Tag Archives: apps

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.

The changing ways churches use websites

Since moving to Alaska 15 years ago, I’ve seen Anchorage’s faith community rapidly adopt digital media — especially in the past five to seven years. Some churches have been slow adopters, a frustration to those who stay current with technology. Others have rushed headlong into digital media trying to adopt everything in sight with no clear strategy for doing so. A few churches have meaningfully adopted digital media, adeptly providing clear benefits to members and visitors. This column today explores the growing importance of one type of such media — church websites — locally.

Church websites provide basic church information and are an important digital medium. A 2012 Duke University study found only 55.7 percent of U.S. congregations had websites. Today, it’s estimated that closer to 60 to 65 percent have websites. Even in Anchorage there are a number of churches without websites or with only a minimal presence via a mention on their national denominational websites. Churches without websites, nationally and locally, tend to be smaller, and fewer in members.

Three years ago, Grey Matter Research in a study of church website use revealed a number of key findings. They noted three types of visitors to church websites: those who attend that church, those who regularly attend services but at other congregations and those who do not attend services regularly in any congregation.

What church website visitors look for is revealing. Most frequently (43 percent) they look for times of services. Twenty-nine percent are looking for activities offered, such as youth groups, studies or events. Twenty-eight percent looked for maps or church location. Twenty-six percent watched streaming video, and 26 percent listened to streaming audio. Twenty-two percent were checking out the church’s beliefs, 18 percent were requesting prayer and 15 percent downloaded a podcast. The study authors noted that the most basic items looked for, time of worship and location or map, were missing in approximately half of the church websites checked in sample areas of Memphis, Tennessee and Grants Pass, Oregon. The same is true in Anchorage. I’ve written about it many times.

The study also noted that, in the previous 12 months, more than 17 million adults who do not regularly attend worship services visited the website of a church or other place of worship. In other words, if churches don’t do a great job on their websites, they won’t be found or visited — both a huge challenge and wonderful opportunity.

I’ve visited and written about St. Benedict’s Catholic Church several times. From the first time I looked at their website (www.stbenedictsak.com), it made sense. Commonly sought items are there, on their main website page: service times, location, youth ministry information, bulletin and homily podcasts are all there and constantly up-to-date. Also included are statements about what they believe. It’s clean, functional and certainly satisfies demand for the commonly searched information noted previously. It does not have all the bells and whistles some contemporary Christian churches add to make their websites look extremely modern.

Another church website providing much of what website visitors look for is Baxter Road Bible Church’s (www.baxterroad.org). It’s clean, high-energy and refreshing. Recently updated, it provides worship times, location, sermon replays and information about activities, all on the first page. Like St. Benedict’s, BRBC also allows members to contribute online. This rapidly growing church has used their website to provide much of the same information for years, but have changed the look and feel to enhance its utility.

Cornerstone Church (www.akcornerstone.org/) has maintained an excellent, current website for years. They are also one of the few churches that allow visitors to watch recent sermons. If a website doesn’t offer watching, a church might still provide a way to listen to a recent sermon. A growing number of Alaska churches now offer apps for the iPhone or Android platforms. Cornerstone’s app offers the ability to listen to sermons or download them. Some church apps only allow you to listen. Few church apps currently offer the ability to watch sermons. I’ll deal with the benefits of church apps in a future column in this series. Clearly, apps are a powerful tool, for much more than just listening to sermons.

If you are a prospective visitor looking for a church, I suggest looking for the following things on church websites. First, look for location and service times. Driving is time-consuming and costs money. Try to locate a congregation that might satisfy your needs in the immediate vicinity. If you do become involved in that church, you are more apt to enjoy a wide array of activities if you live closer to it. That first visit is also a lot closer so you’re more apt to go. Next, peruse their statement of beliefs, which should be located on their first page or one click away from it. Does it align what you are looking for? A virtual visit might be a good next step. You should be able to listen to or watch a recent sermon. Sermons are important as they occupy one-third to one-half of the time of an average church visit.

The churches and websites mentioned above illustrate a cross-section of churches in Anchorage that offer the information on which visitors can rely when seeking a church. There are many churches not offering enough quality information through their websites to allow potential guests an opportunity to assess them for a visit. No slight was intended by not mentioning other churches. I believe each of the mentioned churches do a great service by providing quality websites for potential guests, and for their members. The aforementioned study addressing members says, “Among online Americans who attend worship services once a month or more, 28 percent have visited their own congregation’s website in the last thirty days, 44 percent have done so in the past six months, 57 percent have done so in the past year, and a total of 68 percent have done so at some point while attending that place of worship.”

