I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.
– 1 John 5:13
Keep Active and Archived Records in Order
The preservation and retention of up-to-date legal documents is one of the most critical and important responsibilities of the congregation council secretary. Administratively our congregational pastors, while not directly responsible for these documents, should be concerned and held responsible for insuring that these valuable documents are properly maintained, filed, and archived.
Devotion to managing these valuable resources, critical data, and vitally important documents makes it possible for all ministries of our congregations to run effectively and smoothly. The reason for recording and archiving this information is not merely to have a safety net in times of trouble, nor is it to prevent trouble from occurring. The reason for excellence in document management and governance is to make sure that your congregation is in the best possible position to fulfill its fundamental mission of proclaiming the Gospel without the distractions of handling these critical, albeit routine, matters.
At the ELCA website under the section for the Office of the Secretary there are two tabs that can be of great help to your congregation. One has to do with the archiving records and records management and the other deals with legal issues. Please utilize these resources to help maintain, preserve, and protect your congregation and its records. Best practices suggest that you keep the following records in an accessible fireproof file on site AND a copy in a secure off-site location, such as a Safety Deposit Box and/or a secure electronic data storage and retrieval site.
The Metropolitan Chicago Synod office would be happy to securely archive electronic copies of the first five bulleted items below providing the congregation with a safe and inexpensive (i.e. free) off-site repository for these valuable documents.
Articles of Incorporation: Illinois Not-for-Profit Corporation with the Illinois Secretary of State or a Religious Corporation filed with your county
A copy of current Congregational Constitution, Bylaws, and Continuing Resolutions. (Please keep these up to date – there are revisions made at the Churchwide Assembly and published by the Secretary’s Office every three years. Look for revisions this September after the Churchwide Assembly held in August.)
Deeds and Titles to ALL church property, including a Plat of Survey
The Annual Property Tax Exemption Affidavit, if applicable
Illinois State Sales Tax Exemption Letter from the Illinois Department of Revenue
All Mortgage and Loan Documents (even those that are paid back in full)
Lease and Rental Agreements in which the congregation has entered
Governmental Annual and Quarterly Payroll Reports and the payment record of the Payroll Tax Deposits to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the State of Illinois for employee withholdings and Social Security taxes (FICA), including copies of employee W-2s, and 1099s
A copy of Employee files
A copy of Employee I-9s
The annual Criminal Background Check of ALL employees and volunteers that have direct involvement with children under the age of 18
The annual Criminal Background and Financial Background Checks of ANYONE handling the funds of the congregation, both receipts and disbursements, including check signers, counters, and those able to disburse funds electronically
Insurance Documents: ALL past and present documents including, property insurance, malpractice insurance, workers’ compensation, and fidelity bonding. (If an old issue arises when you were insured by a different insurance carrier, you may need to prove you had insurance at the time of the incident and be able to contact their representatives.)
The Annual Audit of ALL Financial Reports and Records (that means any account that uses the church’s Tax ID Number)
The Annual Report including the Ministry Reports of the Staff, Committees, and Ministry Teams
Congregational Meeting Minutes including minutes of the Annual Meeting, Special Congregational Meetings, Congregation Council Meetings, and especially any meeting that authorized the distribution of funds and/or the signing of contracts
An Inventory of the building’s contents including: furnishings, (e.g. tables, chairs, office furniture, paraments, altar furnishing, religious art), musical instruments (e.g. assessment of the value of the organ, pianos, handbells), audio visual/electronic equipment (sound systems, projectors, computers), etc. The inventory should include a digital photo archive of each room with its contents and furnishings, stored on a CD or external drive.
Policies governing the practices of the congregation including your:
“Safe Child” Policy Document
Building Usage Policies
“Press Policy” specifically designating an authorized spokesperson for the congregation
All personnel policies and handbooks that include: leave time, vacations, benefits, and compensation
“As Built” Blueprints and Building Plans (Many, many times changes MUST be made in the original drawings and what is actually built, may be different than what was designed.)
Bulletins, newsletters, brochures, posters, flyers, and programs that support religious services, programs, and activities. These records help support tax-exempt status. Note: May be kept electronically, if backed-up.
In addition to holding material from the districts and synods of The American Lutheran Church and the Lutheran Church in America, it is also the main repository for the former Iowa Synod, a church body that existed from 1854-1930. Records from most dissolved congregations are held at the appropriate ELCA regional archives.
Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Upper Michigan:
ELCA Region 5 Archives 333 Wartburg Place Dubuque, IA 52003-7797 563-589-0320 E-mail:
Do you have questions regarding records management for your congregation? E-mail the synod secretary, the Rev. Erin Clausen or contact her by email () or phone at 708-246-6228.