Does a church really need an app?

By Chris Sharpe

It seems everyone is talking about “apps” these days. A term once associated with dinner parties is now synonymous with mobile applications.

With this app craze, people everywhere are thinking, Hhmm, maybe I should get an app for [insert creative thought here]. A few words of caution: Not all app ideas are worth the investment, and not every organization needs its own app.

smart-phones2So, how do you know if your church should go on an “app-venture”? And if so, where do you start? The road of mobile development can be daunting, so it helps to plan well.

2 critical steps
There are many kinds of apps. So, for the sake of this conversation, I’ll  focus on apps built for churches and ministries.

For churches looking to build an app, two simple rules must be followed: The app should (1) provide content and (2) deliver quality. Both steps need to be executed really well; an app must offer a reason for people to use it regularly.

Step 1: Provide incredible content. An app won’t be very successful if there’s no reason for someone to download it, and then repeatedly want to use it. You need content — lots of fresh, meaningful content.

Fortunately, quality of content is one of the biggest reasons many churches and ministries have wildly successful apps.

At Subsplash, we created The Church App and have had the subsequent opportunity to work with incredible ministries of all sizes. Overall, we see more than half a million page views daily on our platform. The No. 1 reason people use ministry-based apps is to access media, and churches are in the unique positions of being content creators.  There’s always a new sermon they want to get into people’s hands.

Not only that, but there’s a whole host of other offerings unique to church-based app-builders, including blogs/news, events, online giving, sermon notes and bulletins, music, small group resources, Bibles and reading plans — and pretty much anything else you can think of.

Keep in mind, however, that an app shouldn’t just be a duplicate of the church’s website; rather, it ought to be a vehicle to deliver relevant content into people’s hands. Keep it simple, and put your church’s best foot forward.

Videocon-A20Step 2: Deliver on quality. Along with content, your church needs to make sure its app is executed incredibly well. As technology continues to develop, people demand more. They want the app to be cooler, faster, smarter and really fun to use. So, if your church has incredible content, but it develops a sub-par app, people will hit the eject button before you get a second chance.

A church app is a powerful tool — but only if it’s done well. Take audio features, for example: If your app audio player only allows users to hit “play” and “pause,” or to do a simple fast-forward/rewind, it’s going to be frustrating for the end user. What happens when a user gets a phone call while listening to a 45-minute sermon? Shouldn’t the app remember where he or she left off? Or, what if a user lives in a place without great cellular coverage? It would be nice if he or she could download that audio for offline listening.

These are just a few examples. They might seem like “luxury items,” until you start using the software and realize how truly important they are. Often, app users don’t notice quality until they use something that doesn’t meet their expectations. Don’t get caught being the church that built an app that was frustrating to use.

Overall, your app should be simple and user-friendly. It should work as expected. And, it should look really nice. It doesn’t have to win awards — but, make sure it’s visually appealing and offers a delightful experience.
Most of the churches that have used our software have seen more downloads of their app than attendees in the pews on a Sunday — as much as 50 times more.  Most church-based users also see their sermon downloads increase, as well as a spike in online giving. As an example, one church with a membership of 1,000 people saw 2,000 downloads, 22,000 launches and increased giving in the first six months of offering its app.

So, if your ministry has content — and wants to present it well — launching an app might be the right next step.

Chris Sharpe is marketing director at Seattle, WA-based Subsplash, a design-centric software company and creator of The Church App. He can be reached via the Subsplash website:


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