Your Church and the App Store

Adaptability and innovation are keys to success for any body of people, and we know this is true for local churches. While the core of our message remains timeless, the methods by which we deliver that message must be timely. As more and more people choose their cell phone based on the ease of user interface, variety of features, and access to third-party applications that provide a host of services (rather than for the simple utility of making a phone call), church leaders have taken notice, identifying one more timely medium through which to convey the timeless gospel message.

The app world presents an opening in which churches can increase their presence, deliver content, and develop tools that foster Christian growth and discipleship. In the same way that the Christian movement adapted to means of communication such as television and radio in the last century, so too a new generation is pursuing means of innovative content delivery as they develop mobile applications, opening up one more avenue by which people might encounter Jesus Christ.

Why Apps?
Many ministry leaders will immediately raise the question, Why? Why this medium at this time? Is it worth the investment of resources, creative energy, time, and vision? Will this help my church accomplish our mission?

All of these questions are valid, and wise leaders should consider each one carefully. Of first importance will be the consideration of the core values of your church or ministry, a careful evaluation of your church culture along with societal trends, and discernment regarding the reasons why your church is considering the development of a mobile app.

Allan White—the Design, Video, and Web Producer for the Luis Palau Association—cites a number of factors that led to the organization’s decision to pursue mobile platform development. White says, “A few trend lines converged for us that told us the time was right to engage in the mobile space. First, people aren’t buying phones, but powerful mobile computers that make phone calls. Our communication strategy needs to adapt to that. Second, we observed how Web technology affected change in user behavior. And the third trend was the rise of capable mobile app services and frameworks.”

By carefully observing the digital world and changes in communication media, White and the Palau team wisely chose to develop their content for easier accessibility through mobile platforms.

Another ministry that has developed an app to further their work is Grace to You, the teaching ministry of John MacArthur. Travis Allen, Director of Internet Ministry of Grace to You says, “Grace to You exists to teach biblical truth with clarity, taking advantage of various means of mass communications to expand the sphere of John MacArthur’s teaching ministry. Mobile application technology is about convenient access. We have a content-rich Web site, so providing people with the opportunity to access the content on the go clearly fits our purpose. We’re excited to provide people the opportunity to access reliable Bible teaching at times and places that fit their busy schedules.”

Both the Palau Association and Grace to You took stock of their mission and vision, evaluated trends in their culture, and formulated the reasons why the development of a mobile app would be a wise and beneficial decision for those that would utilize their mobile platform. These ministries serve as great examples regarding how to pursue app development.

Where to Turn for Help
Two companies that are doing excellent work partnering with churches and developing apps are R04R and Subsplash. Both of these companies have partnered with churches and other ministries to develop tools that serve a variety of functions, and both are committed to helping Christian leaders share content with people all over the world. Tim Turner, CEO of Subsplash, makes this clear.

Turner knows that many churches are doing an excellent job of preaching and teaching the Scriptures but is absolutely convinced that developing mobile platforms can help churches reach more people with the gospel message. Turner states, “Studying Scripture and hearing faithful Bible teaching is essential for spiritual growth. Many local churches and ministries are already doing an amazing job of this, and we want to help them equip believers around the globe while making the message of Jesus available to people who don’t yet know him. Technology comes into play as we make that easier and more enjoyable.”

R04R began with a similar vision. Matt McKee, founder and CEO of the company, says, “R04R was created to get as much Christian content onto mobile platforms as possible. We do what we do because there is a Christian message that needs to be heard, not only in person, but also through making that message accessible through mobile technology. We want to be able to leverage that technology for the Christian message. That’s what we do.”

How Apps Are Used
Church apps can serve a variety of functions: live-streaming worship services, accessibility for sermon audio and video, children’s ministry check-in, community updates on events and other meetings, or showcasing the services offered by parachurch or other ministry organizations. And that is only the beginning.

If you have an iPhone or an iPod Touch, visit the iTunes Store and search for “church,” narrowing your results to apps. From there, you can download and try applications from a number of different ministries, experiencing firsthand how different churches have tailored their tools to the specific needs of their congregations. Experiencing what other churches are doing will provide inspiration and clarity as to whether or not your ministry should consider developing their own app, and if so, what purposes that app would serve.

Things to Consider
First, rather than basing your decision on following a trend, develop an app if you believe it is imperative for your mission to reach more people with the Christian message. Travis Allen advises, “Make sure the app isn’t an end in itself, something to make your ministry look cool and relevant. Like a Web site, a blog, or even a church for that matter, if the deep content isn’t there or if only a narrow audience will appreciate the content, your app will have limited usefulness. So if you’re going to spend the money on app development, first spend time taking an honest measure of your ministry and its value to a wider audience.” Allen’s statement echoes the sentiment of other church leaders with whom I spoke. Don’t be trendy; be driven by mission.

Second, determine the functionality that will be most useful to those connected to your ministry. Worlds of Wow, an organization that serves churches by helping them to develop excellent, experiential children’s spaces, developed an application to help churches discover the creative possibilities for their children’s facilities. Reagan Hillier, President of Worlds of Wow, provides one example: “Beech Street Baptist Church in Texarkana, Texas, shared the Worlds of Wow iPhone app with their congregation as a way for them to sample what is possible in their space. Our app helped others to see what the staff and leadership envisioned as a new way to reach more kids in their city.” The app your ministry develops may be something other than a conduit for sermon content. It may serve a different purpose altogether. The key is to keep in mind how the app would best serve your users and to work toward that end.

Third, give people a reason to use and share your app. You want your app to be something people will use, and you want your app to be remarkable enough to share. Developing an excellent app will ignite enthusiasm among your users, creating occasions where people find themselves more willing to talk about your church, your ministry, and the gospel.

Solid Development, Solid Results
One of the hallmarks of vibrancy within Christianity has been enthusiasm for the spreading of the gospel message. App development is one more avenue by which that message might be spread to new people, either directly or through better equipping existing Christians for the work of the ministry.

Whether your goal is to share sermon audio and video, easily inform churches of how your organization can serve them in ministry, or help members of your congregation navigate your ministries more easily via community announcements or children’s check-in, a mobile app might be the solution you’ve been searching for.  

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bens@churchleaders.com'
Ben Simpson is a thinker and writer living in the Kansas City area. He’s also a regular contributor to COLLIDE. Follow him on Twitter: @bsimpson.

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