We’ve talked about apps before, but as we come through the pandemic and the myriad changes it has introduced to life and ministry, it’s time to think anew about how apps might take your church into the future.
Here are three ways churches are using apps. Each has its own interesting take on the app/phone/worship relationship.
1. The traditional church app
Digital app creator platforms have grown in popularity. For as little as $29.95 a month (sometimes free with an online giving account), you can have all the features of a website in an app form. You can have event signups, calendars, newsletters and, of course, online giving. The most important feature of these apps is their ability to capture screen real estate on your congregants’ smartphones.
If you have a very young congregation — one that rarely accesses the plain ol’ web on their phones — these apps might be ideal.
Keep in mind that many churches have reported experiencing an initial burst of installs upon rollout only to find most church members don’t open the app more than a handful of times before it falls into in the vast wasteland little-used apps. Many church communicators say people still prefer snail mail, email and social media for their communication platforms, so, it is important to know your congregation’s preferences.
2. An app extension for physical ministry
When the pandemic hit, many worship services went online. Congregations that never imagined having a webcam in their sanctuary began streaming worship services and coffee hours on Zoom.
As we move from that completely virtual space back into a hybrid of online and in person, another style of app is getting traction: the social extension app.
Aside from using Zoom, some churches have turned to platforms such as Disciple Media and Tribe to create community-focused apps that enable church members to meet, talk and grow closer in community.
Rather than focus on finding another way to do what the church website does, these social app platforms focus on helping organizations create and foster community without having to meet in person. (And, yes, they can have a calendar of events as well.)
This approach to church apps seeks to extend the connection that happens in physical gatherings by tapping into the power and insights of social media to grow deeper discipleship relationships.
3. Something completely different
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A whole new class of ministry apps have been birthed, in part, by the pandemic. These apps don’t focus on extending a physical church’s ministry. Instead, they exist on their own.
As pioneers of sorts, these types of apps are in various stages of development and are being adjusted as we better understand what it means to do all-online ministry.
You may have heard of Glorify, a more evangelical app, or Hallow, a prayer and meditation app for Catholics. United Methodists also are charting this course.
One such app, Zoay, targets formerly religious millennials and Gen Z members. Zoay is filled with spiritual practice videos in nature, art, social action, meditation and study.
Everyday Sanctuary, another new app being birthed out of the United Methodist movement, focuses on a more text-based approach to helping busy people have a satisfying faith practice in five-minute segments.
These apps are not designed to prompt people to attend a church at a specific time or get over what they may see as the institutional baggage that merely comes from hearing the word “church.” They seek to put spirituality in the pockets of people who might never darken the doorway of a church.
On the downside, most of these types of apps require considerable investment by churches and partners to build and test new platforms.
Is an app right for you?
It may be time for your church to take another look at apps, but with a new question in mind.
Having seen and experienced all that we have through live streaming and Zoom Sunday school, what do you want moving forward? Do you want to extend your social community through a socially focused app? Do you want to put your webpage in app form? Or, are you ready to make an investment and try something new?
Whatever the case, an app might be in your future.
Jeremy Steele is the associate pastor at Los Altos UMC in Los Altos, California, as well as a writer and speaker. You can find a list of all his books, articles and resources for churches, including his most recent book All the Best Questions, at his website: JeremyWords.com.