Happy churching!

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

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.

Twitter users say what they’re giving up for Lent – 2/28/15

Since 2009, Stephen Smith of OpenBible.info has been tracking what Twitter users say they are giving up for Lent. It makes for interesting reading but also suggests that Lent “give-ups” are somewhat superficial.

Smith’s 2015 list had a few surprising results. Based on 125,303 tweets, Smith compiled a top 100 list of things people said they were giving up. The top 20 items, in order, were: school, chocolate, Twitter, alcohol, social networking, swearing, soda, sweets, fast food, coffee, college, you, Lent, meat, homework, sex, junk food, pizza, bread, and chips. The top 100 sacrifices — sorted into the most frequently recurring 20 categories, looked like this: food, school/work, technology, habits, smoking/drugs/alcohol, relationship, irony, sex, health/hygiene, religion, entertainment, weather, shopping, sports, money, politics, clothes, celebrity, and possessions.

One would be foolish to presume these are only Christians giving something up for Lent. If they were, we would be justified in presuming they would resume these give-ups after Easter. Now, I can see value in giving up various things in these categories. Food-related items like junk food are for the most part worthy of giving up altogether. Technology items include social networking, which is a huge time-suck with relatively little value.

In fact, researchers often point the finger at social networking preoccupation as a trait of a narcissistic, self-absorbed culture. Susan Greenfield, of the University of Oxford, said in a speech before the United Kingdom’s House of Lords, “Social networking sites might tap into the basic brain systems for delivering pleasurable experience. However, these experiences are devoid of cohesive narrative and long-term significance. As a consequence, the mid-21st century mind might almost be infantilised, characterised by short attention spans, sensationalism, inability to empathise and a shaky sense of identity.”

Michael Bugeja, a journalism professor at Iowa State University said: “To rebut examples of proactive use of social networks, I could counter with tragic ones, including a recent hoax by an adult ‘neighbour’ that triggered the suicide of 13-year-old Megan Meier.”

Christianity Today, commenting on the Twitter list of give-ups made an interesting observation: “One thing people don’t give up: Bible verses. Bible Gateway told CT that Lent is its busiest season of the year, with traffic between Ash Wednesday and Easter clocking in at 15 percent higher than the rest of 2014. Searches relating to dust and fasting increased 1,000 percent and 500 percent respectively on the days surrounding Ash Wednesday. Searches for repentance increased by 50 percent on Ash Wednesday.”

Adopt Positive Practices During Lent

More and more Christians are using Lent as a period to adopt one or more positive practices. I was particularly taken with an article released earlier this month by the United Methodist Church describing positive practices to take up during Lent. Titled “40 Days of Lent: Find Your Own Spiritual Path” Joe Iovino detailed some useful practices one would not discontinue after Lent. Fasting, Bible reading, and prayer headed the list. Many medical authorities attest to the value of periodic fasting. Bible reading, as shared in previous articles, is lacking. The Bible is the source of the Christian faith and worthy of study. There are many versions available, and great resources and apps to facilitate better Bible reading. Prayer is a wonderful way to connect with the Almighty. It can be done anywhere, and anytime. Prayer is not posturing, but a reaching out of the soul to God.

Iovino next suggests service: “Another way to observe a holy Lent is to take on a new way of serving. Throughout the forty days of the season you can adopt a new habit of volunteering in the community, making special financial gifts to service organizations, singing in the choir, or participating in a small group.” These are just a few of the myriad ways one could serve. Locally, call Bean’s Café, Brother Francis Shelter, Downtown Soup Kitchen, or Anchorage Gospel Rescue Mission and volunteer to help. You’ll be surprised how quickly they’ll accept your offer, and how rewarding it can be.

Rest, taking a daily Lent quiz, exposing your children to Lent, and learning more about Lent and Easter are meaningful activities concluding Iovino’s list. Following these or similar ideas during Lent could go far in transforming our faith community. In sharing these Lenten activities, I do not imply Christians are not observing Lent properly; many do and are changed by their conscientious observation of Lent.

Ashes to the People

In my column two weeks ago, I mentioned a dedicated group of Lutheran pastors were going to be taking ashes to the people in Town Square on Ash Wednesday. I went downtown to see them doing so. It was a stunning sight to see a group of five white-robed priests standing in front of the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts offering ashes to those wanting them. Lutheran Church of Hope’s pastor, the Rev. Julia Seymour applied my ashes in the sign of the cross on my forehead intoning the “dust” phrase, a clear reminder of my mortality. The group told me that many more people this year, than last, asked for ashes, and that many others had questions for them. Christ Our Savior Lutheran’s pastor the Rev. Dan Bollerud told me a group from his church went for dinner at a local restaurant after their Ash Wednesday choir practice. Some restaurant staff inquired about the smudges on their foreheads, and ended up requesting ashes as well.

