Being the internet/tech junky that I am, I decided to blog on what tools I use in my ministry. This will be in response to Tim Schmoyer's "100 blog topics I hope You write". I love the internet and do almost everything in ministry on it. I am also a very mobile pastor, so I like having the internet/sites be available to me via my cell phone. I hardly ever open up anything other than a browser whenever I am working. I love the internet and hopefully you will find these tools helpful.
I will first start with the biggest internet company out there. Google provides some of the best tools for youth pastors because they are all online, easy to use and best of all FREE. When I open my browser I am greeted by iGoogle. My iGoogle is setup to give me a quick glimpse at what my day is going to look like with my calendar, email, RemembertheMilk (to-do), Twitter, Facebook and the weather all in one place. This gives me a quick glimpse at my day. Once I view my page I can move into the gadget that I need most. Along with iGoogle, I use Google Docs for all my document needs. gDocs does everything I need and allows me to share my documents with other people rather than sending attachments to different people in the office. gDocs has added a new piece that allows you to create forms that can be embedded in a web page or you can just link it from your site. This allows me to do surveys, collect information and event registration. I also use Google search and Google Image search whenever I need to collect information. Image search is especially useful when you are created publications and presentation slides. Just be careful on the whole copyright situation :). gMail allows you to keep your email online, gives you a ton of storage space and is very easy to use. I have been using gMail from the beginning and have tons of mail archived. I have my church pop email account connected in gMail so all that email is online. The Google Calendar is a great resource to use for youth groups because the calendar can be embedded in a web page or shared with other people. You can setup multiple calendars for each piece of your ministry. Google Calendar will also sync up with MS
If you didn't know by now, most of our students are social butterflies when it comes to being online, so we need to be also. I have both a Facebook & MySpace account in order to be in their world. I use both of these social networks to keep in contact with my students. I post pictures, announcements, events and anything else they might be interested in. You do have to be careful with these and all social networking sites because of the dangers they do hold for teenagers. I also use Twitter to keep in touch with a few teenagers but mostly with other youth pastors. Twitter is the rage of the internet. Micro-blogging at its best. You can keep up with all your friends and send out shorts announcements. Outlook.
I also want to share with you some websites that help me with research when preparing my message. If you haven’t heard of Sermoncentral.com you need to check it out. There are thousands of sermons out there for you to browse through, read and use if you feel the need. I use Sermoncentral.com as a starting point, to get some ideas about the topic I am working on. They also have a great collection of PowerPoint’s, illustrations and dramas on the various sermon topics. Most of the resources on Sermoncentral.com are free to use but they do have a pay per area where you get even more resources. I will admit that there have been times where I have used whole sermons from Sermoncentral.com but only when I was in a rush but I mostly use it to get an idea of where I can go with a topic or piece of scripture.
In continuing my message prep, I also use both eBible.com and YouVersion.com. eBible.com is a site with numerous versions of the bible and some commentary. They do a good job of making the site user friendly, easy to search and relevant. eBible.com also has a great library of reference material. Some of it is free, others you have to pay for. YouVersion.com has some of the same tools as eBible.com but has more user information. You are able to go in and make notes on a specific set of scriptures for future use. Any reference material is all given by other users rather than well-known theologians. YouVersion.com has also has a great mobile site that is very easy to use. Both of these are great resources to use when preparing sermons, lessons or just doing your own study.
So far I have given you information on resources that are free online, the next set of resources do cost a little bit but have a great use and, to me, are worth the money. I have tried out various software for keeping track of students and their information. Currently
we use Youthtracker.net and love it. The crew that is developing and adding to this software is on the ball and great to work with. The site has many benefits for us from ease of use, to accessibility but mostly, all my leaders can access student information. This makes keeping up with everyone much easier for everyone. My adult leaders love having this access and use it often. Youthtracker.net allows us to have electronic sign-ups for all our events, both online and here at the church. We use two laptops for students to sign-in for Sunday School, Youth Group and other events that happen at the church. They are working on improving their online sign-ups and registration as well as allowing churches to take credit card payments online.
Two of the last online tools I use are txtsignal.com and Constant Contact. Both of these allow you to get information out to a lot of people at once. Constant Contact is a mailing site that allows you to mail tons of people at the same time. They have dozens of templates available for you to create
a professional look to your emails. I use this to send out a weekly newsletter to all my parents,
students and adults. The cost is relatively cheap
for this type of product. Maybe you can convince the entire church to use it also. txtsignal.com focuses more on cell phones. txtsignal.com allows you to send a text message to a list of students all at once. This comes in handy with quick words of encouragement, event changes or just to say you love them. I use this program sometimes daily to send out information.
There are many more tools that can be found online to make your life easier. This is just a short list of all the tools I use and how. If you have any questions, please let me know.