How To Use Dropbox as a Free Cloud Network for a Small Church
How a small church can be more effective in ministry while lightening the load on its workers
As the pastor of a small church with limited financial and volunteer worker resources, finding ways to leverage the resources we have (or, in plain English, get “more bang for the buck”) is very important.
In our church, all of our most committed volunteers have multiple ministry assignments, as well as busy schedules at home and at work. For that reason, one of our most pressing considerations is preventing them having to come to the church building multiple times during the week. Any work that can be done at home, and on the worker's own schedule, is a great advantage.
That’s why I was excited to find that we could create a cloud-based network that workers could access from their own homes or even mobile devices, and work together on administrative or creative tasks for the church. That's how we use Dropbox. It’s been very effective for us. And, best of all, it’s free!
Dropbox is a service that stores folders and files both on local computers, and also online in the cloud. It allows you to update files on one computer and have the change show up automatically on all the other computers in your virtual network.
Here's how we use our cloud network:
Using Dropbox in the Admin Ministry
Pastoral Instructions – We have on our virtual network a document called Admin Tasks.doc. On Saturday I, as pastor, put any special instructions I may have for the Admin Team into that document on my home computer. Those instructions are then immediately available on the Admin computer at church. Now, when I get to church on Sunday morning, I don’t have to spend any time alerting the Admin team to tasks they need to get done for that day’s worship service. It’s already there on the office computer.
Using Dropbox in the Worship Ministry
In our small church, I am not only the pastor but also the worship leader, and our Dropbox network has proven to be a great help to me in that role.
Songs Lists – We keep a master list of all our songs (with title, key, lyrics, and keyboard setup) on the virtual network. When a song is selected for use, it is simply copied from that master document into a document containing the set of songs to be used in that service. I can update both documents from home or at church, as can other members of our Worship Team.
The Bulletin – Dropbox allows us to get our bulletins done ahead of the Sunday morning crunch. The instructions I put into Admin Tasks.doc on Saturday include the sermon title and Scripture passage, as well as any special information to be included in the bulletin. On Saturday evening an Admin Team member retrieves that information on their home computer, and uses it to finalize the bulletin, the template for which is also on the network. When the worker saves their changes locally, the print-ready bulletin immediately becomes available on the computer at the church. Now, when the worker arrives at church on Sunday morning, all that remains to be done is to simply print out the completed bulletin.
Distributed Database – We host our database files on the Dropbox network, so that access to updated database information is always available to authorized users wherever they may be. For example, when visitor information is added to the database after the worship service, it is also available, with no further effort, to me and other workers on our home computers.
Worship Sets – We use OpenSong (more free software) to project song lyrics, Scripture, and announcements during the service. Dropbox allows me to prepare worship sets whenever I have time, and enter the information either at home, in my office at church, or directly onto the laptop that runs our video projector. So once I get the projection sequence the way I want it, including any editing of song lyrics, announcements or Scripture passages, I have only to save it and it automatically is ready to go on the projection laptop. Believe me, not having to coordinate changes across different computers eliminates a lot of headaches.
Sermons and Sermon Notes – One final way Dropbox helps me is with my sermon notes and finished sermons. I work between my office at church and my study at home. My sermon research and writing may be done either place. With Dropbox, I don’t have to ferry that information from one place to another. It is always automatically where I need it at the time. If I finish a sermon in my study at home on Saturday night, it will be waiting for me on my church computer when I arrive on Sunday morning. (By the way, since technical failures are always a possibility, I do carry a printed copy of the sermon with me).
A little (very little) technical information
When Dropbox is installed on your computer, it creates a folder that houses all files you add to your virtual network. Depending on your operating system, this folder may have different path names. To avoid any confusion about that, we have found it convenient to assign the same drive letter to the Dropbox folder on all our network computers. We do that using another piece of free software called Visual Subst, which can automatically load itself upon startup.
The Dropbox folder on all of our computers shows up as the N: drive. This allows our software applications that use our Dropbox network files to access them as simply another local drive.
Automatic file backup
One final feature of Dropbox that I’m thankful we haven’t had to use yet is that it is an automatic backup system for all the files stored on it. All Dropbox files are stored online as well as on local computers. The online copies are always synched with local copies, and can be used to restore any files that may be lost on your computer.
Yes, it’s worth the effort!
Like any other software application, Dropbox will require some time and effort to get it set up on all the computers you want to have on your virtual network. If you are like I am, time for such things is always at a premium. But I have found the results we have achieved to be well worth the effort.
Before Dropbox I had to meet my data portability needs by sending emails to myself, or uploading and downloading to floppies, CDs or memory sticks. It was a lot of hassle, time consuming, and error-prone (especially when it’s late and you realize that you and the data you need right now are in two different locations).
How to get Dropbox
Dropbox is one of a number of software offerings that have come to be known as “Freemium” services. These products offer a certain minimum level of capability for free, in the hope that users will eventually move up to premium levels of service. For us, the free service has been everything we need.
If you are still struggling with any of the issues we were, or are looking for ways to improve operations in your ministry on a small budget, you may want to download Dropbox and give it a try.
© 2013 Ronald E. Franklin