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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Author Sparks Interest in Writing Local Church History

By Michael Ireland
Chief Correspondent, ASSIST News Service

SAN DIEGO, CA (ANS) -- Writers have been recording the history of The Church down through the centuries. But have you ever thought of becoming your church’s own historian and putting into print the story of your local congregation?

Don Hughes

Donald L. Hughes, editor of,  has written a book that is likely to stir the interest of many Christian writers, or those who wish to become one. The book is called, 'Capturing Faith: How to Research & Write a Local Church History.'

Hughes has been a writer, editor and publisher for over 30 years. He has degrees from Azusa Pacific University (B.A.) where he had a double major in History and in Religion, Wheaton Graduate School (M.A.) and Princeton Theological Seminary (M.Div.).

Hughes has held several media positions over the years, including roles as an editor at Christian Life Publications, the Director of Communications for the educational division of the National Association of Evangelicals, and Media Director for an international faith-based organization serving at-risk children.

He has covered stories in 31 countries as a Christian journalist and has taught at Christian colleges both in the U.S. and overseas. He is the editor of

“My main purpose in writing the book was to inspire people to begin thinking about the history of their church and its contribution to their community and the world,” Hughes said in an interview with ASSIST News.

“Lots of wonderful things are happening in local churches, and it’s being lost because few people are documenting it.”

Hughes does not think that history has to be dry and uninteresting. He said, “Look at the success of history-based television programs like Antique Roadshow, History Detectives, Pawn Stars and American Pickers. Each has an historical component and they are very popular with viewers.”

Hughes said that virtually everyone is interested in history if it is presented in a lively and interesting way.

“There are a lot of fascinating stories surrounding the birth and life of a local church, and powerful stories of faith of those who attended them. Christians need to capture and preserve that. The story of the founding and progress of every local church has the potential to be almost thrilling as the Book of Acts.”

A section of the book deals with the proper procedure for doing oral histories, which Hughes says is a valuable form of research.

“Most of the good stories about a church are in the minds of the members, not in the minutes of board meetings,” Hughes said. “It is really important to capture those stories from older members while they are still able to tell them. Doing oral histories is the ideal method.”

Hughes provides a step-by-step plan for volunteer or professional writers to research and write the history of local churches. He covers everything from enlisting church support to researching, writing, publishing and marketing the completed book.

He notes that it takes time and money to write a local church history, but that members of the congregation and community are interested in owning a copy of the completed book, so it becomes a financially feasible project.

Hughes said, “As editor of,   I get questions all the time from Christians asking if it is possible to make a living as a Christian writer. Many people think in terms of writing a blockbuster, but those are few and far between. However, in my book I explain how serious writers can develop a local church history writing ministry if they wish. Writing the history of a local church is ideal for volunteers or for professional writers, and I provide a path for both groups.”

Hughes said: “Many life-changing events are happening in churches, but they are not being recorded, and I think it's a shame. What if Luke had not written the Book of Acts? My purpose is to spark renewed interest in documenting the history of local churches.”

It's an idea Hughes had for many years, but TV shows like Antiques Roadshow, History Detectives, American Pickers and Pawn Stars motivated him get the book out. 

“Each of these shows are have popularized history and they are getting huge audiences. History is does not need to be boring, as these TV shows prove. People are interested in history,” he said.

I asked him what were his aims and goals for the book, and how does he hope to achieve them?

“Researching, writing and marketing the history of a local church serves several purposes. It documents the history of a church for posterity. It becomes part of the public record in the Library of Congress, local libraries and the homes of members and friends of a particular church. It also lengthens the reach of a local church. A church can get positive publicity in their region with a book, and I explain that process in detail in my book.”

I wondered how is his book on this topic different from other books dealing with oral histories?

“Conducting an oral history is a lost art in my view, and I provide the ‘how to’ steps in my book. However, oral histories are just a small part of the research, writing and marketing process.

Cover artwork for 'Capturing Faith: How to Research & Write a Local Church History.'

“I cover all aspects of book building, including enlisting the support of church leadership, doing preliminary research and finding primary sources. I also go into the details about how to efficiently write a local church history that is both factual and entertaining. I cover how people in churches can use their book to gain visibility and credibility in their community.”

He added that as the editor of ,   he have discovered that many new Christian writers have lots of questions about plagiarism, use of copyrighted material, how to copyright a book and related topics, and he covers those aspects too.

“My book is a very practical guide,” he said.

As a writer, editor and publisher for about 30 years, Hughes has covered news stories as a Christian journalist in 31 countries so far, and in recent years he has ghostwritten a few dozen books.

“The principles and procedures I reveal in this book are skills I have used all my professional life,” he said.

“Many of the things I share come from my experience, good and bad. For example, I stress the importance of having extra batteries for recording devices when doing interviews. That's because of what happened when I did my first professional interview years ago. The interview was with theologian Carl F.H. Henry. It was a long and lively interview, but I did not realize until later that my recorder batteries went dead 5 minutes into the interview! For me, that was a hard way to learn an important lesson. People who read my book are not getting theory, it's all based on experience.”

He was asked how important is it that churches write their own history?

“There are many thrilling stories related to local churches. They may involve how a church came into being, but most often they are about the people who made up the congregation over the years.

“There are personal stories of faith, but there is also fascinating material about how people responded to the challenges of their times. The history of any local church is only incidentally about buildings and programs, but primarily about how people of faith sought to live their lives in obedience to the Lord.”

He added: “A local church history is not likely to get on any bestseller list and the author probably won't get an invitation to appear on Oprah. However, writing the history of a local church is an important way to preserve history and to give testimony to what God has done and is doing in the lives of His people.”

Hughes said churches should consider this method of recording their histories because he supplies a simple, systematic method of researching and writing a local church history.

“The focus is on writing a book, but people can use the same procedures for creating an e-book, multimedia presentation, audio files, even an informative church web site presentation, if getting a financial return on the project is not important.

“The methodology I present for getting the job done will be useful to everyone, I hope. It is based on the approach Luke used in his Gospel and in Acts. In Luke 1:3 he says, ‘Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus.’

“Writing a local church history is all about following a particular procedure to carefully investigate what happened in the life of a church, then to write about it with clarity.”

Hughes said that almost anyone write a church history without needing some background in writing and/or interviewing.

“I encourage volunteers to write the history of their church and I explain how they can do it. Tenacity is required, but other than that I believe almost anyone can do it. Volunteers sometimes don't have the tenacity to complete the project, and so I offer suggestions for professional writers to do the job. There are a lot of new Christian writers who would like to get paid for their work, and writing a local church history is a great place to start. In the book, I explain the professional path for them to take in order to write a local church history under contract.”

Readers can obtain Hughes’ book at  and

The contact information for Theatron Books is  and 

** Michael Ireland, Chief Correspondent of ANS, is an international British freelance journalist who was formerly a reporter with a London (United Kingdom) newspaper and has been a frequent contributor to UCB UK, a British Christian radio station. While in the UK, Michael traveled to Canada and the United States, Albania,Yugoslavia, Holland, Germany,and Czechoslovakia. He has reported for ANS from Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Israel, Jordan, China,and Russia. Michael's volunteer involvement with ASSIST News Service is a sponsored ministry department -- 'Michael Ireland Media Missionary' (MIMM) -- of A.C.T. International of P.O.Box 1649, Brentwood, TN 37024-1649, at: Artists in Christian Testimony (A.C.T.) International where you can donate online to support his stated mission of 'Truth Through Christian Journalism.' If you have a news or feature story idea for Michael, please contact him at: ANS Chief Reporter

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