SEO for Churches

SEO for Churches

More and more churches are discovering new opportunities for outreach through digital channels. They invest time and money to create a great website, slick graphics for the next outreach event, and maybe even an app. But few have taken the time to focus on Search Engine Optimization (SEO), which is a simple way to make sure these digital efforts perform their very best.

In this article, I’ll introduce you to SEO, what is involved, and how churches can leverage it to reach more people.

What is SEO?

Search engine optimization is a method of improving the search visibility of a website or organization within Google and other search engines.

There are dozens of tactics and strategies for improving your search ranking, depending on the type of website, audience, and goals. For most churches, the SEO tactics that work for local businesses would also work for them. Called local SEO, these tactics will raise the visibility of your church within a target geographic area.

Should Churches Invest in SEO?

Having been in full time ministry for a decade, I understand how valuable resources like time and money are to a local church. So why should a church invest in SEO?

I think there are several important reasons why SEO should be seen as a valuable Kingdom investment for a local church.

Get Found By People As They Search

People search for your church online in several ways. Sometimes they search by typing in your church name (“First Baptist Church”); this is called branded searches and are typically performed by people that already know your church. Other searches are much broader (“church in [community name]”); these are discovery searches and are performed by people that might not be familiar with your church.

I was working with a church who was proud of the fact that they showed up #1 in Google Search for their church name. I said “That’s great, but where do you show up when people search for “church [community name]”?” They were on page 2, which means hardly anyone new to the community would find their site.

With SEO, you can increase your church’s search visibility and target these broader, community-focused keywords. Since these searches are done by a portion of your community that does not know about your church, this is a great ministry opportunity to take advantage of.

Avoid Confusion

Do you share a similar name with other churches in your area? Are there more than one church from your denomination in the community? Do people get your church confused with another?

SEO helps clarify Google’s understanding of your church, including alternative or past names, your exact location, and denominational affiliation. This, in turn, allows Google to present more accurate information about your church in the search results, so your audience can better find you and not the church down the street.

If you have multiple locations or campuses, local SEO provides clarity to Google, so that searchers find the location nearest to them.

Advertise your ministries, events, and outreach opportunities.

With SEO tactics like on-site updates, structured data, and additions to Google My Business, you can better advertise your upcoming events and outreach opportunities. In some cases, you can even have your next event show up when people search for community events in your town. This is a great way to connect with people unfamiliar with your church and build relationships within your larger community.

What is involved with SEO for Churches?

While you might already be familiar with the term SEO, you might not know what it looks like for a local business or organization. Here are 5 key areas to focus on for local church SEO:

1. Google My Business

Google My Business is a free service from Google that allows local businesses and organizations to provide relevant information. Once you verify your account, you can add images, hours, links, videos, and Google Posts to your Google My Business (GMB) account. This information shows up in the Knowledge Graph for branded searches (right sidebar on desktop searches, or top of mobile searches) and in the Map for broader searches. Read more about Google My Business >>

2. On-Site Improvements

Your website is your church’s online home base for reaching your community. You should make it as easy as possible for your potential guests to find your site and find the information they want.

There are plenty of on-site improvements you can make to increase your website’s rankings and search visibility.

A. Title Tags & Meta Descriptions

The easiest is to craft unique title tags and meta descriptions. The title tag of a page shows up as the blue link in search results, while the meta description is the 1-2 sentence description that appears below the link. Both are crucial elements that can make the difference in whether a person clicks and visits your site or does not.

B. Internal Architecture (IA)

Make sure you have the right structure to your site, including the most important pages being easily accessible in your main navigation and footer. If you have an important page – like your contact or visitor pages – buried in your site, it’s less likely that Google and your potential visitors will be able to find it. For most church websites, it should only take 2-3 clicks to get to any page on the site; any more and the page might as well not exist.

C. Clear, Concise URLs

Have you ever visited a website with strange looking URLs? Most users think that weird, unrecognizable URLs are either for safety (like financial transactions) or are spam sites. Creating page URLs that are easy to read and understand help build trust in your church’s site, plus they make the website more SEO friendly.

Depending on your website platform, you may or may not be able to make these changes to your church’s website. While some church website platforms are easy to work with and can make beautiful website experiences, if they make it hard or nearly impossible to rank well, I would stay away from them.