Personally, I find Lent meaningful as do many other Christians. I enjoy Lenten services at a wide range of churches. I urge you to consider observing Lent, if not already doing so, to obtain new meaning in your spiritual life.

Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith for Alaska Dispatch News and on his blog, Church Visits.

Alaska church apps can have huge impacts – 9/20/14

Apps have revolutionized the ways we access information, play games, or use various utilities to change and improve our lives. Churches have adopted this rich technology. Alaska churches were not the earliest adopters of apps but have jumped in nevertheless.

In July 2008, over 800 apps were available for the iPhone. As of September, that number had exploded to 1.3 million. A much smaller number of apps are available for Android devices. Alaska churches with apps report the majority of their downloads are for the iPhone app. Using the search term “church” in Apple’s iPhone App store, 2,199 apps are found. Some are Bible apps, but the majority are apps for churches across the U.S.

Early Alaska Church App Adopters

On April 20, 2011, Adam Legg, ChangePoint’s creative arts and communications pastor, showed me the functionality of their just-released app. Adam was excited about this huge step forward. I was astounded at the range of information ChangePoint now provided with this new app, and its potential to expand their ministry far beyond their walls. It offered replays of sermons, an online Bible, blogs, church calendars, schedules and more. Adam showed me app download numbers and hours of use by users.

In the years since, a slowly growing number of Alaska churches have seen potential in releasing apps. Currently, 10 Alaska churches have their own apps. Churches as far south as Juneau and far north as Fairbanks have adopted this exciting technology, but most are Anchorage-area churches.

Another early adopter of this exciting technology was Anchorage’s TrueNorth Church. TrueNorth’s app was designed locally by Michael Blakeny of Acts 1:8 Technology. Blakeny also functions as a youth minister at Grandview Baptist Church. Commenting on the app, TrueNorth’s Pastor Brent Williams shared “Our app enhances our ministry by making the gospel accessible to a culture entrenched in technology. We are a culture on the move. The app allows those inside the church and those not yet a part of the church to stay connected to the weekly teaching and updates of True North Church.” Initially, I was surprised that a smaller, fairly new church like TrueNorth Church had deployed this amazing technology, when most churches, especially large ones, don’t deploy it, citing cost, and concerns this technology is not here to stay. Now I fully understand the wisdom of Williams’ statements.

ACF Church in Eagle River was also an early adopter. The Rev. Brian Cook noted the app’s popularity with ACF military members. “We have a high military population at our church. The app is one of the key ways deployed church members follow ACF Church,” says Cook. “Our app is intended to give people ‘one touch’ access to life at ACF Church.” he added, “one of many ways we use technology to help members engage in our community.”

Anchorage City Church released their app close to two years ago. Melissa Parkhouse, who oversees their app and church website development, was most pragmatic about why City Church deploys an app. “A 2013 study stated that 74 percent of cellphone users in the USA use smartphones, and predicted 2014 would see that number rise to 80 percent. One would be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t have a cellphone these days, so a smartphone app is a simple way for us to connect with people on a platform they are already using,” she said. (http://wallstcheatsheet.com/stocks/study-u-s-smartphone-penetration-is-a…)

Although I approached all 10 Alaska churches offering apps for more information, only the four mentioned above responded to my request. Other churches with apps include Cornerstone Church, Apostolics of Fairbanks, Juneau Apostolic Church, Soldotna Bible Chapel, Abbott Loop Community Church, and Church on the Rock – Homer. Too often churches think sharing this information is hush-hush or highly confidential requiring pastoral or trustee approval before releasing any details. The spread of the Christian gospel is a joyful job, one we all should do without fear of anyone appropriating “proprietary information.” Then too, several churches feel it’s a “prideful thing” to reflect on how well apps help churches grow. Information sharing is a fact of life in science, and should be with churches too.

Church app success stories

Those churches responding to my request for information indicated numerous app success stories.

