by Jason Sansbury

If you’re like most youth workers I know, everything is on your computer. I mean, EVERYTHING. And most of the time, that’s a handy thing. You know, “Everything is there and I can get to it” instead of scrambling around and looking for that one folder or that one file in the moment you need it.

BUT…and this is a BIG BUT…what happens when your hard drive crashes? Or your computer gets stolen? Or your church is hit by lighting?

If you haven’t backed everything up, then EVERYTHING is gone. At the best, you can find a techy parent or kid to pull your data off the hard drive. The almost worst is that you have to pay ridiculously expensive data recovery sites to try and get files off the dead hard drive. Absolute worst: it’s all gone.

You need a plan to back up all your files, so that even if your computer dies, all your ministry data doesn’t die with it. This seems like such an obvious thing to say but I know half a dozen youth ministry friends who recently have lost everything and the recovery process has not been good for them. They’ve cried, cursed themselves, and had to redo everything. EVERYTHING.

3 Things to Look For in a Back Up System

Every back up system is only as good as the person operating it. I don’t have time to remember to plug in the hard drive to my laptop every night, or even once a week. Even with an automated reminder, I forget or don’t do it.

So here’s what you need for good back ups:

  1. It is automated.
  2. It is redundant.
  3. It is not location specific.

Automated simply means that your stuff is being backed up without you thinking about it. Essentially, it happens every time you are connected to the internet.

Redundant means that you need more than one copy of your data or that you can access it in multiple ways.

Not being location specific means that your backup could survive a location specific disaster, like a fire, a flood, an earthquake, etc. Having a backup on site is good, be it a external drive or a thumbdrive. However, any accident onsite means you will lose that backup as well.

Here are three good options that I recommend. If you are at a larger congregation, your church may already budget for these kinds of services, if not, it is worth planning to add it into your church’s IT budget or–worse case–your own youth ministry budget.


Dropbox is a free service up to 2GB of data (which is a ton unless you are backing up pictures) and then you can get more space by referrals or by paying $9.99/month or $99/year for 1 TB, which is a massive amount of space. Dropbox is a system that automatically backs up and archives your data if you save it in your Dropbox folder. It runs in the background. An additional feature of Dropbox is that it is can be linked to multiple computers and synced, so that as many computers as you connect can share the data in those folders. You can access a file at home, update it, and once your work computer syncs back up, it will be there. Dropbox has good smartphone apps on Android and iOS platforms that make it easy to use and access even from your phone.

Google Drive

Google Drive is similar to Dropbox in form and function, with the one exception that it will want to change over Microsoft Office documents to the Google Docs formats. For some people, that may be a deal breaker. But again, it runs in background, syncs between multiple machines and is remotely accessible, with good apps on both Android and iOS. Google Drive also is free to 15 GB and then costs $1.99/month for up to 100 GB and $9.99/month for 1 TB.

To me, both are useful and do what you need in terms of backing up, having remote access, and working in the background. I use Google Drive right now because all of my personal and work email flows through Gmail and it integrates with Google Drive the easiest.

Google Drive and Dropbox are great if you want a system that can work across multiple computers, works automatically, and that is remotely accessible. It is the nerdier option. If your computer were to die, you can log on both via any web browser and access files you need immediately or install their software and download all your stuff on a new computer.


If you want an easier way that backs up everything without you even having to save files in a specific file location, you want to invest in Carbonite or a similar cloud-based service. Carbonite will back up one computer and all the files on it for $60/year. It runs in the background, it will literally backup ALL files (even system files or other non critical files), and you will never have to think about it. Should your computer die, you simply download all your files and are good to go. The only major downside of Carbonite is that if you back your whole computer up, the first sync can take a long time. I recommend plugging your computer in over a weekend to a hard wire connection, not WiFi, as it will take a long time. (This can be an issue as well with Google Drive and Dropbox but with less data being backed up, it is not as bad an issue usually.)

So add a back up system to your budget this year. Yes, I still have a thumbdrive on my keychain on which I periodically back up all the documents for the year. Yes, I even run time capsule on my MacBook when I remember to plug my external hard drive in. My theory is that you can’t have too many backups. But in any case, should all of those things fail, I can get the files I need, do the work I need to do, and not spend hours and hours rebuilding and remaking all the precious work I made if my computer dies or is stolen.