As I teach on digital tools for ministry, one of the recurring topics is church apps.
Some forward thinking leader is looking to invest in building an app for their church. Something that is a central point from which members of the community could find all the info they need.
On the surface, it seems like a great idea. At the very least, the motivation behind it is great.
A Mobile World
The average person consumes 52% of their digital media through apps (as opposed to on a laptop or mobile web browsing, source).
Over 90 billion apps have been downloaded from the Apple Store and Google Play (source).
In the USA, 71% of our time using digital tools is spent on mobile devices (62% in Canada, 75% in Mexico, 61 % in the UK, source)
And once on our mobile devices? We spend 90% of our time in apps (as opposed to mobile web browsing, source).
Given these realities, you can see why a church would consider spending money to develop and distribute an app!
If these are the only stats you see regarding app usage, the decision is simple (and if you are talking to someone who sells apps, these will probably be the stats that you see).
The Whole Picture
But, as you may have guessed, the stats above are only part of the picture.
For most people, 3 apps account for 80% of your mobile usage.
So, your favorite app accounts for 50% of your time (Facebook, for most Americans), and the other two top apps on your phone account for the next 30% (YouTube, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram, SnapChat, Faceboook Messenger are among the contenders here) (source).
You can check this for yourself on most phones, by going to settings and seeing which apps you are using most often.
On top of that, most apps that are downloaded are never opened after they have been on the phone for thirty days. In other words, we download something new, try it once or twice, and then go back to our favorite apps (source).
In addition to the difficulty of getting people to use an app once it’s downloaded, in a given month, almost half of Americans download exactly zero apps (source).
In short, unless you are one of the top five apps in the world, it is increasing difficult to convince people to (a) download your app, and (b) actually use your app once it’s on their phone.
What does that mean for our church app?
Should we proceed with creating this additional place to distribute all our information to our members?
The short answer is probably not.
At the heart of ministry is the idea that we meet people where they are.
A church app requires them to come to us. Think about the steps required:
- Go to the app store
- Download our app
- Regularly open our app
- Turn on push notifications (most people don’t turn on notifications for most apps)
- Open our app again … and again … and again.
The commitment required is huge – it requires swimming against the current of how most of our members are using their devices.
Many churches decide such commitment and buy-in is exactly what their community needs. And that’s great.
But most of us would be better off meeting our people where they are.
The question is not how can we get our members to come to our app and start a conversation, but how can we meet our members on the apps they are already using to join the conversations they are already having?
As a congregation, create a great website. One that is mobile responsive, and has all the resources your members need.
Then develop a social media strategy. A way to share all those great resources – and invite your members to share all those great resources – on the apps they are already using.
Talk to the people in your community, and figure out where they already are.
Make the resources on your website easy to share, and then teach your members how to share them.
Create community on the apps your members already use, in ways that will help them deepen their faith.
There is a lot of energy moving toward mobile apps – the best way for the church to be a part of that conversation is to join the conversations that are already happening.
Have you experienced an app for church that worked exceptionally well? Tell me about it on twitter!
Caveat: If you have an app and it is working, great. Use it.
If you have a strategic plan that accounts for the factors above and still determines that an app is the most effective form of communication for your congregation, great. Use it.
What advice above fits most congregations, but ministry is never one-size-fits all. Context matters.