It is best to start by meeting with the pastor, who usually has some awareness of the congregation’s history and how it fits into the larger picture of the denomination. Determine what church records are available and whether anything was written previously. Read the denominational history, Called Unto Holiness. The local library or historical society can provide histories of your community. Then form a bare-bones chronology of the subject.
After these steps, survey the research materials at hand. Gain an overview of the task. Determine where you need to go and how best to organize the work. List the people to contact for written information and oral interviews. Be sure to include former pastors. A questionnaire can be prepared as a preliminary step for interviews. Then survey church records. Note any gaps that appear in the record. Ask church members about scrapbooks and photograph albums. Wedding pictures often show changes in the interior and exterior of the church building. Perhaps some families have kept Sunday bulletins from infant dedications or baptisms, or from other special services. These bulletins give insight into changing patterns of worship and the types of music used at different periods.
The public library has other sources for your project. Newspapers carry revival notices and announce special services. Did your church participate in community events and service organizations that are reported in the newspaper? The newspaper also documents the backdrop for your story, describing how your community was effected by migration, war, the Great Depression, the baby boom, post-war prosperity, and the civil rights struggles of the 1960’s. Ask the librarian about city directories and census materials. These will help you evaluate changes in your church membership over time. These sources can help you draw conclusions about employment, migration, and neighborhoods.
Do not forget to consult the journals of your district assemblies. These journals have statistical charts that allow one to plot a church’s financial and membership changes. Your congregation’s leadership is listed in the directories at the front of the district journals. The journal also tells how other churches in your area fared and about the district as a whole. The district superintendent’s annual report often comments on economic and cultural conditions and on other external forces effecting the district and its churches.
The Nazarene Archives in Kansas City may have records pertaining to your church. These sources usually require a good deal of random searching through old periodicals. If a visit to the Archives is feasible, it could prove rewarding.