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Church on your fingertips

By Rez Gopez-Sindac

A mobile app expands your reach and impact.

Do you wish your church had its own app so that your attenders can stay connected and engaged throughout the week and even when they can’t physically come to church?

Sometimes all it takes is a bribe your staff can’t resist – at least that’s the case for Maryland Community Church (MCC) in Terre Haute, IN.

Associate pastor Scott Telle explains: “Our senior pastor showed me the app Elevation Church (Charlotte, NC) had just put out. He told me if I could find a way for MCC to make the same type of tool available for our congregation that he’d treat me to a steak dinner.”

The steak was delicious, says Telle. And the app is nothing short of amazing. “It gets our church literally into the hands of each of our attenders so they could share the experience with others.”

Launched in July 2011, the MCC mobile app allows church attenders to:

  • Listen to and watch previous sermons.
  • Share sermons with Twitter, Facebook or email.
  • Read the Bible (includes Life Journal Plan).
  • Read MCC pastor blogs.
  • Give from their phone or iPad.
  • See current announcements.

Downloading the app to your phone and using your phone to access these services is easy enough for most people. But when it comes to making sure the app is working right, free of bugs and stays updated, it’s best to leave the work to the experts.

MCC used Subsplash Studio, maker of The Church App. “Technology is moving way too fast for a typical church staff to keep up with all the latest releases of phones and tablets,” says Telle. “Companies like this hold the responsibility of keeping your app working and makes the process much more realistic.”

Making life easier for churches
In 2009, Subsplash Studio created the first app of its kind for Mars Hills Church in Seattle. Soon after, many churches started calling, asking if they could get their own app. Thus, The Church App was born.

“We decided to develop a platform that would enable churches and ministries to have their own customized apps developed,” says Chris Sharpe, marketing lead at Subsplash.

“We take care of all of the code, publishing, consulting, tech support, analytics, bug fixes, OS updates, and we have developed an online Content Management System that makes it incredibly easy for churches to control their own apps,” Sharpe adds.

What this means is your church is in control of the layout, features, content and artwork you choose to put inside your app, and changes are seen in real time. Sharpe says a priority for Subsplash is to make experiencing Gospel content as good as it can be on a mobile device. “We really care about making good software that people want to use because with apps, if it’s not done right, people may lose interest very quickly.”

Sharpe adds that with mobile, it is really important to make sure your church has a plan moving forward. He says that if you were to create your own app, not only would you have to worry about making sure the code and design is done right the first time, but you would have to make sure you had a way to manage your app, keep it updated and deal with bug fixes.

“This can become very costly for churches looking to do their own app; that’s why we’ve tried to make sure it’s a fully loaded solution from day one,” says Sharpe.

It’s all about quality and content, he adds. If your app doesn’t work right or look good, people will disengage or delete it quickly. If there is no reason for people to use the app, then it is a waste of time and resources. Sharpe says churches that have great success with their apps have fresh content weekly and sometimes daily and have a lot of other resources such as blogs, calendars, online giving and sermon notes that people may want to gain access from anywhere.

Closing the gap
One church that did build its own app is Gateway Church in Southlake, TX. Levi Jennings, director of web and technology development, supervised the development of the app from wireframe to production.

Jennings says the Gateway Church App is a tool that can help enhance the user’s spiritual life and provide ready access to the church community and resources anytime, anywhere. Launched in June 2012, the app allows members to connect with small groups, set reminders for church events, watch live streaming services and archived sermons, post prayer requests, manage their tithes and offerings, and much more.

To monitor the app’s effectiveness, Jennings says Gateway monitors statistics such as downloads and updates of the app, audio and video file views, prayer requests and giving information. Also, there are feedback and support options both in the app and on its supporting website to serve the membership.

Jennings says the app is yet one more way Gateway gets to know people’s stories and faith journeys. For example, Gateway recruited a retired member to join the church’s prayer ministry because of her active engagement in the “prayer wall,” praying for others and encouraging them with Scripture verses.

Another story belongs to a Gateway member who was in the hospital twice in five weeks with pneumonia. He and his wife watched the sermons on their phone and wrote, “The app closes the gap on connectivity issues.”

Jennings says tweets from members in Missouri, San Diego and as far away as India express excitement of the app in keeping them connected to Gateway.

To churches looking to build their own mobile apps, Jennings advises them to have a very clear understanding of the functionality they want and to plan with the end user in mind.

“Test, test, and test some more!” says Jennings. “Establish a structured testing system to hit all key points in the app and everything in between. This will ensure consistent and thorough testing of each build. A simple spreadsheet can help you track changes, improvements and persistent issues as you progress.”

Playing catch-up
For Christ Chapel Bible Church, Fort Worth, TX, the road to developing a richer, more robust app must start soon. Currently, church members can watch sermons and have access to Bible studies from their smart phones through the church app from Truthcasting. But Suzin Hines, creative director, knows Christ Chapel can do so much more.

“We have to come up with a new app,” says Hines. “Anything created in the last year will offer more flexibility.”

The goal, she says, is to build upon the initial creation so “we can keep up with the times.”

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