City Church mentioned that members missing sermons can stay current with them and replay them. They also are excited about their Bible reading plans, recommending them to members. TrueNorth Church noted a story of healing and restoration in a divorced couple through the husband’s listening to sermons via TrueNorth’s app, and of their eventual reconciliation. ChangePoint shared the story of a member who couldn’t recently attend due to recovery from surgery, who watched each missed sermon. Yes, you read that right. She watched. Changepoint’s app gives you the option to listen or watch. Amazing. ACF Church mentioned people outside Alaska also connect with their church and messages finding they meet their needs.

Churches with apps often find their congregation size can double, virtually, through app usage. I’m excited about churches who have adopted this exciting technology. It’s one more example of how churches can grow by offering hand-held connections to their ministry.

How Do Alaskans Study the Bible? – 8/9/14

National surveys show that despite Americans’ love and great respect for the Bible, its reading and study frequency is down. The American Bible Society’s “State of the Bible” survey for 2014 showed the extent to which this is true. Even though 88 percent of American households own the Bible — to the tune of 4.7 copies per household — ownership is not enough. Only 39 percent of Americans read it once a week or more.

Some of this is being driven by a shift away from people believing that the Bible is sacred literature. In 2011, 86 percent of Americans believed the Bible to be sacred, but by 2014, that number had shifted downward to only 79 percent.

Doug Birdsall, former president of the American Bible Society, has been widely quoted regarding why Bible reading is declining:

“I see the problem as analogous to obesity in America. We have an awful lot of people who realize they’re overweight, but they don’t follow a diet. People realize the Bible has values that would help us in our spiritual health, but they just don’t read it.”

Those who are Bible engaged are now equal with those who are skeptics, at about 19 percent. The study, performed by the Barna Group, defines Bible engaged and Bible skeptics as follows. Bible engaged: those who “Believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God with no factual errors, or believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God with some factual errors, and read the Bible daily or at least four times per week.” Bible skeptics: those who “selected the most negative or non-sacred view from five options, saying they believe the Bible is just another book of teachings written by men, containing stories and advice.”

This shift toward skepticism is being led by millennials, i.e. 18- to 29-year-olds. In an upcoming article about millennials, I’ll include some of the reasons behind this trend.

Although the study revealed 26 percent of Americans never read the Bible, many more are reading and studying it. Here are some ways Alaskans study the Bible:

By themselves

Most people read and explore the Bible on their own. Some start at the beginning and read straight through to Revelation. Others, more New Testament-oriented, read that part only. Listening to the Bible in your car and online is also a great option if you study along. You can obtain most popular versions of the Bible from firms such as Audible for only one selection. These recordings generally run from 75 to 100 hours depending on the speed of the narration. There are also Bible apps for your smartphone. Many are free or minimal cost. My app has dozens of translations and I use it during sermons to compare how the same text is rendered in another translation. Many churches too offer electronic Bible access on their apps. TrueNorth Church and ChangePoint are two examples of this.

Bible study correspondence courses, sometimes aided by DVDs, are wonderful ways to read and study Scripture by yourself. Be aware that these courses can steer you to a particular denomination, But on the whole, they are great choices. Some of these courses offer quizzes with instant answers to test your comprehension.

Group study

Some groups read, study and comment on the Bible unassisted. Group leader Dean Southam sends out a brief reminder, often humorous, a few days before each meeting. In the July 22 email, he wrote: “This Thursday 6:30-7:30 am at Trinity, we will be tackling (reference to tackling is remembering NFL training camps open this week) 2 Thessalonians 2.” I’ve been pleased to join the Trinity Presbyterian men’s group over the years as time allows. Meeting at the church at 6:30 a.m. Thursdays, they usually read and discuss a chapter each week. A diverse group of professionals and some retirees, only about half of whom are Trinity members, they transition through each chapter with ease and grace. I enjoy their fellowship. Often, there are as many translations present as men. Similar groups for both men and women are available within and outside many local churches.

Some Bible study groups are large, facilitated groups. One such group is Bible Study Fellowship, which meets in large churches and is well attended. Separate groups are held for young adults. The format is small-group study using a workbook and coming together for a spiritual talk after. (Use search term “Bible study groups Anchorage” to bring up many options.)

Pastor Ray Nadon shared that Great Land Christian Church offers “customized” Bible studies, men or women, based on individual need and where they’re at. This is a great option. If I was a pastor, I’d say to a group, for example, “Say, I’m getting a group together for an hour of fellowship and Bible study for six weeks. We’ll be digging into the parables of Jesus to discover how they can affect your Christian walk and witness.”

Pastor John Carpenter of Baxter Road Bible Church is planning a group men’s Bible study based on Joe Gibbs’ “Game Plan for Life Volume II,” having covered Volume I last year. The studies last six to eight weeks and are a comfortable commitment.