3. Off-Site Updates

The internet is filled with thousands of directories that list out local businesses and organizations, much like the telephone once did. Some (like Facebook and Yelp) are the most popular websites on the planet, while others are rarely visited by humans, and still others are extremely specific – like ones for your denomination or local directories for your community. All these online directories provide important SEO value for your church.

Very often, these directories can have inaccurate or missing data. If you’ve ever changed your church’s name, address, telephone number, or website address, chances are this old data is still out there. Moz provides a free resource [tk]

4. Schema & Structured Data

Structured data is a type of code that helps Google better understand specific information about your church. With Schema or structured data, you can give Google very accurate info concerning your office hours, associated social profiles, campus locations, job openings, events, and more.

5. Reputation Management

In communities of any size, churches can establish a reputation within Christian circles: the hip one, the traditional one, the one with great worship, the one with awesome children’s programs. Nowadays, the reputation of your church or organization can be found digitally in the reviews left online. Google, Facebook, and other platforms allow for unsolicited reviews of your church through star ratings and comments. And your potential visitors can see the ratings and reviews and make up their mind about your church – before they even step foot on your property.

While it might be unfair and not right for people to make a snap judgement on your church based on a few star ratings or the words of a stranger, but it is the culture we live in. That’s why reputation management is so important: it gives you a chance to create a better first impression of your organization online.

Reputation management involves asking your church members, attendees, and visitors to leave honest reviews of your church online. I recommend starting with Google and then Facebook as the two places for people to leave reviews.

Learn More about SEO for Churches

In this post, I’ve provided a brief overview of what churches can do to improve their search visibility and connect more with their local community. Look for some additional posts, scheduled to publish in the next few weeks, which will dive deeper into how to make these updates for your church’s website and online presence.

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Celebrating the Empty Tombs of Jesus

Mausoleum_MuhammadThe Empty Tomb(s) of Jesus

Medina, Saudi Arabia is the 2nd holiest city in Islam. It is where Muhammad went during his flight from Mecca, and in this city he received portions of the Quran. In the heart of this city is the Mosque of the Prophet, a place of worship established by Muhammad in 622 CE.

At the Mosque is the Green Dome, which marks the burial tombs of many Islamic leaders. Muhammad is buried there, along with the first two caliphs or leaders of Islam (Abu Bakr and Umar). There is also an empty grave next to Muhammad, which is reserved for Jesus. Yes, even within Islam there is an empty tomb for Jesus.

Significance of the Empty Tombs in Islam and Christianity

Islam rejects the belief that Jesus, an important prophet of God, was killed. Instead, they believe that Jesus will return and be buried next to Muhammad in Medina.

On the other hand, Christianity teaches that Jesus did die on the cross, and he was buried in a borrowed grave. While there might be some debate over the location of that tomb in Jerusalem (either the Church of the Holy Sepulchre or the Garden Tomb), the essential truth is that Jesus was buried by his followers after the execution, and Roman centurions guarded the tomb, and early on the third day, the tomb was empty and a risen Jesus began appearing to his followers. For Christians, this isn’t just an interesting story or feel-good ending; it is the fact upon which all our hope and faith is based.

Importance of the Resurrection

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a core tenant of Christianity. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul makes clear how crucial this belief is to the rest of his teachings. We believe that Jesus died for the deliverance of our sins, and that he was buried in a grave (1 Corinthians 15:3–4a). But Jesus did not remain in that grave; on the third day he was raised (v. 4) and appeared to hundreds of his followers and skeptics alike (v. 5–8).

Paul goes out of his way to say that this belief in the death and resurrection of Christ lines up with the ancient prophecies and teachings preserved in the Old Testament, with his frequent refrain “in accordance with the Scriptures” (vv. 4 & 5).

He also argues in the following verses that the entire trustworthiness of Christianity resides on whether Jesus rose from the dead. In verses 13–17, he explicitly states:

But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. (1 Corinthians 15:13–17, emphasis mine).

In the death of Jesus, the sins of mankind are paid for and the evil forces of this world are put to death. In the resurrection of Jesus, even death and the grave are shown to be no match for God’s love. By raising Jesus, God is reversing the effects of the fallen world and beginning his process of renewing and redeeming Creation, which will eventually result in New Creation.

Celebrating the Empty Tombs of Jesus on Easter

Today, as we celebrate Easter with our church, family, and friends, let us remember that the god that we worship is the one who has conquered death and sin forever. What started with Jesus that Easter morning will continue into New Creation, so we will all taste the glory of resurrected life.

Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen (Luke 24:5b-6a)

image credit

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Amazon Music Unlimited: A Review

For the last few years, my wife and I have become dependent on Amazon and their amazing Prime service. In case you haven’t hear of Prime yet, it’s a pretty simple premise: for $79 a year, you get free 2 day shipping on any order from That in itself is well worth the price of admission; in fact, we now consider it as important as a utility bill.

Over time, Amazon has added some impressive perks to their Prime Membership to get more people to sign up. Some are brilliant (like Daniel Tiger on Prime Videos) while others are duds (ahem Prime Day). For me, I view them as the icing on the top for the core value of Prime: fast, free shipping.

Last month, Amazon added another service to their Prime offerings: Prime Music Unlimited.

The Landscape of Music Streaming Services in 2016

As a content writer for an internet marketing company in Lancaster, I spend almost 8 hours a day with music piping through my ears. So music is important. And since I can get easily distracted when I’m in the writing groove, I hate ads.

I have tried many of the free and paid music streaming services out there: Spotify Premium, Rdio (RIP), Pandora, and Apple Music. Each has their advantages and disadvantages, with Spotify clearly the best of the bunch. But the price for the service ($10 a month) was just a tad bit too high for my tastes (and budget). So when I got an email last month from Amazon introducing their music service, I was intrigued.

About Amazon Music Unlimited

Like the services mentioned above, Amazon Music Unlimited allows you to stream millions of songs from most artists. With apps on all my devices (iOS, Windows, and web app, though I haven’t tried it on Roku yet), and offline listening, it allows me to listen to my favorite albums and artists when I’m at work, driving, or in the workshop.

Two differentiating features of Amazon Music Unlimited: Alexa support and the price. If you have an Alexa-compatable device, like an Echo or Dot, your Music account works seamlessly with your devices. And if you only want to play music through a single device, a subscription only costs $4 per month.

Cost is the other way Amazon sets its service apart from the rest. If you are a Prime Member, a subscription only costs $7.99 month or $79 per year. So for as little as $6.58 per month, you can enjoy millions of songs anywhere you are.

Amazon Music Unlimited: Well Worth The Price

While it doesn’t come with some features found on Spotify (like Discover Weekly), the lower price of Amazon’s music service is great for anyone looking for a more-affordable music streaming service. Over the last month, I haven’t found any music that I’ve wanted to play that is not on the service. And I’ve found the different apps easy to use.

If you’d like to try out Amazon Music Unlimited service for yourself, Amazon gives you a 30-day trial of the service for free.

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christmas scene it

Christmas Scene It

The students in our youth small group love playing Scene It – the movie trivia game. So when the youth leaders and I were planning for our youth group Christmas party in 2011, we said we wanted to play Christmas Scene It. No one we knew had the game, so I took a look on Amazon to find it. No luck. They have every other variety of Scene It imaginable: Harry Potter, Disney, James Bond, and even Twilight. But no Christmas Scene It.

So I decided to make one. It is a modified version of the game: it shows clips from movies and then asks a question about those clips. It is available as a Keynote presentation that includes all the video clips: Christmas Scene It – KeyNote[ZIP]. The students loved playing it, and so will your group.

Feel free to use this for your youth group or small group Christmas party, or even for your extended family’s Christmas gathering. Be sure to let me know how and where you used it.

UPDATED LINK November 28, 2012 – For all those asking, here is an updated link for Christmas Scene  It – Keynote. It is on my public file in Dropbox, the best cloud storage system out there!
UPDATED December 10, 2013 – I just made the file available in PowerPoint too: Christmas Scene It – PPT [ZIP]. Let me know how it works!

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Purchase a Pastoral Library

Are you a seminary student, young pastor, or Christian book collector? How would you like to buy a complete pastoral library for just a fraction of what it’s worth?

UPDATE: July 2018

I have sold most of my library. If you are still looking for a great deal on ministry books, consider shopping my store on Amazon.

Shop Amazon >>


The Details

  • 757 books in 28 file boxes
  • Including commentaries on every book of the Bible, study Bibles, theological works, journals, and ministry books.
  • Buy for pennies on the dollar

If you want to grow your pastoral or theological library in one fell swoop, this is the deal for you.

The Backstory

After 10 years in full-time ministry, I am currently working in the online marketing world. Without the weekly demands for writing or preaching, I am finding the burden of these books to be too great and want them to be better used.

