means for a focused effort to increase archival preservation among evangelical organizations large and small.

Activity 2: Education

Definition: These organizations or departments of organizations, provide general education at various levels in the context of evangelical values.  They include colleges and universities (e.g. Wheaton College, Asbury College, CBN University, Seattle Pacific University); seminaries (e.g. Fuller Seminary, Asbury Seminary, Trinity Evangelical Seminary); Bible colleges (e.g. Moody Bible Institute, Columbia Bible College); Christian elementary and high schools (parochial schools); local church adult education institutes (such as North Heights Lutheran Church, St. Paul-School of Lay Ministry) and independent correspondence programs.

Current Status: While well developed archival programs exist at a number of the larger colleges, universities, seminaries, and Bible colleges there has been no organized effort to either share information regarding holdings or to assure that at least a representative sample of the smaller institutions are included in the documentary record.  There are no known archival programs for Christian elementary or high schools, local church education institutes, or correspondence programs.

Documentary Problems: While there is a natural institutional base, and a tradition of establishing archives in academic institutions, there is also often a problem of resources.  Many schools have difficulty committing the necessary space, staff, and funds for such an enterprise.  In the case of Christian elementary schools, Christian high schools, local church institutes, and correspondence programs, administrators have little orientation to the historical value or significance of their records.

While many of the functions of academic institutions can be captured in manuscript records, several functions which are particularly important to an understanding of Christian academic institutions are difficult to document.  The religious aspects of these institutions are carried out in the "convey knowledge" function (the teaching and learning process) and also in the "socialization" function (informal learning and socialization process).  In both cases much about these functions remains intangible.  Adequate records--written or visual--are not naturally created as a by-product of these endeavors.  Therefore, conscious documentary projects must be undertaken to capture these functions.

Mechanisms Available: There is an existing tradition and abundant literature on college and university archives that can be used as part of an educational effort to encourage the creation of new archives within the evangelical academic community.  Archives have been justified as part of a on-going records management program which can be proven to be cost effective for institutions.

There exist numerous umbrella organizations which may be enlisted to promote archives in academic institutions (e.g., ACSI, CSI, ACE, Association of Bible Colleges/Institutes, Association of Christian Day Schools).  Also, the Academic Archives Section of the Society of American Archivists might serve as an ally, particularly in the development of documentation strategy and connecting organizations with appropriate professional resources.

Recommendations: The existing umbrella organizations might be enlisted to frame an educational effort to encourage the establishment of new archival programs.  It would also be very beneficial to recruit administrators from academic organizations to be involved in documentation strategy efforts for the educational activity area.

Where strong archival programs already exist, they might be encouraged to consider accepting additional documentary commitment.  For instance, a college, university or seminary with an established program might accept responsibility for the records of local church institutes, Christian day schools, or smaller colleges within their area that are unable to establish their own program.

The MIT guide on the documentation of colleges and universities (forthcoming 1989) might be adapted to meet the particular needs of Christian academic institutions.

Activity 3: Human Services

Definition: The evangelical movement expresses itself in the world through a proliferation of agencies which deal with disaster relief, economic development, and social amelioration in variant forms.  Human suffering is addressed (e.g., World Vision, Pacific Garden Mission), opportunity for personal growth, counseling, or family ministry provided (e.g., Camp-of-the-Woods, Focus on the Family, Christian Marriage Enrichment), the concerns of "special needs" groups addressed (e.g. Bethany Christian Services, Life Line Children's Home, Christian League for the Handicapped), and health and retirement care supplied (e.g., Deaconess Hospital, Wesleyan Village, Elim Homes).

Current Status: With the variant nature of these organizations, the status of the documentation of this activity area is difficult to assess.  Outside of several large organizations such as World Vision, we have no knowledge of organizations who are providing for their own purposeful documentation.  A number of these organizations are administered by larger missions/ministries.  In these cases, the human service activities would be documented by the umbrella organization (e.g., Wesleyan Village by the Wesleyan Church of North America).  The least is known concerning the historical records of the independent groups which deliver human services.

Documentary Problems: The sheer number of organizations falling within this category presents a tremendous problem of selection.  How would a representative sample be selected or how would an adequate record be defined?  One documentary problem which surfaces here is the confidential nature of many of the records of these agencies (particularly health care and counseling).  Numerous administrative records exist for these groups but vital information such as how these organizations affect the individual and how these agencies are influenced by outside forces (e.g., government regulations) is much more difficult to capture.  It would appear that visual records and oral history material would be of particular significance to an adequate documentation of the human services activity.

Mechanisms and Allies: Umbrella organizations such as Christian Psychological Associates, and Christian Camping International, which network a number of these agencies, are potential allies in the cause of forming adequate documentation strategy.  Universities and colleges with strong academic programs or archival collecting strengths in social history, family studies, health care, anthropology, etc. might be tapped to assist in documenting the organizations which operate within their geographic region.  Local and state archives are also potential sources of assistance.

