A few weeks back, I was asked to share my thoughts towards some short and long term thinking towards mobile ministry. Those are some good thoughts, but perhaps some would be better served if we were to narrow this focus towards upcoming trends in mobile ministry to just those items that pastors will encounter in 2013 and beyond. Let’s look at those trends within the three distinct characteristics of mobile: devices, services, and experiences.
Mobile Ministry Trends for 2013: Devices
In the USA, we see smartphones making over 50% of new mobile device sales and tablets eating into laptop sales for not just consumers, but on the enterprise level. Suffice to say, folks are making a statement about what counts in terms of devices, and 2013, some trends will continue, and paradigm shifts will have to wait.
Many pastors will be on their third or fourth smartphone and Android models will beam as the brightest. Look for the Samsung Galaxy S IV and the next Google Nexus to make the most impressions for the geeker pastors. Those with a bit less of a need to get the latest and greatest will look towards the next Motorola DNA (Verizon) or an HTC One model.
That’s not to say that the iPhone 5 or whatever comes next (the 5S?) will not get a look, but Apple knows, as well as its current owners, that there’s more that’s going to be needed than just being thinner, faster, and using a different connector. The new RIM devices (and operating system) looks compelling as well. Though until there’s something more compelling than YouVersion for it, I don’t see it being high on the list for many pastors (but larger churches with IT departments will want to take a look at it and Mobile Fusion now).
What I’m seeing a bit more folks do on the devices side though is to pay attention to wearable computing devices such as the Fitbit and Nike+ Fuel. I’ve seen a lot more people asking about these, and it seems to be making some sense that smaller device that works with one’s mobile will garner a bit more attention. I want to think that pastors see this year as the mobile device as a bit more than a communications device.
I didn’t mention tablets. That’s because aside from being yet another slate. I don’t see anything ground-breaking this year that will motivate pastors in a different direction than (1) iPad (2) Kindle Fire HD, and (3) Google Nexus 7. Software and services are key there, not the hardware.
Mobile Ministry Trends for 2013: Services
When we talk about services as being an essential element for mobile, we are looking at everything from applications to platforms. So, what could those essential applications and platforms look like in 2013 for pastors.
First off, a maturing of some of the best of the genre in terms of Bible applications. Logos 5 and Olive Tree were released in the 2nd half of last year and present themselves well able to take your studies and sermons into the most necessary topics of the new year. I’m also hearing a good bit of chatter about non-English content in these and other platforms for study, which is going to be key for many ministries who have made a goal of discipleship for this year.
Social networks are entrenched, and its a good idea to continue investments with Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and others. However, you might be surprised to see the direction these networks trend this year. Whereas pastors were looking to add to the signal and noise, I see 2013 as being the year where pastors will pull back from being present in so many networks and doing more towards being effective in conversation and communication. There’s going to still be some confusion amongst some pastors as to which networks work best, but I see 2013 and 2014 as being those years where these matters are figured out.
Lastly in terms of services: text messaging. 2012 was the year for mobile donations and that will spill into pastors taking chances with text messaging in other areas. Group messaging should pick back up in speed before the end of the year. And there’ll be some play with OTT (over-the-top) services such as iMessage and Whatsapp to take the place of the normal SMS/MMS message where possible. Pastors will know of instant messaging, but for them, this will probably fall off the radar completely.
Mobile Ministry Trends for 2013: Experiences
Now, this one can be considered a difficult piece to answer. What will pastors experience more of, less of, or because of their mobile devices and behaviors this year that they might not have last year or times before? For this, we dig into some of the core needs that technology serves and see potential positives and negatives.
Mobile first is a personal connector. With all of the connectivity that mobile devices offer, many more pastors will bristle with glee at the ease in which they are able to connect with their communities and address Gospel opportunities. For these pastors, mobile will seem like a breath of fresh ait for their calling and lives. On the other side of that, there will be many pastors who will be looking to let go of their smartphones and utilize a simpler mobile device because the level of connectivity (high) is not worth the cost (attention, $$$, or ego). These pastors will enter into a crisis of connectivity, but come out of 2013 with a clearer mind towards the ways in which mobile and other technologies add and take away from relationships around them.
Secondly, mobile is a communications engine. You can think of it almost like a slingshot that goes both ways. Pastors who are new to mobile in 2013, whether that is by acquiring a new)(er) device or working through a new ministry initiative, will have to come through the experience that mobile is an engine that’s not easily controlled. This will cause a few sleepless nights, but in the end, will drive pastors to seek God on how not to direct people’s behaviors, but on how to direct people into investigating and transforming behaviors themselves, with the leading of the Holy Spirit. Very simply, mobile is yet another lesson pastors learn themselves and teach to others that being driven by anything but the Spirit isn’t being driven in the right direction.
Lastly, mobile is a magic wand. Using a mobile device, its possible to create and live within your own world. Its to the point with mobile devices that you can use applications that will only ring your phone when preferred people call you in a specific time frame (necessary, at times). The other side of that is that mobile can and does open up creative windows that usually aren’t so well defined or controlled. Given the depth of smartphone ownership and tablet use, its probably an easy prediction to say that pastors will join in with artists, musicians, and others who have begun to see these devices and the services on them as a blank canvas for displaying the world in a light not seen before. It would be great for pastors to take this up, and show that ministry is more than just a preached sermon.
So that’s my call for mobile ministry trends for pastors in 2013. Some of these are going to be easy to see, others will happen in diverse places and so you’ll have to wait for press releases and viral media to come your way. But, don’t get it mixed, pastors as a whole are now on the train towards using mobile in a way that speaks clearer to the Gospel than ever before. 2013 is just the latest clear message of it happening.