Also, in past ministry contexts I lived hours away from the closest seminary or theological library, so I created my own selection of research resources for whenever I needed them. But now that I live a few minutes from a decent theological library, I don’t need all these resources in my library.

Finally, while I was building this library I was also building my Logos and Kindle libraries. I’ve now come to prefer the ebook format over physical and am downsizing the physical library as a result.

The Collection






This library features 757 books, journals, and commentaries covering every aspect of pastoral ministry. Since I come from a slightly reformed background, you’ll find books by many of the popular authors, including Beale, Packer, Piper, Schreiner, Grudem, Calvin, Carson, Keller, Bavinck, Berkhof, Tozer, Owen, and more. Plus, there is a large selection of popular evangelical commentaries. I don’t have time to list out every book, but here are some highlights of the collection:


Collection of systematic, biblical, and specific-topic theological books. Most from a Reformed or Baptist perspective.

Includes books by Wright, Packer, Grudem, von Rad, Brueggemann, Beale, Piper, Berkhof, Tozer, Warfield, Bavinck, Bird

NT Wright’s entire Christian Origins and the Question of God series in paperback (New Testament and the People of God, Jesus and the Victory of God, Resurrection of the Son of God, Paul and the Faithfulness of God).

Several volumes of the helpful theological series, including Four Views, Counterpoints, and the New American Commentary Studies in Bible & Theology (NACSBT). There are also some journals from the Evangelical Theological Society (JETS) and Bibliotheca Sacra.

Study Bible

  • ESV Study Bible
  • ESV Gospel Transformation Bible
  • NIV Zondervan Study Bible


Individual commentaries for every book of the Bible. Includes volumes from top evangelical commentaries, including:

  • New International Commentary on the New Testament (NICNT)
  • New International Commentary on the Old Testament (NICOT)
  • Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (BECNT)
  • Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (TOTC)
  • Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (TNTC)
  • Expositor’s Bible Commentary (EBC – whole series)
  • NIV Application Commentary (NIVAC)
  • Exploring the Old Testament
  • Preaching the Word
  • Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary (ZIBBC – whole series)

Church Ministry

This set includes a large selection of ministry books covering a variety of topics, including:

  • Youth Ministry
  • Preaching
  • Missions
  • Counseling
  • Leadership
  • Church Governance (9Marks books)


This was a working pastoral library, so the books are in various states of wear. Some are practically brand new, while others have writing and markings in the text. Due to the size of the collection I can’t go through each book and determine the condition.

How Much Will It Cost

I’ve thought long and hard about this, as these books reflect a significant investment on my part. I know I can recoup more of the investment by selling the books individually on Amazon, but I don’t have the time or the energy to do that.

I’m willing to entertain offers on this collection. I know what I’m looking to get out of it, which would be pennies on the dollar for what it’s worth. If you are seriously interested in learning more about the collection, fill out the form and we can talk price.

Conditions of the Sale

I’m looking to sell these books before the end of October. That’s because we bought a house and are moving. I know this might be a tight deadline for some, but that is my reality.

Second, I’m not looking to piecemeal this collection out to several people. I’m moving and don’t have the time or capacity to sell individual books. If you buy the collection you can do with it what you want, including selling copies on eBay or Amazon.

Third, you’ll need to pick the books up yourself. For obvious reasons, shipping this entire collection is out of the question. I live near Lancaster, PA, which is a short drive from Philadelphia. The collection will need to be picked up by the end of October.

Finally, payment can be done via Paypal or cash. I’ll need the payment to process on or before you come to pick it up.

Interested? Contact me today

Are you interested in this collection? The best way to find out more or to schedule a visit is to fill out the form below. It will go directly to my inbox and I’ll be in touch within the day. You can also send me a DM on Twitter (@brandonschmidt)

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No God But One – A Review

Nabeel Qureshi was raised in a strict conservative Muslim family in the United States. While in college and medical school, he began doubting Islam, testing its claims and finding them wanting. In his first book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus (one of my favorite books I read in 2014), Qureshi tells readers this experience of converting to Christianity from Islam and the emotional toll it took. In his new book, No God But One: Allah or Jesus?, he provides readers with a look at the claims of both religions and what evidence caused him to convert.

Studying Islam and Christianity

In this book, Qureshi seeks to answer two major questions:

  • Are Islam and Christianity really all that different?
  • Can we know whether Islam or Christianity is True?

