Anyone who uses a PC in two different locations knows how frustrating it can be to constantly transfer files back and forth between them when working on something in both places. This kind of thing is very common in church life as pastors, youth leaders, church secretaries, AV and sound technicians, teachers, and other ministers work both at home and at the physical church. In many cases, the need to take files back and forth is ongoing, because the regular cycle repeats each week.
USB thumb drives are handy, but run the risk of being forgotten. A laptop can be carried between locations, and although that’s very common, it doesn’t work for everyone. Sometimes laptops are shared, and sometimes people just don’t have a laptop at home.
But today, there is a new class of solution that is becoming very popular: cloud storage. Cloud storage can make working from multiple locations very easy. Although there are a number of such solutions, I’m going to describe Dropbox in this post because it is one of the most popular, and the one I’m most familiar with. (It’s also free. 🙂 )
To start with Dropbox, you have to get an account at dropbox.com. The basic accounts are free. Once your account is set up, you install a piece of software from their website. The software logs into your account, and needs to be installed on each PC you want to work from. When the software is installed, it creates a folder named Dropbox. Everything within that folder is synchronized with your account on dropbox.com. Any files that only exist on the web site are copied to your PC into the Dropbox folder. If there are any files in that folder on your PC, then they are copied up to the web site. Any time a file is changed, the updated version is copied to all your other Dropbox locations so everything stays in sync. If a PC is off when something is updated on dropbox.com, then it is updated next time it boots.
All of this happens behind the scenes automatically. In my experience, it works very smoothly. No matter what machine I use to create or modify a file, as long as it is in the Dropbox folder, changes are automatically synchronized to all other machines. Since they are synchronized to my web account also, I can get to them from any PC, even if the Dropbox software is not installed there, just by logging into the web site.
This is very useful for anyone whose ministry at church also involves working at home or any other location. For example, as a Sunday School teacher, I would prepare lessons at home on my desktop PC. But I presented them at church from my laptop. I never had to worry about copying them from one machine to another. Because both machines had Dropbox installed, the lesson files were always available and up to date on both machines. I just needed network access at church.
Similarly, the church secretary would often work on the weekly bulletin at home as the Pastor sent her updates throughout the week. She would then print them out on Friday. Since both her home PC and the PC at church had Dropbox installed, all the necessary files were always available to her wherever she happened to be working. She never needed to use a thumb drive copy them back and forth.
It’s also possible to link separate Dropbox accounts by having a special folder shared between them. Only the contents of the shared folder are available to both parties, but this allows people to collaborate on projects without the hassle of sending files back and forth. Other advanced applications are available through smartphone and tablet apps, and since Dropbox works on Macs, it’s even possible to synchronize between different types of computers.
In a future post, I’ll describe how I even used the Linux version of Dropbox to help with weekly sermon recording. That’s not a common application, but it does illustrate the versatility of this sort of tool.
All in all, I think cloud storage tools offer a lot for today’s church ministers when working from multiple locations. If this includes you, then take a look at these tools and see if they can help make things a little easier.