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Apps have come to church

By Ronald E. Keener

Apps are seen as an “innovative way for churches and ministries to communicate their message to their community” says Matt Morris, project manager for LifeWay Christian Resource’s Digital Church. “With the ability to pull content from so many different locations, stream sermon audio and video, and pull it all under one roof, the ease of use and accessibility is simple,” Morris says.

LifeWay and their mobile app development group, ROAR, have provided 1,000 churches the app at a nominal fee in an offer that ended at the close of last year. Morris says that 50 percent of adults in America have a smart phone, and by the end of 2013 it is projected that the number will be closer to 80 percent.

“The number one app category accessed on smart phones is social media,” Morris says. “We believe that apps will be the future behind smart phone growth, and we believe that it will be key for churches to have a presence in the everyday life of their community and apps give us that opportunity today.”

Church Executive interviewed Morris on the direction that LifeWay is taking in this technology, not only for Southern Baptist churches but for any church that decides to get involved.

In doing your research what have you found that seems encouraging in this technology approach?

We found that, as organizations, churches are starting to steer away from traditional communication means. The benefits of using an app include lower costs to communicate a message, one place for everyone to gather virtually, and ease of use when an update/revision is needed, all while delivering the church’s message to the congregation in a simple way.

How do they make use of it with their staffs and parishioners and their own websites?

The status quo today among church ministry leaders, technology pastors, executive pastors and others consists of publishing content from their church or ministry across the web. They have a church website, websites for each ministry, a Facebook page, a Twitter account, a place where they upload sermon audio, video and other content as well. This app brings all of that content into one place packaged in an app where people can find it easily and interact with that information on a device that is with them wherever they go.

So “Hometown First Baptist” signs up; what takes place then in the implementation, how is it used within the congregation?

ROAR sends them a username and password to an online management platform, referred to as a content management system, where the church and/or ministry leaders will decide what is in their app. These options are sermon notes, prayer wall, QR Code scanner, Facebook page, pictures, videos or a host of other options. The church then submits the app for ROAR to build. The congregation will then be able to be updated on everything from what their kids are learning in small group to when activities are happening to where local missions are happening.

Can churches “make it look like their own”?

Yes, the app is very customizable. All of the graphics and layout of the app are up to the church. There is a basic structure but the management system behind the app is very flexible for a myriad of different content.

Is there a way that the local church can maximize its use for its own members; how might they “market” it to increase usage?

The best way to “market” any technology is to use the technology. The app will become a daily part of a member’s life if the church leaders and ministries use the app to inform their members of what is going on in the church, encourage, equip, and inspire it’s members through the interaction of the app.

What are the maintenance factors and costs here?  What can the congregation save in costs with the LifeWay product?

The normal set up fee or building fee for a church app is $750 per iPhone, iPad or Android app, plus a monthly hosting fee of $35/month per app from ROAR the mobile app development company. If a church signs up through Digital Church, we charge $600 per iPhone, iPad or Android app plus a discounted monthly hosting fee of $30 per month.

How is the LifeWay app/program more functional and useful than any other one being offered out there?

Many apps built for churches, ministries and nonprofits simply inform. They don’t allow for interaction in the app with social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. We believe that the more people interact with an app the more they will use an app.

With 1,000-plus churches using this app, is there a “power” of them all working together?

Just like there are different churches for different communities, we believe the power of having so many apps is that people will connect with the message of a specific church or ministry. Our goal is to empower and connect individuals, congregations and churches. This is why we believe there needs to be so many different voices in the app world.

Visioning a bit, how do you see the future of apps and iPhones and iPads?

The future of apps will be centered on building community. The more you can empower the individual or filter information, the more success you will have in the future. There will also be a push on a global scale and not just a local community scale.

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