To do this, he provides a methodical look at the claims of Islam, comparing them to both the claims of Christianity and the historical record. His evaluation of Islam is thorough, covering Muhammad, the Quran, and sharia law.

For Christianity, he engages in discussions on the Trinity, the Crusades, Paul, the Bible, and several questions about Jesus, including his divinity, his claims of being God, and his death and resurrection.

Investigating the Claims of Islam

Qureshi presents the discussion like a seasoned investigator, weighing evidence and factual claims, and revealing when the claims do not hold up. While he is trying to be objective, he admits his own biases, as he is a former Muslim turned Christian.

That’s why it’s helpful that he frames the discussion in terms of his own conversion story, suggesting that these questions were the same ones he asked on his own journey, and here are the answers he found.

Qureshi has done his homework for this journey and this book; he regularly cites verses from the Quran, the Bible, and ancient sources from both traditions. His years of debating and discussing these topics along the speaking circuit pays off, as his arguments and counterpoints are sharp, incisive, and easy to understand. Overall, the book was a solid, fast-paced tour of the major historic tenants and beliefs of the world’s two largest religions.

One weakness I saw was in his criticism of oral traditions and exaltation of written traditions, all the while there are sizable portions of the Old Testament that went through an oral process. He rightly points out several areas where the oral tradition of the Quran is likely corrupted – like when Muhammad forgot verses. But his argument is weakened by the Old Testament being formed in a similar way. By being more precise in his discussion, highlighting the apparent discrepancies between the claims of the Quran and the Islamic tradition while not putting down all oral traditions, he would have made his argument stronger.

Who Is This Book For?

In some ways, this book is an excellent primer on Islam for Christians. As a former pastor, I’ve seen the ignorance most Christians have towards knowing what Islam teaches. This book will serve as a primer into the beliefs, teachings, and historical claims of Islam. It also allows for deeper study, with notes and citations to Quranic and other Islamic texts for further reading.

And, for those outside of Christianity, I think it is fair evaluation of both religions. While he is not unbiased, he carefully explains his findings and his beliefs, allowing the reader to come to their own conclusions. I think it will be a helpful guide for anyone either questioning the teachings of Islam, or looking to evaluate two of the most popular religions in the world.


In No God But One, Nabeel Qureshi has given us a closer look into his conversion story, in hopes that we too can learn more about these two great religions. Part memoir, part history of religion, and part systematic theology, this is a solid book that I would recommend to all and will give out to many.

Thanks to Zondervan for a review copy of the book!

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Win a Free Book from Nabeel Qureshi

I recently read Nabeel Qureshi’s new book No God but One: Allah or Jesus? (releasing later this month).

Without giving away too much of my upcoming review (Spoiler Alert: I like the book), this book will be a beneficial read for Christian and Muslim alike. If you have wondered about how similar — or how different — two of the largest religions in the world are, this book will interest you.


Pre-Order Nabel’s Book for Bonus Content

As part of a pre-order promotion from Zondervan, you can receive some great bonus content from Nabeel if you order a copy before it is released on August 30th. Bonus content includes workbooks, online videos, and audio content — all of which you can only get through this deal. To receive this free bonus content (valued at $140), order the book through your favorite online retailer (Amazon offers paperback, Kindle, and Audible audiobook). Then visit the pre-order page on Nabeel’s site and enter in your pre-order information.



Win a Free Book

Zondervan was kind enough to send me a few additional copies to send to readers of this blog — before it is released to the public!

To become one of the first people to get a copy of Nabeel’s new book, follow these 3 steps — the more steps you follow, the better your chances at winning one of the copies:

1. Sign up for my email newsletter

I don’t publish frequently, but when I do, it is with interesting content that’s similar to what you love here on this site. Visit the email signup page and submit you contact information.

2. Share on Social Media

We want to get word out about this book and contest. To do that, simply share this contest on Twitter or Facebook. I’ll make it easier; you can share my original tweet here:

3. Take a Bible Reading Survey

I’m working on some exciting future stuff that’s related to reading the Bible. By taking this survey, it will go a long way in helping me make this resource even more helpful. It will take you 5 minutes and one entrant will be selected to win Nabeel’s book.

And be sure to return to this post on Monday, August 22nd to find out if you are a winner.

Good luck with the contest! And whether you win a free copy here, or you pre-order Nabeel’s book, I hope it helps you gain a better, more nuanced understanding of the beliefs of Christianity and Islam.