The hardest part of Bible study is getting started. But remember, it takes two weeks to adopt a new habit, and this will be a habit you won’t want to break. Whether you study by yourself or in a group, you’ll discover it is a welcome activity. Studies are emerging about how intense study halts declines in mental acuity. I believe intense Bible study may be one of those activities.

Original ADN Article Link

Are church websites tracking you? – 8/2/14

Are church websites tracking you?

An article by Adam Tanner in Forbes magazine online instantly got my attention. Titled “God Is Not The Only One Watching Over Your Church’s Website” (July 28), it revealed astounding information about the extent to which many churches and other religious websites allow “trackers” to collect information about who visits them, and what they look at while there.

Tanner describes using the tracker discovery and blocking software Disconnect (disconnect.me) at the request of an Anglican priest friend. He discovered the priest’s church website contained 10 trackers. Going on, Tanner looked at various religious websites and found a wide range of examples of website trackers, from the Vatican, which had none, to 48-49 for the Church of Scientology. A synagogue in Manhattan had eight, a Protestant church organization revealed 14 and an Islamic shrine in Mecca had four.

Tanner obtained an eyebrow-raising quote from a well-known megachurch researcher. “It does seem invasive of personal privacy,” said Scott Thumma, a professor of the sociology of religion at Hartford Seminary. “I am absolutely certain that very few religious leaders know their sites have this form of tracking… nor do most small secular businesses. They barely comprehend the basics and haven’t even considered tracking technology or the ethical implications of these features with their members.”

Trackers and tracking data, rarely identified, are used by religious organizations and marketers to potentially target you for advertising in the future. After visiting the site, you might receive pitches for books, videos or contributions to specific causes based on the types of websites you visited.

Our security-conscious environment, spurred by recent revelations about the vast amounts of data the National Security Agency has been collecting, suggests people need to understand what they can expect when visiting church websites. Adept Internet researchers can build amazing profiles of who you are and what you do. I question, as did Adam Tanner and Scott Thumma, the necessity and validity of such tracking.

Before writing this article I selected a cross-section of Anchorage-area church websites — including Catholic, mainline Protestant, evangelical, Orthodox, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Baha’i. Analyzing each website using Disconnect, I found trackers are prevalent here, too. About half of the 34 local church websites I checked revealed one or no trackers, but the remainder had more than one. Saint John United Methodist Church had the most with 12, followed closely by First Church of Christ Scientist at 10. Saint John Orthodox showed nine. Interestingly, some of the Catholic churches had them, while others did not. Holy Cross Parish had seven, Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish showed six and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton had two, while St. Benedict’s Parish had none. For the Jewish community, the Lubavitch Center showed eight, while Temple Beth Shalom had seven. The Anchorage Islamic group had four, while the Buddhist group only had one. The Baha’i group showed none.

Anchorage’s two largest churches, ChangePoint and Anchorage Baptist Temple, showed two and one, respectively. The central Mormon website for Anchorage had four, as did Muldoon Community Assembly. Finally, of two Hillside churches, Hillside-O’Malley Seventh Day Adventist Church had eight trackers, while Trinity Presbyterian had three.

True North, a growing Anchorage church, uses technology heavily. “We don’t use a lot of tracking purposely,” said Brent Williams, True North pastor. Indeed, they don’t, as they only have one tracker. In a future article, I’m going to share the experience True North Church and ChangePoint have had with implementing apps to grow their churches.

Tracking is a relatively new technology for churches and website visitors to understand and deal with. Many churches are adopting privacy policies and posting them prominently on their websites. Here’s one example of such a policy used by an Outside church (whose identity I’m not disclosing); identical statements appear on many church websites: “The Site may use cookie and tracking technology depending on the features offered. Cookie and tracking technology are useful for gathering information such as browser type and operating system, tracking the number of visitors to the Site, and understanding how visitors use the Site. Cookies can also help customize the Site for visitors. Personal information cannot be collected via cookies and other tracking technology; however, if you previously provided personally identifiable information, cookies may be tied to such information. Aggregate cookie and tracking information may be shared with third parties.”

The privacy of a person’s relationship with their religious organization is an assumed fundamental right. Churches need to post their privacy policies prominently where people can access them easily on their websites. I suggest you use a piece of software like Disconnect to unmask tracking on all websites you visit, but most importantly on church websites. Amazon.com exposed me to 10 trackers as I wrote this article. Tools like Disconnect can show you who the tracker is, and in most cases these trackers can be blocked.

