My student ministry runs on Google Docs. Lesson plans, teaching schedules, sign-ups, leader teams, address books, and so many more things are all done with the help of this great cloud-based suite of Office products. It has become an invaluable part of how we manage the ministry, and it’s super simple to get set up.
It’s About Collaboration
Now it’s true, many of these things could be done using Microsoft Office, iWork, or other similar products. The real benefit of Google docs lies in the ability to collaborate. Documents can be shared with all of my team members, meaning each volunteer youth leader has 24/7 access to the most up-to-date information available. No forwarding and attachments and “file-version faux pas.” Everyone has everything all the time. That’s what makes it so useful.
So today we’ll look at how to get started, and in future posts I’ll share some of the custom documents we created to help manage our ministry.
Head on over to docs.google.com
The first thing you’ll need is a Google account. If you have a Gmail address, you already have an account and you can just login.
If you don’t have a Gmail account, click “Sign up for a new Google account” in the upper right hand corner (or click here), then follow the steps to login.
Now you’re at the Home screen, the dashboard for all you’ll do in Google Docs.
Along the left you’ll see plenty of self-explanatory tabs, at the top of which is a glaringly obvious “Create” button. Click it for a drop-down of types of document you can create. For now, let’s select “Document,” which is like a Microsoft Word file.
Sharing A Document
You can use this document for anything you’d do in Word, such as a lesson plan. The toolbar across the top is fairly simple and intuitive, you should be able to find most of your favorite commands like Bold, Italics, •Bullet Points, etc. I don’t know that Google Docs is the right program to create a handout or design a newsletter, but for those tasks that require just text on a page with limited formatting (90% of what we write), you won’t find Docs to be lacking.
Once you’ve created your document, it’s time to finally do the one thing that Google Docs shines at above all others… share it with your team. In the upper right hand corner you’ll see the “Share” button. Clicking that will bring up the share dialog, your new best friend.
Here you enter the email address of the person (or people) you want to share with. (If you use Gmail, your address book is already connected and you just have to start typing the name of the person you want to share with.) There are a few options you can select. You can choose if the recipient will be able to Edit (change anything), Comment (make notes for you to read), or just View (look with your eyes, not with your hands).
You will also want to make sure that the “Notify people via email” box is checked, this will send an email with the link to the team members you’ve selected. You can also add a message to the email with instructions about what it is or what you’d like them to do. They will be able to open the link in their own Google account (they will be prompted to create one if they don’t have one already). Once you’ve selected the options click “Share & save” and it will fire off the message to your recipients.
Getting the Team on board
When we first implemented this a couple years ago the biggest challenge was getting everyone on the team to sign up and start using it as well. At first, it can feel like just one more login to remember and one more thing to fit into an already busy schedule. But over time the team has grown to depend on this method. The secret is to make it worthwhile. If you just share attendance numbers in a spreadsheet, it won’t matter much. But when you start taking helpful information and giving volunteers access, the value becomes apparent and your youth leaders will begin to see how this can make them more effective and more efficient.
Our team consists of young adults, not-so-tech-savvy 40-somethings, and the leader affectionately known as Grandma, all of whom have become comfortable using Google Docs. It’s really that simple. Some of the things you can do to enable your youth leaders to excel would be:
- Teaching Schedule – leaders can see who is teaching this week or next month
- Student Contact Information – no more calling the youth pastor for a phone number or email address
- Event Sign-ups – see who’s going to be at the next retreat
- Student Contact Tracker – see which students have been contacted recently
- Plan A Lesson Together – when two people view the same document, you see the changes in real-time. You can work on a lesson together without having to find time in your schedule to meet at the office (aka Starbucks).
These are all things that we used to have to do during leader meetings, which took away valuable time that could be used for further training, prayer, or team-building. Using Google Docs for the logistical stuff can free you up to do the what you really gather together for, figure out how to help teenagers follow Jesus.
Do you use Google Docs in your ministry? How else do you keep your team on the same page?