Q: What documents should we keep, and for how long?

A. Churches and ministries are really not much different from other organizations when it comes to the need for proper recordkeeping. You may not have to retain every record that crosses your desk, but before you decide to toss anything, determine what you need to keep and why.


Documents typically need to be retained because they enable you to:

  • Respond to current questions based on past decisions.
  • Document past transactions.
  • Document past events.

Documents to Keep

Organizational documents should be retained both for their historical value and for their legal value in describing the organization’s processes and functions (e.g. Articles of Incorporation, Bylaws, meeting minutes).

Financial records should be retained for their tax purposes as well as for legal documentation related to proper handling of organizational resources.

Employment records should be retained to demonstrate compliance with employment laws as well as to demonstrate reasonable employment practices.

Ministry operation records may also need to be kept for a period of time (e.g., worker screening documents, incident/accident reports, Activity Participation Agreements, records of facility maintenance, policies and procedures).

Keep records security in mind as you decide on a storage option. Loss of data due to destruction of your facility or by theft can be devastating. 

Hard Copy vs. Electronic Retention

There are clear advantages to storing documents electronically, including:

  • Quicker and easier search capability.
  • Quicker and less expensive to send to others.
  • Better disaster recovery potential.
  • Digital documents are as acceptable as hard copy documents in most settings.

Digital storage options include:

  • Scanning paper documents into digital images for storage before being destroyed.
  • “Printing” digital computer files into digital documents for storage purposes. 
  • Storing digital records on a computer hard drive or a CD storage disk.
  • Storing digital records on a network server either at your location, off site, or through the Internet.

Your ministry will want to consult with a vendor or a consultant who’s familiar with document imaging and storage technology. As part of this process, you’ll also want to discuss the best way to index records so that they can be easily searched and retrieved. Also, keep records security in mind as you decide on a storage option. Loss of data due to destruction of your facility or by theft can be devastating. Finally, putting together an electronic record retention program requires guidance from your local attorney to ensure that the program you adopt complies with local legal requirements.

How Long Should You Keep Ministry Records?

Once a records-retention process is put in place, the next question is how long should these records be retained?

Historically significant records like Articles of Incorporation, Bylaws, and key meeting minutes should be kept indefinitely. Copies of expired insurance policies also are good to have on permanent file.

Financial records are traditionally kept for seven years.

Employment records should be kept while the employee remains employed and for seven years after the individual leaves employment. Employee benefit records may require an even longer retention period.

Retention of operational records will depend on the applicable statute of limitations for any legal action that might be related to the records in question. The statute of limitations applies differently to minors than it does to adults. For this reason, it’s important to involve an attorney in setting record retention periods for operational records.

Ministries that choose to keep paper records on hand after they’re imaged can keep these hard copy records for one or two years after imaging and then shred them. Organizations should also carefully consider back-up systems or off-site digital storage to prevent the total loss of important records in case of a catastrophe.

*Important information: Brotherhood Mutual is pleased to provide Legal Assist as a complimentary resource. The services we offer through Legal Assist are intended to provide general legal information to our current and prospective policyholders.

The information we provide is intended to be helpful, but it does not constitute legal advice and is not a substitute for the advice from a licensed attorney in your area. Accordingly, no attorney/client relationship is created through this process, and no legal advice will be provided. We strongly encourage you to regularly consult with a local attorney as part of your risk management program.