Billy Graham Center

A Heritage at Risk - Report of Group D: Developing Greater Archival Awareness and Understanding Within the Evangelical Community

Importance of an Archives
Developing Support for Archives


Discovering "ways to develop greater archival awareness and understanding within the evangelical community" was the topic assigned to our group. After some discussion of what would be involved in accomplishing this purpose, the group reworded the stated goal more simply as "building support for evangelical archives." After defining the word "archives," the group addressed two major areas: (1) the intrinsic importance of archives and (2) developing the support for the concept and importance of archives within the evangelical community.

Many evangelical agencies/organizations/leaders do not recognize the need for preserving an account of their ministry. The immediate demands of the day take precedence over preservation of their records. As a result, the entire Christian body suffers from this loss. By presenting these persons/groups with a rationale for the importance of establishing an archives, the group hopes to stimulate the growth of


The limitations of time prevented us from defining the term "evangelicalism"; and arriving at a definition of the term "archives" provided a challenge. The group recognized that various persons and organizations perceive an archives in a variety of ways. Noting that it is vital to distinguish between library material, museum items, and archives, we eventually arrived at a definition of the term "archives" which states:

Archives are the permanently valuable records created by a person, organization, or institution. The value of an archives is established by its legal, informational, or historical importance. Archives may contain institutional minutes, financial data, photographs, publications, movie film, audio and video tape, and personal papers such as letters, diaries, and scrapbooks. Archives can reflect significant or routine activities in the lives of individuals, organizations, or institutions.

Importance of an Archives

Looking at the intrinsic value of an archives to a person/organization revealed multi-faceted benefits.

A. Inasmuch as decisions should never be made without first reviewing all pertinent information, archives enable those who study its records to learn from the past and, it is hoped, avoid repeating past failures. A proper understanding of the present results can be used to plan for the future.

Archives are not a new phenomena. Joshua instructed the Israelites to take twelve stones from the Jordan and set them up as a living reminder of the miracle performed by the Lord as He established His people in the Promised Land. Darius ordered the Temple to be rebuilt as the result of information gleaned from a scroll found "in the archives stored in the treasury at Babylon."

B. Archives help to establish the identity and credibility of the organization to a public which might not be familiar with its goals. An archives can also substantiate legal and evidential claims made by the parent organization.

An example of this function can be seen in the way that the Dead Sea Scrolls helped to establish to the secular world the veracity of Old Testament scriptures. Likewise, in the book of Ezra, Levitical Jews returning from Babylon searched the archives of Israel for proof of their claim to the priesthood.

C. Archives function internally by assisting with the training of new employees, preserving a sense of history, and the establishing of a corporate memory by documenting previous institutional decisions. In addition, archives provide vital materials for the preparation of publications and grant proposals and assist with the dissemination of the ideas/ideals of the governing institution.

Many evangelical organizations lack a sense of their history because of a poor policy of record retention. This loss manifests itself in many ways. New employees often misunderstand the evolution of the goals of the organization, and longtime employees frequently become a walking storehouse of corporate memory which is irretrievably lost when they leave or retire. Publications and grant proposals which often require a historical perspective can be quickly assembled when records of the organization are systematically retained and preserved. Without an archives, countless hours of employee time is lost when individuals each seek to reconstruct the past in order to complete a project.

D. Archives can assist public relations with: fundraising, preparations for major events and anniversaries, establishing good community relationships, the mounting of in-house and traveling exhibits, and by making information about the organization available to a wider audience through the use of national publications and databases.

Nearly all evangelical organizations are seeking to establish a wider base of support for their work and archives make this task a great deal easier.

Developing Support for Archives Many methods for developing support among the evangelical community have been suggested. By combining the ones that apply to each specific situation, a plan can be developed to either establish a new archives or bring additional support to an existing one. The following suggestions should facilitate this task.
Many agencies, institutions, organizations, and persons are not aware of the need and/or benefits of establishing and sustaining an archives. The following list represents some of the types of organizations which should be contacted.
1. Denominational groupings
2. Educational networks (of Bible schools, colleges, seminaries)
3. Radio/TV stations, networks
4. City missions
5. Parachurch organizations
6. Existing evangelical archives

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Last Revised: 2/4/00
Expiration: indefinite

Wheaton College 2005