If your church doesn’t already have a mobile app, you’ve probably heard about them. Perhaps you’ve started looking into app providers and are lost in the sea of options. While it’s wonderful to have several providers to choose from, it’s easy to wonder how to choose which one is best for your church.
The first key to selecting any product or service is deciding how you’ll use it and what you need it to do. This is even more important than looking at price since even the cheapest solution isn’t worth the cost if it doesn’t accomplish your goals.
To start, let’s address mobile apps in general. You likely have at least a few apps on your smartphone. A quick glance at your phone and you can access apps for your to-do list, email, social media, news, weather, banking, and more. You could go to the mobile version of each company’s website, but it’s usually faster to click on their mobile app.
That’s what we want those in your congregation to realize about a mobile app for your church: It should be a quick and easy way for them to connect with their church, get information, register for events, give, and more.
According to a study by Pew Research Center, roughly 77% of Americans own a smartphone. That’s more than twice the number reported in 2011. This certainly points to a mobile app as a useful tool to reach the majority of your congregation.
Here are seven essential features to look for in any app provider you consider:
Essential Feature #1: Customizable App Look and Feel
When you look at your phone, how do you identify which app to open? You look at the icons, right? If the icon for your bank doesn’t match their logo, you’d wonder if that was a legitimate app for that bank. The same principle applies to your church app. You want the initial app image and the look of the app once it’s opened to match your church’s brand guidelines. The colors, logos, fonts, and overall style should feel familiar to anyone who’s seen your website or visited your campus.
Essential Feature #2: Customizable Bible Reading Plans
Most churches have a sincere desire for their congregations to engage with Scripture on a consistent basis. New believers may be unsure where to start reading, and even mature Christians may need help finding ways to dive back into a regular reading habit. A customizable reading plan gives you the option to create a plan that coincides with a sermon series, by stage in life, discipleship stage (new believer, etc.), or various topics that are most applicable to your congregation/community.
Also, consider whether a provider offers multiple Bible translations and even audio Bibles. Most of us have our favorite version or want to read a verse in multiple versions to understand it in greater context.
Essential Feature #3: Journaling and Note Taking Features
Paper bulletins are easily lost or are often discarded immediately after service. However, people are much less likely to leave their phone behind at church. By providing a place within the app for them to take notes during the sermon or journal as they read Scripture throughout the week, you’re helping them keep those valuable lessons learned in a tool they’ll have with them constantly.
Susie is going about her day and sees a notification pop up on her phone (these are called push notifications). It’s a reminder from the Children’s Director to register her kids for Vacation Bible School. She’d forgotten to do that after church on Sunday, so she clicks on the link in the notification and quickly registers her kids within the church mobile app.
Push notifications are a useful tool in communicating with your congregation between services. You can remind them about upcoming events, mention volunteer opportunities, encourage people to sign up for a small group, and much more. While you can send all that information out in an email, a notification may get their attention sooner.
Essential Feature #5: Live Polling for Increased Interaction
Live polling is a feature you can use during a sermon to have fun or get people thinking about the topic at hand. Asking folks to choose their favorite college team in an upcoming playoff can be a fun way to get people’s attention. You could ask your congregation to choose from a list of options the question they most wonder about when it comes to faith. Both are ways to get an audience to engage in the sermon. With a live polling feature, people can go into the app to make their selection. Then your team can post the results on the big screens so everyone can see the outcome.
Push notifications combined with the polling feature worked well for coordinators of the C3 Conference recently:
“We sent out a post-event survey last night through the app and this morning found we had over 230 responses! That’s over double what we usually get via email which is awesome. For one of the questions we asked our delegates about their experience of the app – the responses were overwhelmingly positive.”
Essential Feature #6: Gather Important Information Using Custom Forms
If you’ve ever had people sign up for an event using paper forms, you know what a challenge that can be. From illegible handwriting to consolidating the right information, this creates unnecessary work for your team. An essential item in any mobile app is the ability to create custom forms.
You can use forms for event registration, small group signup, volunteer opportunities, and much more. Once someone completes the form, you can quickly see the information from within the apps’ administration console and pull that data into other systems as needed.
Essential Feature #7: Multimedia Capabilities
Like it or not, we live in a media-focused society. It’s easy to meet people where they’re at by providing a convenient way for them to view or listen to sermons through your church’s mobile app. This functionality is helpful for parents who missed church due to a sick child or the business traveler facing a delayed flight.
Another aspect involves sharing sermon videos on social media. A fun way to help your congregation invite their friends to watch a message is to provide them with custom shareable graphics. They can quickly share the graphic and the corresponding link to the sermon video, which helps your church reach more people online.
This all sounds great, but what will setup and administration involve?
As you evaluate mobile app providers, make sure they enable the content you update on your church website to automatically update your app. The last thing you need is to have to update events and other information in two places.
Also, ask potential providers if their design team will work with you to design your app. Let them bring the technical and design expertise to the table, so your team isn’t burdened with that responsibility.
Finally, inquire about their customer service. Do they have a team who will provide you with a walkthrough of the administration console, so you know exactly how to manage the app?
What will this cost?
While cost shouldn’t be the first thing you consider when evaluating providers, it’s definitely a key factor. Ask about their pricing model. Do they offer pricing based off of church membership size thereby keeping it aligned with your church’s size and budget? Is their pricing one-size-fits-all?
Find out if they charge a setup fee in addition to monthly charges. You’ll also want to know if you have to sign a contract for a set period or if you can cancel at any time. If they offer a free trial, that’s certainly a huge benefit.
Using a mobile app can be a helpful ministry tool for your church. Selecting an app provider doesn’t have to be complicated. As you begin your search, use this list of essential features to help you evaluate each potential provider.