Contest Details: For US residents only. Contest ends on Sunday, August 21. Thanks to Zondervan for the free books.

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Why Bother With Church? Book Review

For many people who have grown up in a Christian church, and most people outside of Christianity, the local church can seem like an odd, outdated institution that is long past its shelf life. And, in some ways, the critiques are true: churches are filled with

why-bother-with-church-sam-allberry-book-reviewBut this does not change the fact that the local church is a key method of God changing lives and bringing about his Kingdom. This is the argument of Sam Allberry in his new book Why Bother With Church: And Other Questions about Why You Need it and Why it Needs You. Allberry, an associate pastor in the UK, writes this book to those who have grown disillusioned from years within the church. In this short book, he answers common questions about the nature and purpose of church, including Why do I need church?, What makes a good church?, and Can I view my small group as a church?

In the last few years, I’ve been every single one of these questions by friends, family, and congregation members. And while I was able to cobble together a passable answer, I was neither so articulate nor concise in my answers as Sam is in this book. With a pastoral tone, the author is able to provide a compelling case for why church matters in the 21st century, and how, despite her flaws, is still having a tangible impact in local communities.

Allberry does a fine job of explaining the importance of corporate worship, accountability, leadership, and discipleship — all components of a healthy local church — to the spiritual formation of every Christian. He also spends time describing the role every Christian should play in his or her local church, including attending, involvement in, praying for, serving, giving to, and submitting to the local church.

Why Bother With Church? by Sam Allberry is a handy little book that provides a simple yet compelling defense of the local church. I think it would be a helpful gift to young adults who are disillusioned with the church they grew up with, giving them several reasons to stick with it.

Book Info

Thanks to Cross Focused Reviews for the review copy!

Pick up your copy from Amazon: Paperback | Kindle

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evernote and pastoral ministry

Organizing a Pastor’s Life in Evernote

evernote pastorBack in college, I remember taking a class that helped you with practical advice in ministry. One week, we were told to create a filing system for your office, something that was expandable, yet easy to navigate and search. The reason is simple: pastors need to collect and save a lot of info—from journal articles on a specific passage, quotes, and sermon illustrations. Our professor stressed the importance of having a filing system; otherwise you would collect all these pieces of information and never use them. He said this system would become your brain, storing all the info until you needed it.

For this class, I created a rudimentary filing system on my laptop. Using nested folders, I could separate categories and topics; inside each folder was a scanned picture or text document. This simple setup met my needs; as I added more ideas, I simply added folders. But in 2008, these folders were permanently replaced by Evernote, my new digital brain.

About Evernote

Evernote is a collection of apps that allows you to store, access, and search any type of file from any device. Their motto is simple—Remember Everything—and they succeed in helping users do that. What started as a desktop and web-based application has expanded rapidly to virtually all platforms, and has even developed an ecosystem of additional apps that can interact with your Evernote account.

How I Use Evernote

Since Evernote is such a flexible system, you can use it however you want to; there is no “right” way. Here’s some examples of how I use Evernote as a young pastor, in hopes it might help you think of a new way to store and access your information.

Collect Everything

First, I see Evernote as being a large bucket with which I can collect everything. From articles I find interesting, to youth group game ideas, to all my research on a particular passage, all of it goes into Evernote.

This is made easy by all the ways you can put info into Evernote. With browser extensions, I can clip any webpage with just a few clicks. If I download a PDF onto my desktop, I can easily drag the file into the desktop app, creating its own note. Several of my iOS apps can send info directly into Evernote, including my scratchpad (Drafts), my read-it-later app (Instapaper), and my RSS reader (Mr. Reader). If there is a tweet I like, I have set up an IFTTT recipe to copy that tweet and send it to Evernote. I can even forward emails into Evernote, using a personalized, secret Evernote email address all members are given.

Organize Everything

While the search functionality in Evernote is stellar, I still like to organize my notes. This is done by creating Notebooks (think categories), using Tags, and even creating a table of contents note. Here are a few ways I utilize these tools in my system.

Notebooks as Categories

I have created 38 notebooks in Evernote, divided into large categories. I view these as big buckets in which to dump all related notes. Categories like Old Testament, New Testament, Church & Ministry, Personal Stuff, and Culture are large notebooks, containing hundreds of diverse files—but all fitting under each general headline. I also have an @inbox notebook, which serves as a catch-all. It is the default notebook which all new notes first appear in, before I sort and move them into the proper bucket.