Churches must avoid all appearances of wrongdoing, which can start with that first contact a potential visitor has via their websites. Newer and more sophisticated tools are on the way, which will make this write-up look like child’s play. I commend those churches with little or no tracking. Churches with heavy tracking scores need to take a deeper look to protect the interests of those they come in contact with.

Original ADN Article Link

ChangePoint’s App Hits 1 Million Minutes of Use

On April 20, 2011, ChangePoint released its mobile app to the world. After less than 1 ¼ years of use, they celebrated its millionth minute of use yesterday. This is a significant achievement for Alaska’s largest church! [img_assist|nid=161699|title=ChangePoint App Splash Screen|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=200|height=367]Church Visits blog has chronicled the ChangePoint app’s story from the beginning in these posts:

ChangePoint: First Alaska Church to Release an App!
Two Month Update on ChangePoint’s App
ChangePoint’s App Hitting Stride – 3 Months Along
ChangePoint’s App: Use Still Growing After 6 Mos.
ChangePoint’s Communications Director, Adam Legg shares some impressive statistics and answers to some of my questions.

• 4,500 – number of Apple & Android devices which have installed it
• 34,000 – times the app has been used since launching just over a year ago
• 1,000,000+ – number of minutes of use of the app since inception
Why was the app launched?
“It’s our job to communicate with people the way that they are already communicating. I noticed this sitting in our auditorium before services, seeing a lot of people on their phones. We tend to be a younger church so it makes sense that we are a bit more mobile connected, so if that’s how our church is already communicating why wouldn’t we utilize that?”

Was cost a factor in launching it?
“Cost has been a major factor, but not in the way you may think. In fact the app has allowed us to SAVE money. It has more than paid for itself in the simple fact that we are able to print less because people are getting information from us in a way that is more cost effective, environmentally friendly, AND utilizes technology that people are already using!”

Any ‘use’ stories to share about the app?
“I have a fresh story to share about how our app has made a difference recently. A couple recently moved to Anchorage, transferred here from Chicago, in connection with the husband’s job. When they found out Anchorage was where they would be located, they began looking at church websites and searching the internet for potential churches that could be “home” once they got here. They came across ChangePoint, visited our website, and downloaded the app. They began to listen to our messages via the app, started learning who we are, and what we are all about. When visiting Anchorage for the first time they visited us. Because they had been able to connect with us via the app, they already felt a sense of connection here. Now settled in Anchorage, they’re enjoying community here at ChangePoint. Usually, when I see them, they make it a point of telling me how much they loved using the app to connect with us prior to arriving in Anchorage!”

How is the app consistent with ChangePoint’s vision?
“At ChangePoint our vision is “Life in Christ for every Alaskan and the world beyond”. The ChangePoint app is one tool that allows us to take a message of Life in Christ to places and people across our state and around the world.”

Thanks for the good report Adam, and again, congratulations for a successful app! We look forward to the 1 ½ year report in October.

Quite frankly, I’m a bit stunned at the Anchorage church community’s lukewarm acceptance of this groundbreaking technology, i.e. apps, that has become a worldwide phenomena in less than five years in the burgeoning mobile community. Maybe churches are inherently late adopters of emerging technologies such as apps. The state of church websites in Alaska confirms this in my mind. Homepages lacking worship times or locations, pictures of mountains, lakes and streams, overly crowded and confusing homepages, a growing dependence on Facebook, and stale-dated material are good indicators apps, like websites, may be unsupportable by most churches.

I’m aware of only four churches in Alaska offering apps.

• ChangePoint
• ACF – Eagle River
• TrueNorth
• Soldotna Bible Chapel

Of this you may be sure; These four churches understand technology, how to use it, and it’s impact. I’ll feature the other three soon in a post.[img_assist|nid=161700|title=ChangePoint App Home Screen|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=200|height=367]

ACF: Eagle River’s Fresh Approach


A friendly initial greeting, military tributes, upbeat music, Bible-based sermon, huge push for commitment to buy their land and buildings, and a free ACF mug added up to a primarily positive impression for my November 6 visit. No sermon audio posted yet, although two subsequent sermons have been. I’d probably do a return visit to this convenient Eagle River church if I wasn’t regularly visiting other churches.

It’s a Drive
I live in Anchorage but make church visit trips to our communities North of Anchorage proper. This blogger has been to Eagle River several times, although I live in the Turnagain area. November 6 was on the cusp of some of our heavy snowfall and I left early for Alliance Christian Fellowship’s 11 a.m. service in the event of driving delays. The church is easy to locate just off the Northbound exit ramp at the central Eagle River exit. The signage does not indicate service times, but two large signs announce ACF’s presence. Parking is abundant and was well-plowed.

