In 35 years of mission ministry (16 years in Taiwan, 16 years in New Zealand, plus Stateside ministry) I’ve found a secret that has multiplied my time and energy to allow me to accomplish much more than otherwise possible. My secret? Storage.
Storage doesn’t sound very important but it has saved me hundreds of hours of time. Plus it multiplies the ministry of any program or series. Some of the ideas are my own: a puppet show with talking Christmas tree ornaments; a series of Bible stories about Bible characters who would have seen some of the ancient Wonders of the World; a Christmas program with a modern-day Scrooge. Other lessons and programs have come from others. The principles are the same. You take time, work, emotional energy to teach or lead a new program. If items are stored properly you can use them again with much less work.
On the other hand, your church storage space may be stuffed full of items you’ll never use again. Saving everything often makes things so hard to find that no one ever uses any of it. Storage clutter can claim church space (or house space) that is needed for other things. What should you save and what should you throw away?
Store or Toss Questions You Should Ask
How big is it?
Saving a box of jingle bell shakers doesn’t take nearly as much room as three refrigerator box inns. Small things that are easy to store may be worth storing if it looks likely they may be reused. The fridge boxes, on the other hand, may drive someone in your church crazy.
Hint: Big items are easier to store if they are flat. We have a cardboard stable window with a picture of a donkey’s head that we have used many years. We hang the flat piece of cardboard on the wall for use and though large, it takes little storage space. We have also used camels many years which are two-sided, but store flat.
How often will you use it?
Standard Christmas props may be used often. Nativity costumes; a manger; gold, frankincense, and myrrh; these items can be used in many different ways. Other items are specific to a certain program and may be unlikely to be used ever again.
If you don’t plan to use the items again, consider donating them to a missionary or sister church. We have been given a number of quality VBS programs from churches who had used them once. We have used them multiple times as part of our kids’ program on the mission field.
How hard is it to duplicate?
If an item can be reproduced easily, the need for keeping it is slim. The more work it is to reproduce, the more you should be reluctant to toss it. If the item is big, like a Christmas program prop, consider saving the pattern instead of the item. That way you can save a lot of time in reproducing it without having to save the whole thing.
Our church has limited space to save Sunday School materials. I often keep only the original pages of reproducible pages and toss the copies. If I alter the original I keep both versions. I save a lot of room by not keeping all the extra copies of reproducible pages, but I can make copies quickly and easily. I can use the scratch paper for other things.
The harder something is to duplicate, the more you should consider saving it. Also remember, when you make a prop or visual, consider how you will store it. Consider making large items in a way that they can be folded or disassembled for easier storage.
Storing Lessons and Visuals
I save so much time by reusing lessons. I teach Sunday School, Discovery Club, Bible in Schools, Christianity Explained, New Believers’ Bible Studies, and other lessons. Kids grow up and out of your class. You may change ministry locations or teach new groups of people. Saving notes and visuals allows you to reteach those lessons with less preparation.
Many lessons and visuals can be saved in simple file folders or manila envelopes in a box or filing cabinet. When teaching materials that belong to your church, keep a file of your notes and the visuals you make in your own files. Label them clearly so you’ll be able to recognize them the next time you need them. Don’t forget to back up digital files.
Save series of lessons or bulkier files in cardboard file boxes. You can buy these at a stationery store. They are made to hold file folders and fit into a filing cabinet.
But what do you do with big visuals that don’t fit anywhere?
I used to stack large envelopes of visuals and flannelgraph backgrounds next to the wall behind a bookshelf. Then I realized that these outside walls in a room which is often unheated were allowing my materials to mold. Thankfully I caught this in time and totally altered my storage technique. I lost some moldy envelopes, but nothing of great value.
For large, flat visuals I made a large flat box. I wanted these to fit in a file cabinet so I started with two of the cardboard file boxes. You buy these flat and fold them to the size of a file folder. Instead of folding the front sides of the boxes up, I left them flat and overlapped the bottoms. Then I duct-taped the bottom and around the entire sides of the combined boxes. The top opens from both sides and the sides overlap a bit when closed. One file drawer will hold three of these large flat boxes when placed on their sides and stacked. Those boxes will hold a large number of large flat visuals.
Fasten posters to your file cabinet with magnets. If you don’t want them to fade, place the wrong side out.
Of course, not everything will fit in a file drawer. I have a huge wooden Pharaoh mask that I use to teach about Egypt. It is a permanent office decoration when not used in a classroom. I have a whole dresser for puppets and props and a storage bin to take puppets back and forth in. Finding the right size box is often key to your storage problems. You might need a box for CD’s and another box for 3D visuals. Storage doesn’t have to look fancy, but if you organize things well you can store a maximum amount of stuff in a minimum amount of space.
Then the next time you go to teach something you’ve taught before, you can use your emotional energy in preparing to re-use a lesson with enthusiasm rather than duplicating visuals you’ve already used before.