One of the youth minister stereotypes that I have never liked was that we are unorganized. Yes, there are very immature, messy, anything-goes youth ministers out there, but the rest of us try to do our jobs professionally. Unfortunately, organization is not everyone’s strong suit. For some of you, management skills are some of those things you know are important but are as far off as running a sub-four-minute mile.
While I do have gifts of administration, it is not always something I want to do. It takes precious time, and I often get tired of looking at numbers, doing paperwork, and scheduling. Therefore, I have come to rely on the help of several tips and tools to help me in the process. Not only do they help me stay organized, but they make the process much quicker. This then allows me to go back to what I really enjoy — building relationships with the students and helping them understand God.
So, for the unorganized youth minister (or those who just want to get better), here are some of those tips and tools I have picked up along the way.
- Clean up your desk. Hopefully, this goes without saying, but I’m sure many need the reminder. If you have papers all over your desk/office, it is hard to be organized. Take a day, grab some folders and a trash can, and start getting things organized. After that, use your file drawers or start to scan everything and keep a digital copy somewhere. Not only does this help you find things easier, I have found I am much more productive when my work area is more organized.
- Spreadsheets are your friend. While they might seem like something only built for accountants, spreadsheets are a great way to keep things organized. You can use Microsoft Excel, but if you choose to go with Google Sheets, you’ll be able to access your spreadsheets anywhere you go. This means finding out who is going to an event, what a student hasn’t turned in yet, or contact information about a particular student is right at your fingertips.
- Use online form builders. There are very few people who enjoy inputting hand-written names, numbers, and addresses into a database. In our world of smart devices, just ask your students and parents to fill out their information online. I use Google Forms, which then puts all the information in a nice Google spreadsheet. If it needs to go somewhere else eventually, I can just copy and paste it, making sure I get all the information just as it was typed.
- Write it on a calendar. If you plan something, or are even thinking of planning something, put it on a calendar. Similar to spreadsheets and forms, you can get an online calendar really easily today. We use Google Calendars, but there are a number of other solutions. Your events, meetings, practices, etc. should go on the calendar. This not only helps you keep yourself organized, but if you have a shared church calendar, you won’t be overlapping with other staff members. Bonus suggestion: Make a shared family calendar for home!
- Find a church/ministry management service. If your church has a management service or software, make sure all your students are listed correctly. If you don’t have one yet, see if you can push them toward getting one. If not, you can get one just for your ministry. This allows you to keep all your students, leaders, and parents in an easy-to-access format. It also lets you email select groups of them. Many of them also allow for taking attendance and online event registration. We currently use Planning Center Online, but there are a number of other options out there.
- Digitalize everything you can. Apart from the specifics listed above, if there are any other areas of your ministry you can digitalize, go for it. Having everything searchable on a computer or cloud service is very helpful in staying organized and efficient in ministry (or in any job). Be careful, though, that sensitive information is not placed anywhere others can find it.
- Simplicity is key. There are so many services that exist today, and if you don’t watch it, even your organization can get unorganized. It’s ok to test out different approaches, but when you find what works for you, stick with it. The more you branch out and have one database here, another one somewhere else, and yet another one stored on a flash drive somewhere, the more chaotic it becomes. If you’re a Google person, use as many of their services as you can. If your church/ministry has Planning Center Online, do all you can with it, avoiding having a different service for every need.
- To-do lists are in. I know the idea of a to-do list sends chills up many the spine, but I urge you to rethink them. Taking a bit of time to write down what you need to do at the beginning of your work week and at the top of each day will help so much. If the timing doesn’t work for you, try doing it at the end of the day. The point is… just create a list, and with all the smartphone and computer to-do list apps out there, it makes it easier and more fun than just writing it on a piece of paper. I just use the built-in app on my iPhone that synchronizes across my MacBook and iPad, but there are a lot more out there.
- Celebrate wins. If you accomplish something, celebrate it — even the little stuff. While this doesn’t help you get organized, it will help you stay organized. The more you celebrate your accomplishments, the more you will want to keep it up. And one way to help make that happen is to get organized. On top of that, if you aren’t organized, how are you going to know you even accomplished something? Okay, that might be a bit overboard, but I think you get the point.
- Get help. If all these tips still have you pulling out your hair, remember that not everyone is like you. Your church probably has at least one parent, student, or other adult ready and willing to help with administration. Ask around, and get someone else to help you with inputting data, sending your regular emails, and updating records. This not only helps you but it gives someone else an opportunity to use his/her gifts for the church.
Do you have any other tips or tools that help you stay organized? Maybe it’s something you heard from someone else that you’re still trying to put into practice. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below! Also, if any of these have helped you get more organized, let me know that too! It’s always great to know how things have helped, and it lets me do number 9 (celebrate wins)!