Recommendations: Solid background research needs to be done by a group of human service agency administrators along with concerned archivists and historians in order to develop a clear picture of how the functions of these organizations can best be documented.  Guidelines need to be structured which would assure that each "type" and "tradition" within these agencies are represented within the documentary record.  It would appear that visual records and oral history material would be of particular significance.

Activity 4: Media

Definition: Within the evangelical community there are a myriad of organizations, which see themselves as service organizations, providing specialized products or services to the community or alternative forms of evangelism.  These organizations operate with a variety of delivery systems, including electronic media (radio, TV, Cable TV), publishing, recording (all forms), and film.  Media agencies are concerned with the dissemination of information, conveying of knowledge, evangelization, influencing public opinion, socialization, and at times also with entertainment.  

Status: Groups such as World Wide Pictures and CBN have made remarkable strides toward documenting their operations.  However, the general picture is less encouraging.  Both the profit factor in these organizations and the press of day-to-day operations tend to emphasize the here and now, making attention to systematic documentation low priority.  There is evidence that where media agencies are affiliated with educational institutions archiving operations have taken the form of scripts and filing of background materials for programs and products produced.  Also, F.C.C. requirements and copyright law have encouraged the preservation of a select segment of media documentation.  

Documentary Problems: The preservation of media of all formats presents serious physical and technical problems.  The sheer bulk of the materials and the need for special housing and care make these formats expensive to maintain.

While documentation of the larger TV and film operations is progressing, gaps exist in the record of radio, cable TV and small independent presses.  To our knowledge, there has been no systematic collection of the "pop culture" of the evangelical movement by any established library or archival facility.  Significant attention also needs to be given to functions of media organizations which are difficult to document (e.g., how editorial policy is developed, how funding is achieved).  Documentation which reflects the influence of these organizations needs to be actively pursued.  In other words, documentation, in whatever form, of the effect of the message delivered or information disseminated is needed to complete the record.

Mechanisms and allies: There are strong national umbrella organizations which might be enlisted to serve as avenues of contact and vehicles of information dissemination to media organizations.  The National Religious Broadcasters, Evangelical Press Association, and Christian Booksellers Association are well organized networks which link many of the media agencies.  The college-university connection is also a logical link to use in encouraging commitment of media producers to the preservation and creation of a well defined historical record.

Recommendations: It would seem advantageous to enlist the existing network organizations to make contact with a representative selection of all types of media producers and to outline both an educational effort and a plan of systematic evaluation of the documentary record of media agencies.  Contact through informational periodical articles could also call attention to the importance of archives for the media.  Personal contacts from existing archives in college or university with special strength or interest in media might also be helpful.

Activity 5: Missions, Ministries and Evangelistic Associations

Definition: Alongside the established churches exist hundreds of evangelical organizations that aim at evangelism, home and foreign missions, Bible translation and distribution.  Many of these are specifically targeted at age groups (e.g., Child Evangelism Fellowship, Young Life, InterVarsity Fellowship).  Some show geographical specificity (e.g., China Inland Mission), ethnic targeting (e.g., Slavic Gospel Mission), or a specific service, (e.g. Coalition for Christian Outreach, American Bible Society, Wycliffe Translators). In addition, there are evangelistic organizations, surrounding renowned evangelists (e.g., Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association, Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Rex Humbard Ministries).

Current Status: Tremendous progress has been made in the preservation of the records of evangelistic and mission organizations by the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College.  A number of major ministries (e.g., American Bible Society, Campus Crusade) now have well established archival programs.  Where a single, famous minister controls the organization there is usually a well supported effort at preservation of memorabilia and at least selected records.  Though this may be the most thoroughly documented of all the activities of the evangelical movement, there is some evidence that the record may still be lacking in depth.

Documentary Problems: Difficulties surround procurement of firm evidence related to the outcomes of ministries on those to whom they are given.  Some press reports are available.  Personal testimonies are occasionally published.  But much of what happens on the "pew side" goes unarticulated.  Difficulty may also be experienced in gaining access to records which have been preserved due to the controlling influence of a single powerful leader.  Foreign language materials also complicate mission preservation. 

Many of these missions and ministries which have not yet made provision for their records, do not need to be convinced of the worth of the past, but they need to know how to proceed toward effective archiving within their fiscal realities. 

Mechanisms Available: Service organizations link a number of the home and foreign mission agencies within this activity area.  Such umbrella organizations as EFMA and IFMA provide channels through which information can be funneled to the member bodies.  However, because of their high degree of independence, the solo ministries may require case-by-case attention. 


