Church apps gain a foothold among local churches

Since Apple first released its game-changing iPhone in 2007, apps — and smartphone apps in particular — have changed the way we access the Internet and the way we use our smartphones.

I’ve written about apps in the past (you can find my previous coverage at (tinyurl.com/nfch7xn), but as different churches adopt the technology or adapt the ways in which they use it, the subject is worth revisiting.

In April 2011, I first became aware of local church apps when ChangePoint staffer, Adam Legg, (changepoint.com) excitedly showed me the church’s new app. ChangePoint may have been the first Alaska church to release an app, but slowly other churches began rolling out apps. During this developmental period I asked many churches, obvious targets for app use, why they were not developing them. Consistently I heard money cited as the No. 1 reason, though I suspect in reality churches failed to understand apps and their potential value for their faith communities.

Adam — now ChangePoint’s creative arts and communications pastor — recently shared the congregation’s changing vision for their app noting. “In over 4 years since rollout, our app’s been downloaded on almost 9,000 devices and used hundreds of thousands of times,” he said. “In the spring of 2011, when we launched our app, it was estimated that 35 percent of Americans owned a smartphone; that number is now around 70 percent. A recent Forrester Research study showed 85 percent of the time people use their smartphones, they are using apps. We see this as an area continuing to provide big opportunities for our church to reach people where they are.”

But it’s not all about the app.

“While we are incredibly pleased with the growth and usage of our app, we must remember it’s only one tool in our church’s digital communication strategy,” he said. “Social Media, website, video storytelling, and many other tools are used here at ChangePoint to bring a message of ‘Life in Christ’ to thousands of people every week. Digital media is changing how people communicate, and in turn, the church must take note and adjust our communication as well. The ChangePoint app has been a huge step in helping us do just that.”

Using Apple’s app store, I searched for Anchorage and Alaska church apps. I found 12 in Anchorage, and 10 outside of Anchorage. You can find the Anchorage listing on my website at churchvisits.com showing various features each church has implemented. Most of the listed church apps also have Android counterparts, and some have been released for Windows phones. Churches with apps usually have app links on their websites. Grace Christian School was listed under Anchorage churches, and St. John United Methodist uses a generic app, which depends on you entering a special code to locate their portion, not a sure methodology.

Most apps offer archived sermons for replay. A few allow users to watch those sermons, and fewer still offer live streaming of a sermon as it’s being delivered. Anchorage Baptist Temple recently added this feature. Many apps offer Bibles, Bible plans for reading, church calendars, and access to blogs or social media. Online giving has become an important option for apps, and bulletins are very helpful.

Baxter Road Bible Church, a rapidly growing East Anchorage church, recently added an app and updated its website. Both are attractive and functional.

Asked about the genesis of their app, BRBC’s (www.baxterroad.org) associate pastor, John Carpenter said, “We saw how this technology worked. Phones have become more than just phones anymore. Our website’s purpose is to get information out to the body of the church. We see apps as an extension of our website. I refer to our website and app as BRBC’s Costco-like sampler approach. It gives people a taste of what we offer; it’s easy and convenient. We find that listening to our messages/sermons is probably the key driver for its use. We also find our people appreciate up-to-date information on what’s happening in our church community. Donating via app and website is certainly growing. When my family and I took our vacation this summer, it was a great way to stay in touch with our church family.”

A church plant, True North Church, (midtown.truenorthanchorage.com) effectively used apps as part of their church growth strategy. Unlike most churches, they developed their own app in 2011 aided by a local Christian developer.

True North is growing and attributes some heartwarming stories to their app.

“A young woman began attending True North several years ago. Coming out of a divorce caused by her infidelity, she began the process of healing and restoration while attending True North,” the Rev. Brent Williams told me. “Through this process, she realized her need to reconcile with her ex-husband and take ownership of her sin. The ex-husband began listening to our sermons through our iPhone app while living in the Lower 48. By God’s grace, one year ago, the husband and wife reconciled and were remarried during one of our church services on a Sunday morning.”

Brent concludes, “Our app enhances our ministry by making the Gospel accessible to a culture entrenched in technology — a culture that is on the move. The app allows those inside the church and those not yet part of the church to stay connected to the weekly teaching and weekly updates of True North Church.”

I believe Alaska church apps provide better missional growth opportunities than, for example, expensive short-term mission trips. I applaud these churches for their vision and hope many more will join them soon. Their growth is due, in no small way, to their deployment of today’s technology for today’s generation.

Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith on his blog,churchvisits.com.

The views expressed here are the writer’s own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.

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