Boy Scouts Selling Wreaths
A group of Boy Scouts had a table outside the church and were engaged in selling holiday wreaths to arriving and departing members. I believe they told me they were sponsored by the church.

Greeting OK
Upon entering, I was greeted by pleasant woman with a warm “Good Morning” and “Have you received your commitment card?” This is the time of year many area churches are hitting their members for annual pledges and donations, so I wasn’t particularly bothered by this, although some first timers might have been.

Military Tribute
ACF seems to have a large military presence among its membership. A slide presentation of military and war scenes was being projected to stirring music before the service started. One doesn’t often see such an overt show of support for our military in any of our churches but it was here. I thought it curious.[img_assist|nid=158761|title=ACF’s Praise Band|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=160]

Dark Service Start
Suddenly the lights were turned off. It was totally dark. Then a voice spoke, “Let’s just stand up together.” Quite loud music started playing. The house band played just one song. Unlike many churches, they had no protection for the drums, which added to the loud projection of the music. I was surprised by just the one song.

At this point there was a brief veteran’s appreciation tribute. It was explained that a veteran had been wounded that week in an accident and a prayer was said on his behalf.

Very Young Congregation
I estimated there were a couple of hundred attendees for the 11 a.m. service but it was a young crowd. Children were sitting with their parents. I did not determine if there was Sunday School or Children’s Church for the younger ones. I’m in my sixties, but in glancing around, I was not able to locate anyone in attendance older than myself. It may be the music or the strong military presence, but I rarely see such a young church. My personal observation is that churches should appeal to all ages. If I was a pastor, I could easily discourage older folks from attending by employing two or three overt or covert tactics. I hope this is not the case here.

Meet ‘n Greet Actually Worked
If you’ve read my church observations for any length of time, you might be aware of my undisguised disgust for meet ‘n greets in churches, for their guest-distancing properties in being too long, and primarily member-to-member greetings that tend to exclude guests. During ACF’s meet ‘n greet I was greeted by two members, Jason and Andrea, but observed the church made it mercifully brief (a minute or two).[img_assist|nid=158762|title=ACF’s Pastor Rod Preaching|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=129]

Good Sermon
The speaker got up and introduced himself as Rod Poepping. I looked at the staff roster in the bulletin and he wasn’t listed with the other staff. I turned to the man who’d greeted me earlier, asking who he was. Saying Rod was the senior pastor, he was surprised Rod wasn’t listed. There was no order of service listed, an unfortunate visitor-unfriendly omission. Guests need to have a roadmap for the service. Clearly ACF keeps it’s visitors in the dark. The service was clearly for members with few, if any, cues about what was going on for guests.

Rod started speaking 10 minutes into the service. I feel this is a first for all my church visits and applaud it. Many people write me complaining about the lengthy musical and spoken preliminaries in so many churches. It’s not unusual to have 45 minutes or more of preliminaries before the pastor begins preaching. This was exceptional.

Another positive thing Rod did was to recap the previous week’s sermon, part of a series called Radical Faith, to bring people up to speed if they’d missed it. This is an outstanding practice which so many pastors forget to do. But wait, there’s more. Rod also did something unusual by encouraging us to use ACF’s app on iPhone’s, iPad’s, etc. He said it also contained sermon notes for this sermon, which were the same as in the bulletin. Wow! First of all I wasn’t aware they had an app. Now I’m aware of three Alaska churches with apps. Earlier this year another Eagle River pastor lashed out against the use of apps in church, encouraging people to use church-supplied Bibles instead. Pastor Rod also noted there was a Bible in the app or suggested taking a Bible as their gift to you. Great approach![img_assist|nid=158759|title=ACF’s App Showing Sermon Screen|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=275|height=440]

Rod’s a good presenter, sparingly using notes, and effectively using good eye contact. The sermon, though a good one, seemed bent toward the fundraising appeal at the end. Personally, I don’t like fundraising appeals in church. People come to learn and worship, not be badgered for contributions. I wish I could share the sermon with you, but it’s not appeared on the website yet. I called ACF this week and was told Rod was out of town and the sermon posting was awaiting his return. If ever posted, it should be posted here. Other sermons by Rod and his pastoral staff are posted here also. In fact, they’ve already posted topics for these sermons, all the way out to Christmas.

