Evernote for Preachers and Other Smart People

UPDATE 8/23: Someone requested that I share the list of Evernote notebooks I use. I’ve added that to the end of the post.

I wrote this for our presbytery’s monthly newsletter several months ago…

“I read a great story a few months ago that would fit perfectly in this weekend’s sermon… now where on earth did I read that? A blog? CNN’s site? I wish I could remember.”

A good organizational system needs to be easy and fun, otherwise people won’t use it. I also think a good system doesn’t take over your life, but it works for you. (What’s that thing about the Sabbath existing for humanity and not the other way around?)

Evernote is the system I use to store sermons, stories and quotes, prayers, orders of worship, and anything else I want to keep in an archive. It has a desktop application, a smartphone app, and a web client you can access anywhere. It’s a free application (with a paid version) that stores text files and web pages. You can cut and paste into Evernote, type directly into the program, or “clip” websites with the touch of a button. Evernote also accepts  photos and images, the text on which is searchable through some voodoo I don’t understand.

You can sort these items into “notebooks” depending on your own needs. For example, I have a notebook called “quotes and stories” (e.g. that great human-interest piece I heard on NPR) and another called “general ministry” (e.g. a blog post I ran into on how to run a good meeting). Not only can you sort things into these notebooks, but you can tag them with searchable keywords. So if I am doing officer training and I need stuff on “change,” I can find that easily.

The paid version of Evernote allows you to load PDFs, so I’ve uploaded all of my past sermons, and they’re (of course) searchable. I don’t do complete re-preaches much, but I have adapted old stuff for a new occasion. And Craddock says if a sermon’s not worth preaching twice, it probably wasn’t worth preaching the first time, so there!

Of course, this system takes time to set up, but not as much as you think. Loading past stuff into Evernote is very easy to do and doesn’t require a lot of brain cells. (Do it during commercial breaks of your favorite show.) Of course, if you’re not fundamentally an organized person, Evernote isn’t going to make you one. What it does is maximize the impact of your organizational efforts.

It sure beats manila folders that are never where you need them and that require you to make decisions (does this poem about the mother of Jesus go under “Mary” or “Advent” or “Gospel of Luke”?).

And it beats the heck out of metal file cabinets.


As I read this article, having spent more time with Evernote, I’m thinking more philosophically about technology and its impact on preaching. Think I’ll share that in a separate post.

And finally, no, I do not get a commission from Evernote. Don’t I wish!



Here is the list of notebooks I use. It works for me, but there are many ways to slice and dice it.

Sermons: I actually have two separate sermon notebooks, one for my previous call and one for this one.

Papers: I’m in a lectionary group with some clergy and I have all their papers loaded and tagged in Evernote.

Orders of Worship: This is contains complete bulletins from past worship services. This is nice as a kick-start, like if I’m preaching a text and want to recall what hymns I used last time. (Hymn-picking is the bane of my existence. That and prayers of confession.)

Prayers and Liturgies: Stuff I’ve written or picked up along the way. Eugenia Gamble’s fantastic benediction, the Brief Statement of Faith of the PCUSA, some hymns written by my friend Michael.

Church Members: I have a separate file for each member of the church, where I put grandkids’ names and similar stuff I want to remember. I also keep track (very imperfectly) of pastoral calls and visits.

Each file within these notebooks is tagged topically: everything from Ash Wednesday to conflict to eschatology to grief to tithing to Zechariah.

I also have some personal notebooks:

Crafts: stuff I can do with the kids

Recipes: self-explanatory

Personal: gift-giving ideas, restaurants to try

11 thoughts on “Evernote for Preachers and Other Smart People

  1. John

    Please share with us your folder/notebook structure. I think it might help me be more organized to see how someone with organizational skills does it.

  2. kathrynzj

    Do you keep any of the paper product from sermon prep? I have a specific process, plus rough drafts, plus the actual copy of the sermon all wrapped in the bulletin for the week in file folders in file cabinets. Every time I file it (or rather put it in the pile to be filed) I feel like I am in the 1950’s but I just don’t do all of my sermon prep work on the computer.

    I forgot about EN’s subscription stuff. The process of getting all of those pdf’s uploaded and tagged seems daunting, but also worth the time in the long run. Thanks for the reminder.

    1. mamdblueroom

      I don’t keep paper, but I think I do more writing/thinking on the computer than it sounds like you do. My paper stuff isn’t significant enough (in amount or content) to keep.

      We’re in this weird in-between place with technology. I wonder if future generations will “think” entirely on computers and machines like the iPad, which (I think) lets you write longhand and do mind maps and stuff (??).

      I feel this same awkwardness with photos. Our family is all digital now, but we have tons of actual prints lying around. It’s an in-between place. Maybe it’s always that way.

  3. kathrynzj

    In-between – Well described! 🙂
    I am of the ‘show your work’ generation and so I do. I even combat writer’s block by pulling out the legal pad and a pencil. Sigh…

  4. Pingback: Technology and Preaching « The Blue Room

  5. Terri

    I am just starting out on Evernote and wonder if there is a way to get what I highlight in something like Feasting On the Word emailed or transferred from my Kindle or Kindle app on my iPad to my Evernote note ? It seems like this is not possible.

    1. MaryAnn

      The only way I know how to do that is to select it, copy it and paste it into an Evernote note. There’s not an automated way.
      The good thing though is that (at least on my version of Kindle app) it copies over all the bibliographic info.

  6. Terri

    Unfortunately the Kindle app on my iPad will not allow me to select and copy. I can only share (facebook or twitter), highlight, or make a note. It’s frustrating. I’ll continue to explore this in the event that the problem is me (operator error) and not the app….Thanks.


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