In my Personal Stuff, I place all my tax-deductible receipts from ministry—whether they are forwarded from email or scanned in. But I need to distinguish between receipts from different years; this is where tags come in handy. I use descriptive tags—like TD 2013—to tell what tax year this receipt came from. So when I prepare to meet with my tax guy, I can simply go to the Personal Stuff notebook and search for all notes tagged with TD 2013. Super simple!

My Own Commentary

Warning: this might get really nerdy!

A few years ago I tried compiling all my notes and thoughts on biblical passages in Word documents—one document per book of the Bible. However, I found this to be clunky, hard to scan through, and annoying to maintain. Then I listened to a lecture by D.A. Carson on preaching, in which he gives a glimpse into his note-taking system, comprised of looseleaf notebook paper. It was then that I came up with the system in Evernote that I use now.

Template for a chapter of the Bible.
Template for a chapter of the Bible.

First, I created a template note for a biblical chapter, featuring room for an outline, verse by verse exposition, and a list of sources. Second, I duplicated the template enough to create a file for each chapter of each book of the Bible. Next, using the Copy Note Link feature, I created two large documents, sort of like a table of contents for each testament of the Bible. Now, whenever I am working on a passage, I can keep all my notes and thoughts in the Evernote note for that chapter.

Each chapter of the Bible is just a click away
Each chapter of the Bible is just a click away

Two advantages for this system: First, it is completely expandable. Each note can be as large or as small as it needs to be. Second, I can link other notes easily to the chapter note. So if I find a helpful journal article on a passage, I can add it to Evernote and link to it in the footer of the relevant chapter note. It may seem like this would take a long time, and let me assure you it will take 3x longer than you think! But having a system in place pays off immensely in the long run, especially if you plan on using your system frequently.

Recall Everything

The final strength of Evernote is the powerful searching feature. At the top right corner of the desktop app, there is a search bar. With this bar, you can search for any word or phrase found in your notes. But you can get even more specific: you can limit the search by Notebook, Tags, and even by when the note was created. And the real power comes in Evernote’s OCR technology, which means you can search through PDFs and other files (a Premium only feature). So if you are looking for that Word document you placed in Evernote two years ago, you don’t need to remember the title, or even the notebook, if you remember and can search for the subject of the document. This is immensely helpful to me; often I am pleasantly surprised by what a search returns to me, as I had forgotten about a file.


By now I have spend so much time and energy placing articles, thoughts, and ideas into Evernote, I can’t imagine ministry without it. If you are looking for a way to easily store and retrieve your myriad of files, articles, and illustrations, or if you are looking for a digital replacement for a paper-based system, I would encourage you to check out Evernote.

One word of advice for younger pastors or seminary students who are about to start with Evernote: be sure to stay on top of your organizing. You get what you put into your system. If you don’t spend the time, your system will not be as helpful as you hoped it would be. Take the time—like a free Saturday or a few open evenings—to develop and organize you system. Your future self will thank you.


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Best Books 2015

This past year was eventful for me and my family. We now live in a new home, in a new state, and I have a brand new job. All of these changes have been for the good, even though they have significantly altered how and what I read.

Changes In My Reading Schedule

These changes included the nature and scope of my reading. No longer am I preparing for weekly sermons or Bible lessons. Instead I am honing my copywriting, marketing, and advertising skills. I still want to stay current on several theological issues that interest me (biblical theology, the first chapters of Genesis, and the relationship between science and religion), but I’ve had to significantly reduce this part of my reading plan the last 3 months.

In previous years I noticed a glaring lack of fiction in my reading diet; I remedied that this year by overloading on popular fiction works. This way I could ease my way into an unfamiliar genre, with the goal of reading older, classic works in the future.

Also, having a substantial commute has cut into my time to sit down and read a book. Instead, I have embraced the wonders of podcasts and audiobooks. I am still learning what constitutes a good audiobook, as I’ve had to stop listening to several because I couldn’t follow along as well in the audio format.

The Best Books I’ve Read in 2015

In no particular order, here are the top books I’ve read in the past calendar year. Unlike other top books lists, this one is not limited to books published in 2015, but rather book’s I’ve read this year.

The Martian by Andy Weir

This was the book I most enjoyed in 2015. I loved how the author, Andy Weir, crafted the perfect blend of science, storytelling, and humor into one book. With just the right amount of pacing, drama, and internal dialogue, The Martian was a thoroughly enjoyable read. The movie was a gorgeous, faithful depiction of the book, but sadly couldn’t include all the humor of the book.