Push for Giving With Appeal Music
At the close of his 45 minute sermon, Rod talked about ACF’s plans to purchase the property from it’s owners. He appealed for 100% involvement to buy the land. As he started his appeal, a guitarist from the band joined him onstage and provided a guitar soundtrack for Rod’s words. I hear this so much in evangelical churches. Whenever there’s an appeal, Baptists do this almost every service, the music starts playing to tug on people’s hearts. That’s precisely why films have memorable music. To me it’s a little hokey and turns me off. Nonetheless, Rod asked people to come down and put their personal ‘thumbprint’ of commitment to this purchase project on a map of the property. He further told a story of a young member who was a babysitter, and has committed to give all of her earnings to this project. He also urged parents discuss this with their children, why commitment cards were being used, and that family’s contribution to this project. Personally, I feel large project appeals like this should be in a separate meeting, not during the main church service. Guests should have been excused at this point. A major objection with many guests or new attenders is the focus on the money. Many of them say, “…it’s all about the money.” [img_assist|nid=158760|title=ACF’s Communion on Your Own|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=183]

Communion on Your Own
ACF did have do-it-yourself communion stations at either side of the platform, however no word of it was mentioned during the service. They were used by many with no prompting. Few churches practice communion this way, as it is one of the universal ordinances of the church, written of and practiced as a group activity. It may have been an aberration due to the length of the service.

The service ended with the praise group coming back up and playing 3-5 songs, the reverse of what most contemporary churches do. The music was good, but in my opinion, unnecessary. I especially liked the video calendar at the end of the service, where a church member articulated coming events in a refreshing style. This is a first for me and ACF is to be thanked for showing a refreshing new method of communicating information.

As the lengthy service dismissed, I was greeted by a member who asked if this was my first visit there. Although I answered affirmatively, I believe this is not a good question to ask guests, as puts them on the defensive. A better question would be to introduce oneself and thank the guest for choosing to worship with your church. This draws the guest in, in an inclusive manner, instead of distancing them. His second question was whether or not I’d received a mug. I said no, to which he went and got me one. The mug had been mentioned earlier in the service but I assumed I’d missed my chance to get one. I’m glad I did get “mugged”, as it was a warm demonstration of hospitality extended. During my visit I saw some fresh ideas, but was put off by others. However, except for the noted age differences, I would be tempted to go back for a 2nd visit.

ChangePoint’s App: Use Still Growing After 6 Mos.

If you do not know what an app is, you must not use a smartphone. October 20 recently marked the six-month point since ChangePoint released their app. As I met with Adam Legg, ChangePoint’s Director of Communications, it was obvious he was pleased with the growing adoption, worldwide, of their app.

[img_assist|nid=158661|title=ChangePoint’s App – Recent Mainscreen|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=300|height=415]

Adam shared the following impressive statistics representing the first six-months:
–There have been 16,860 uses of the app.
–These uses have generated 505,800 minutes of use.
–App downloaded to 2,681 devices.
–No day has passed without someone downloading the app.
–The number of listeners doubled during the sixth month.
–They’re seeing a huge India listener-ship.[img_assist|nid=158659|title=Adam Legg, ChangePoint’s Dir of Communications|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=467]

This is nothing short of amazing! Those 505,800 minutes represents 8,430 hours, or 351 days of use. When asked where the use of their app was concentrated, Legg indicated it was in listening to sermons. Amazingly, these statistics indicate ChangePoint’s digital campus has doubled the size and reach of their church without any lessening of attendance at the main campus!

Legg shared that ChangePoint’s app was born out of a rethinking of their strategies for communicating. As a result of these efforts, they recently received an award from “Church Juice”, an organization dedicated to church communication strategies and practices. This group gives awards to churches who demonstrate excellence in communications. These awards are called “Juicy’s” and ChangePoint was recently named as The Juicys Communications Church of the Year (Larger Churches). This is certainly a well-deserved award and ChangePoint is to be congratulated for its efforts to focus energy in more effective methods of communication, locally and into the rest of the world.

I love to see churches addressing communications issues internally with creative strategies that save money, and increase effectiveness. This app is but one way ChangePoint is demonstrating their fiscal responsibility and creative spread of the gospel using new tools that have become available for smartphones and other electronic devices. Few Alaska churches have seen fit to adopt these strategies. I’ve only located three Alaskan churches who are using apps as a means of spreading the gospel. My thanks to ChangePoint for being so open about the results of the use of their app. I’m surprised more Alaska churches have not seized on to this thoroughly modern technology to expand their reach and effectiveness.

Congratulations ChangePoint on your successes with your app! I look forward to continued positive reports.