New ELCA Recommendations on How and How Long We Keep Our Data

Hello friends,

Last week, a Network member posted in our Facebook group that they had noticed new recommendations from the ELCA about how long congregations retain registration data about events with children and youth. These recommendations had been updated in May of 2021.

You can see the document that lists these recommendations here.

The new recommendations for data indicate that records of events and activities should now be kept permanently. 

According to the ELCA, the records that they recommend be permanently kept include:

  • Planning material
  • Correspondence (including email)
  • Minutes from planning meetings (if applicable)
  • Promotional and programmatic materials
  • Audiovisual materials
  • Sermons/talks/speeches
  • Contracts
  • Insurance policies and claims
  • Incident information/reports
  • Permission slips
  • Release forms
  • Medical release forms
  • Waivers
  • Attendance lists
  • Lists of adult leaders/chaperones
  • Lists of staff who participated
  • Event registrations

I will admit that when I saw this list…I had to take a deep breath. Really? All of this information? Kept permanently? It seems pretty overwhelming. That was also the general reaction of those who commented on the original post a week or two ago. 

I said that I would contact the ELCA’s Office of the Secretary to look for clarification. I had a great email exchange with Cathy Lundeen, who is the Collections and Records Management Archivist and who wants to be really helpful. Here’s what I heard:

First, to be clear, these are only recommendations, not requirements. The way the ELCA is organized, the churchwide organization is not in a position to require anything like this of our congregations. With issues such as these, it is our insurance companies who have the most authority as they can require certain processes in order to continue insuring us. The ELCA can only recommend. It cannot require.

It is a good idea to check with your congregation’s insurance company to see what they require.

Second, there are good reasons to hold on to data. These changes took place because in other churches and organizations, allegations of sexual misconduct were being raised many years after the incident took place. And the organizations did not have any records or information going back that far to help them (and ultimately the courts) determine what really happened. This becomes a huge liability issue.

An example from my congregation: A couple of years ago, allegations of misconduct from over 40 years ago, with a pastor who is now long-gone, were raised. That pastor’s call had been terminated shortly after the incidents took place in the 1970’s, but in my congregation’s records, there was no data whatsoever as to why he was let go or what happened. Nothing at all. This was not helpful. 

So I understand why it is important to hold on to data.

Third, I asked Cathy if the data needed to be kept in paper form or if digital storage was ok. She said that this is a difficult question to answer. Paper, of course, is the most “stable” format, but only if it is kept in a safe, dry and secure location. Digital data might not degrade like paper, but it also needs to be held securely, and the way of saving the data needs to be kept up to date with current technology. (Anybody remember floppy disks?)

She said that generally she would recommend paper, but that each congregation has its own systems and needs. 

My takeaways from the conversation:

  1. It’s up to your congregation to determine the data you need to keep, in consultation with your insurance company. I’d recommend reading the ELCA’s recommendations, but ultimately it’s up to you.
  2. We do need to keep data safe. The events in the world have shown that it’s important. The whole list seems overwhelming. But take a look and determine what’s realistic for your congregation. Start somewhere.
  3. You very well may have people in your congregations who work with data and security. Lean on them. Perhaps pull together a group of people who work in IT, data management or data security and ask them to help the congregation shape best practices using your insurance company’s requirements as a starting point.

Managing data is not what I thought I was signing on for when I began this work. But in a data-driven world, it is now just a reality that we have to tend to. 

But find help, so that it doesn’t all land on your shoulders.

God’s peace, friends! Keep moving forward!


  1. Thank you Todd for this clear, concise explanation.


    Sent from my iPhone



  2. Christiana Slater March 28, 2022 at 2:59 pm

    This is great. Shared with my office. TY!


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