Do churches really need their own iPhone apps?

does your church need an iPhone appLately I’ve been thinking a lot about iPhone apps. I’m addicted to them. On a weekly basis I download a handful of “lite” or demo apps, mostly games, and on occasion I will spend a couple of bucks on an app that I am sure will change my productivity for the better.

Like most technologies that I encounter, I have pondered how a local church could make use of a custom, native iPhone app for their church body and prospective visitors. Here are some ideas:

The Web Scraper
The first iPhone app I could think of was one that would aggregate all the information that a prospective visitor and/or current attender would need on the go. This app would collect it’s data from the church website and then display it in the app. Such data could include:

  • Directions/Maps
  • Service times
  • Events calendar
  • Church news
  • Sermon audio/video

While this sounds cool and it would be neat to see your church logo in the iTunes store, I’m not convinced that a native app is the way to go. First, all the information above could be accessed via a mobile website and the iPhone happens to have a very capable browser. With the increasing ubiquity of open wi-fi networks and AT&Ts 3G network, getting to the website should not be a problem. If you’ve got someone in your church who can provide an app like this for cheap or free, you might as well give it a shot. Otherwise, consider creating a mobile website or use something like MoFuse to instantly create a mobile site alongside your current website. There are companies out there willing to make iPhone apps for you that will provide this kind of functionality, but be prepared to spend.

The Church Channel App
TED (of the TED Talks) has an app for the iPhone that I downloaded and really want to use. But I never have. Here’s what it does:

  • Let’s you search content based on categories or tags
  • Allows you to bookmark content (make a favorites list)
  • Allows you to listen or watch content in the app

That sounds cool until you realize that bookmarking content does not download the content to the iPhone for later viewing or listening. Not a problem if you are on an iPhone with a data connection. But if you have an iPod Touch or would rather not use your data plan or are out of coverage, you’re out of luck.

If it did allow for downloading of content, then we’d have a winner. But we’d also have a branded version of iTunes (the iPhone version) that limits the user to only your content. Why bother. Just make sure your podcast is listed in iTunes and you’re good to go.

Hey man! Why so negative? I came here for innovative ideas!
Okay, so all I’ve done so far is tell you why your church does not need an iPhone app. I stand by that. Stop reinventing the wheel and use the tools that everybody else is already using. I do have a couple of ideas that would dominate on the iPhone.

The Mobile Campus
Yeah, it’s what you think it is. Church on the go. Imagine an iPhone app that smashes the streaming video and community features of an internet campus into your iPhone. Now, no matter where you are (airport, hotel, bus, bathroom, etc.) you don’t have to miss church. It’s on your phone!

Just like internet campuses are not for every church, this app wouldn’t be either. But for some churches, it could work. I would not be surprised if somebody was already working on it.

So cool…here’s another!

The Sunday Service Mobile Mashup of Awesome
I have no idea what you would call this. But stick with me for a moment! Imagine going to church on Sunday. You get seated, bust out your iPod Touch or iPhone and launch your church’s app.

  1. A screen shows up with your church’s logo and you are asked to sign in.
  2. After signing in you are presented with a list of other attenders who are signed in and present. You see your buddies listed and maybe a couple of new people. You read their profile and then find them to introduce yourself in meat-space. Oh, I’m getting so excited!
  3. Worship starts. Because you can’t see the screen so well, you bring up the lyrics, streamed live of course, on your device in big, white on black, letters.
  4. After worship is done, announcements are made. You’re ready for them because there is a list of the announcements on your app with the option to freaking add it to your calendar, email a friend about it, RSVP, whatever! …sorry.
  5. The offering is taken up. But you pass the basket on and do it with the app and your PayPal account.
  6. The sermon starts. You get all the notes, of course, with the option to add your own. Bible verses are there, too.
  7. You get a message on the app that you’re needed in the nursery to calm down your kid. You take care of it and then get seated again.
  8. The pastor asks for some sort of participation or feedback from the audience much like the texting game. The app facilitates this with some sort of function. I don’t know what, but it’s rad.
  9. The sermon closes. You send a prayer request to the prayer team and head to the buffet.

That’s just a few of the ideas I could see in this kind of app. I could see this going farther and integrating with ChMS software to provide functionality with small groups, church directories, attendance, child check in, etc.

Would it change and challenge how church is done? Yes. But so did video screens and microphones.

So does your church need it’s own iPhone app? Probably not. A mobile website and your podcast in iTunes will do. However, if internet campuses and merging cutting edge technology into your church experience is something that would produce real fruit, then get on it! I know there are some smart developers in the church. Don’t be scared, now!

Have your own ideas? Want to debate an idea? Did I offend you? Post a comment. We’ll chat. At the very least I’ll know somebody out there is reading:-)

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