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No, Your Church Doesn’t Need a Custom App

No, Your Church Doesn’t Need a Custom App

Posted June 18, 2019 by Bryan Haley

You’ve probably heard it said before, but I’ll say it again. We’re in the midst of the biggest communication revolution since the invention of the printing press. Just as Gutenberg propelled the written word to become easily accessible by any human almost any place on earth, technology is doing the same today. People have access to more tools and communication than ever before. This includes mobile apps.

Naturally, churches want to keep in time with this communications shift. So, they ask us about creating a mobile app; an app that users would find in their phone’s app store, download to their device, and use throughout the week. Here’s my take on that idea.
 

I get it

Most of us want our church to embrace technology; we’re tired of being “behind the times.” Even more, we want church members to be able to access the multitude of information, content, and communication available to them from our church. So why not create a mobile app?
 

What App Creators Tell You

The companies that create and sell mobile apps will—not surprisingly—tell you that a mobile app is a must-have for your church. They’ll tell you that if you want to reach your congregation throughout the week, if you want to embrace changes in culture and technology then an app is a must-have. And they can even give you statistics to back up their claims.

I have nothing against church app creators—I think many of them are doing great Kingdom-minded work. But rather than reading a sales pitch, let's look more specifically at your church. There are lots of good things you could do as a church, lots of great ways you can communicate. I spend most of my time helping churches simplify their communication strategy. We need to find the best way to communicate. And I’m guessing a mobile app is not the best way for your church.
 

It’s One More Thing

A mobile app is adding another way to communicate. For some churches, that may be needed. For most, however, it’s just adding to the noise—creating more communication clutter. Depending on how your mobile app is created, it may also be another place you need to manage information—another database, another sermon feed, another calendar to update. Others may integrate and work with other programs you’re already using. But that means the app is replicating a message you’ve already got out there in some other form.
 

What’s the Purpose?

Another issue I’ve come across is a lot of churches don’t really think about the purpose of their app. They want to add one because it’s new technology, it’s another method of communication, or because they don’t want to “fall behind the times.” But the vision or goals for the app are imprudent; I’ve heard of churches calling their apps an outreach tool; I’ve watched churches try to sell their app based on push notifications; some others try to push the app as a tool for online giving. These might be good outlier motives, but they shouldn’t be a central motivation for creating an app.
 

Reality Check

Here is why I don’t like mobile apps for most churches.

People don’t use that many apps. We may spend a lot of time on our phones but studies show that, on average, most people only use 5 apps. Think about it—what are your go-to apps? For as much as it will cost to create and upkeep your app, you want it to be one of those apps in regular use. But, chances are, it won’t be.

Successful apps are habitual. There’s a reason for people to keep coming back to the app and interact with it—that could be for news, updates, social content, gaming, or other functions. People go back again and again to their favorite apps because they want to do a specific thing (like play a game or deposit a check) or to get fresh, up-to-date content (such as news or social media). Does your church create enough content that your app could be one of those five go-to apps?

It’s one more thing to communicate. The fact is, if you don’t constantly talk about your app, people will forget about it. Apps require constant promotion and all that bandwidth could be used to communicate something more important. And, if people don’t use an app on a regular basis, they tend to delete them—often within the first week. In fact, iPhone users will find their phone can remove apps automatically from their phone because of inactivity.
 

Do what you do well

Instead of trying to add another method of communication, look at what you’re already doing and do it better. Stick to a few things—and do them incredibly well. Stick to your website, social media, bulletin, and newsletter (or whatever your great communication methods are)—and do them so incredibly well that you won’t need to add something else.

Your website can do everything an app can do. That’s right, often mobile apps are just a portal to the website. In fact, a mobile-responsive website looks and operates just like an app (check out churchjuice.com on your phone). Sure, you can send push notifications via a mobile app, but only if the user allows notifications. Most smartphone users block all but a few notifications. Besides, your website can also send push notifications. Your website already does everything an app can do—and you obviously can’t get rid of your website. So I say stick to doing what you’re doing, and do it better.

There are options available that may help enhance your church's communication. If your church has a clear pupose for a mobile app, is doing communication well, and looking to enhance your strategy, some denominations and organizations provide mobile apps that your church may be able to use. These options should enhance what you're already doing—and usually can be created for a fraction of the cost of a typical custom mobile app.

 

Once you come to a place where you think a mobile app can enhance your already excellent communications, then let’s talk. But if you think a mobile app is going to help solve your church’s communication issues, then take a step back and fix what’s broken first. At Church Juice, we’d love to help you.

Filed under: Communications, Website

About the Author

Bryan Haley

Bryan joined the ReFrame Media team in 2017 with a passion to help churches reach people with the gospel using effective church communications. As producer for Church Juice, Bryan helps congregations energize their church communications by overseeing the Church Juice blog, publishing in-depth ebook resources, and developing training on topics like marketing, branding, social media, internal communications, and website development.

Bryan brings years of communication and outreach experience gained both in full-time church ministry and the field of church website design. Bryan and his wife, Denae, enjoy Michigan summers, Detroit sports, and family time.

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Comments (2)

  • Cheryl Brunkow
    8:40 AM
    Tue, Jun 18, 2019

    Loved this article because it articulated what I’ve already been thinking - don’t I have enough on my plate? Can I handle another format to keep updated? How many would actually use it? I liked “let’s do what we already do better.”

  • Ken Bosveld
    7:25 AM
    Wed, Jun 19, 2019

    You have effectively highlighted a number of challenges a congregation would face should they choose to develop their own app, not to mention the staggering costs of constantly updating a smartphone app to stay current with ever changing technology and security protocols.

    However, in Canada, we have been blessed with a very generous gift from a leading app developer that has provided The Bridge App, uniquely developed for local Christian Reformed churches.

    Many of the pitfalls you warn against have been addressed. 

    • Sermon videos and the events calendar can be integrated into a church’s existing feeds, should they choose to activate those features. 
    • Announcements can be posted with or without a push notification – a feature that was added at the suggestion of local churches. 
    • Posting an announcement, prayer or event is as simple as sending an email.
    • Members can donate to their church budget, or second offering causes, whether they are in their usual pew or on vacation.
    • Church finder helps users to find nearby CRCs while traveling.

    While The Bridge App is admittedly still in the development phase, it is inspiring to see how administrators, pastors and others are finding creative ways to utilize this tool, and particularly the prayer function, to foster a sense of community and serve the needs of their congregations.  In addition, financial giving to churches is not immune from the impacts of a society where cash and checks are being replaced by tap and e-transfer.  Whether through a tool like The Bridge App, or some other method, churches need to provide a means for electronic acceptance of donations.

    Churches definitely need to have a strategy or plan for communicating with members.  But a number of churches have told us that social media and email are rapidly declining in effectiveness.

    Many apps are intended to draw the user into becoming part of a community.  However, The Bridge App is tailored to serve a community that already exists – the local Christian Reformed Church community.

    A church that seeks to effectively communicate with its members cannot escape the challenges of the communication revolution.  As frantic as change may be, the pace is likely to continue to accelerate.  And while devices in our pockets and purses may mess with our attention spans and interrupt us at the worst possible times, we can be assured that there is not one square inch of those protective-covered screens over which Christ does not say “Mine.”

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