The number and widespread acceptance of these missions, ministries, and evangelistic associations make it imperative that particular care is given to capture a well-conceived, balanced documentary record.  Consideration should be given to pursuing a grant which could assist smaller agencies in the preservation of their records thus assuring that they be represented in the documentation of the evangelical movement.  Institutions which are currently collecting in this activity area should be encouraged to report their progress to each other in order that the sum may truly be greater than the parts and that no ministry "type" is overlooked.

Activity 6: Political/Social Action

Definition: There are a variety of evangelical organizations and networks which engage in activities designed to produce change in the political and social environment.  Though they represent the entire political spectrum, their basic functions are quite similar.  These agencies attempt to influence public opinion, evangelize, do research, convey knowledge (teaching, learning function), and socialize persons, (informally transmit the particular agenda and values of the organization), and sustain themselves.  Evangelicals for Social Action, Sojourners, Christian Action Council, Moral Majority, Christian Leaders for Responsible Television, JustLife and Christian Women's Coalition would be representative of this activity group.

Status: From the data available it would appear that little documentation has been accomplished for these groups.  It is logical that some documentation exists within the papers of the individuals who have founded and lead these organizations.  However, except for Sojourners, information is not yet available on where these papers are being placed.  Where these persons are connected with particular educational institutions (e.g., Jerry Falwell at Liberty University, Ron Sider at Eastern Seminary) the supporting institution would be the most likely repository of their material.  Because of the political and social nature of these materials, there are numerous general archive programs already in existence which would also welcome such accessions.

Documentary Problems: In documenting the evangelical political/social action organizations, we face two extremes:  either these groups are so activist they have little time and energy to give to retaining records of their activities, or they produce a tremendous bulk of material.  Even where the record is voluminous, there is potential insufficiency.

Critical areas, such as lobbying efforts, evidence of how public opinion was affected, and fund raising techniques, are not easily available and difficult to capture.  We see a need to take a look at such things as constituent mail and press coverage to begin to obtain a more complete documentary record.  Materials produced by the organizations themselves are not adequate to give the full picture.

Mechanisms and Allies: Perhaps due to their wide variance of agenda, these evangelical organizations have not formed the networks of some of the other activity areas within the evangelical community.  The educational institutions with ties to specific leaders within these political/social action groups are perhaps the best allies for support in attacking the documentary problems we find here.  Also, numerous secular college, university, and even state archives would be open to a documentary initiative in this interest area, as these materials provide a significant addition to general political, social history, and social development documentation.  Historians might be of particular help in assembling this genre of resources.

Recommendations: The most obvious need is for additional data to be assembled as to the precise status of the present documentation.  Also, representative leaders of these political/social action groups need to be invited to join with social historians and archivists to evaluate and describe further the exact content of sufficient documentation of this activity area.

Activity 7: Professional Organizations

Definition: Professional organizations bring together various subgroups within the evangelical community for the purpose of conveying knowledge, providing mutual support and socialization.  Beyond this, a number function to confer credentials and/or engage in research.  Included are ecclesiastical groups (e.g., NAE, CHA, PFNA), collegiate organizations (e.g., WTS, SPS, CAP, ETS, Christian Legal Society, FCA), and accrediting bodies (e.g., ECEA, ACSI).

Current Status: Currently the documentation of this segment of the evangelical community is being captured to a limited degree in the personal papers of individuals who have been active in the various professional organizations (e.g., DuPlessis Papers).  The National Association of Evangelicals and the Christian Holiness Association have taken responsibility to document themselves and place their documentary record with established archival facilities.  Due to the nature of accrediting organizations, at least part of their record is required to be maintained in their office files.  While this material is not available to a wider public, and there has been no conscious effort to gather a balanced record, the records are being preserved.

Documentary Problems: Due to the structure and governance of these organizations, many of their records are scattered.  Files have often moved with the chief officer of the organization creating logistical difficulties in the systematic maintenance of records.  Concerted effort would need to be made to draw together the various segments of these records.  Few within this group have the staff to facilitate systematic preservation of their own record.  Also, the leaders within these organizations have had little opportunity to develop an appreciation for the significance of their documentary record to the wider evangelical community.  They might, therefore, need assistance in the formulation of a documentation strategy.

Mechanisms and Allies: Most professional organizations have annual meetings which bring together their constituency.  These meetings would appear to be serviceable vehicles for encouraging professional groups to look at their documentary problems, and for dissemination of useful information regarding documentary theory and practice.

Recommendations: An ongoing group of information professionals might be established that would provide persons to address the annual meetings, or board meetings of these professional organizations.  This group could also provide consultation services (or see that consultation service was provided) and suggest possible existing repositories which might care for the documentation of professional organizations.

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Last Revised: 2/4/00
Expiration: indefinite

Wheaton College 2005