Ready Player One: A Novel by Ernest Cline

Another popular sci-fi fiction book, this was a fun read over the summer. Filled with 80’s pop culture references, I enjoyed having flashbacks to my childhood, while also trying to pick up all the 80’s movies the author references.

This movie also provides an interesting commentary on technology, corporate greed, and the basic human need for friendship and companionship. Overall it was an enjoyable, quick read that I will pick up again soon.

The Complete Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling

To my wife’s disbelief, I had not read any of the Harry Potter books when I was younger. She remedied that by watching the movies every year, but she kept encouraging me to read the books on my own. I finally had time to read them this summer, and I was sure glad she made me.

The Harry Potter series is a majestical, monumental work of great storytelling, focusing on the eternal truths of love, friendship, and sacrifice. It’s a brilliant move on J.K. Rowling’s part for shaping each book to stand on it’s own and tell it’s own story, yet be part of this grand narrative that’s moving to a conclusion.

And the demonstrations of self-sacrifice found in this series is the best example of Christ’s love in fiction — with perhaps the exception of Aslan. I look forward to reading this series again, this time with my daughter.

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull

This book is a hodgepodge of several ideas: one part oral history of Pixar Animation Studio, one part creativity journal, one part behind-the-scenes look at what works and doesn’t work at a creative juggernaut, and one part leadership management book. The resulting book is a wonderful mix of stories, leadership tips, and practical advice on nurturing creativity. While not as straightforward history as The Pixar Touch, this is a must read for any fan of Pixar, along with creatives and those managing creatives.

The Billion Dollar Spy by David E. Hoffman

I was unsure of this book when I downloaded it from Audible; I thought the title seemed a bit sensationalist: the “Billion Dollar” spy? But as I listened to the book, I was blown away at the utterly fascinating story of the life and mission of Adolf Tolkachev, a Soviet engineer-turned-spy. Like the fictional George Smiley, Tolkachev is an unassuming, unremarkable middle-aged man. But between 1978–1985, Tolkachev used his position as a senior radar engineer to smuggle thousands of documents, schematics, and engineering plans on Soviet radar and aviation technology advances to the United States. The value of these contributions is incalculable, but one conservative estimate sits at over $2 billion dollars in that day.

Another side of this book is the deep dive into the cat and mouse game that was the CIA missions within Moscow. The author provides a compelling look at several case workers who handled Tolkachev, describing their lives, how they conducted their missions, and the constant risks to their lives. Overall a brilliant book that I would recommend to anyone who loves history or thrillers.

Genesis: History, Fiction, or Neither? Three Views on the Bible’s Earliest Chapters by Charles Halton

This is a great book that’s stuck with a poor name. Part of Zondervan’s Counterpoint Series, this book presents a written debate between three differing views on interpreting the first chapters of Genesis.

Why do I think the title is poor? Because it portrays this discussion as between three very different viewpoints. The literary equivalent of clickbait, the title would make you think the views are from far, opposing ends of the spectrum. The truth is that each view is much more nuanced, with overlap between each of the views. Each author carefully defines key terms like genre, fiction, and history, and shows how each term applies to Genesis 1–11.

It’s precisely because of these terms that a book like this is invaluable. Too many Christians can hear terms like fiction and history and assume they know what they mean with regards to the Bible. But these unchallenged assumptions serve as a roadblock to any productive discussions on Genesis, Ancient Near Eastern cultures, history, and origins. The three contributors provide balance to this debate, showing that you can be a Christian and have differing views on the nature of Genesis 1–11.

The Ways of Our God: An Approach to Biblical Theology by Charles H.H. Scobie

This massive book (over 1000 pages long) is a brilliant book that provides a comprehensive overview of every theme — both grand and small — found in the overarching biblical narrative. I imagine most pastors and Bible students would use this as a reference text, turning to the relevant section of their research. But as I gradually conquered this book by reading a few pages per day, I developed a deeper understanding of how portions of the Bible interact with the rest of the Bible.

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

An account of the college rowing team that represented the United States in the 1936 Berlin Games, this book is well-written, presents a compelling story, and even provides an in-depth look at the rowing world in the 1920’s and 30’s. At times I felt the story slowed down a bit, but I am glad I pushed through and completed the book.

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