A few years ago, we looked at several mobile trends for pastors and thought it time to update some of what was discussed. In that past article we broke down those trends into three categories (devices, services, and experiences) and will take a similar approach into updating our viewpoints. The hope is that you'll get a better grasp of the technologies and behaviors that can empower ministers in 2015 and beyond.
Mobile Trend #1: Devices
If you were to listen to a lot of media today, you'd think that there were only smartphones and tablets. And to a large extent, there is over-riding preference for those devices. However, it's where smartphones and tablets land in 2015 that might offer surprise.
Smartphones & “Phablets”
On the smartphone side, it's very hard to say that the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus aren't preferred devices. From a fashion and functional sense, there's little that the iPhone cannot do. And at the same time, we are talking about a device that has grown up in size to be more like it's “phablet” counterparts [According to WikiPedia, “A phablet (/ˈfæblɪt/) is a class of mobile device designed to combine or straddle the form of a smartphone and tablet.] – the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and LG G3. The large phone theme is here for a while longer. However there's no clear winner between iPhone and Android devices until you start talking about accessories (that's where Apple's focus on the iPhone wins handily).
More than a Tablet
It would seem like tablets are an easier point in this discussion. The iPad (Mini and Air) have been the standard-bearer since the 1st iPad's introduction. There's very little to say otherwise, until you need a bit more. The Microsoft Surface Pro 3 is where “when you need more” gets met with a hearty amen. With its ability to easily take on accessories such as external drives, keyboards (that Type Cover, ooh), and a size that's laptop-comfortable (12in touchscreen), its going to continue to play a point in the decision process for many. The price isn't the same as the iPad – the Surface costs more by more than a little – but what you are able to do from a hardware and software perspective might be worth it. The Surface Pro 3 will garner several looks – and a number of folks purchasing accessories to make their iPad (Mini or Air) match the functionality held by default here.
Lastly, the category-du-jour: wearables. Whether we are talking about smartwatches (the Pebble, Moto 360, LG's G-Watch R, or Sony's Smartwatch 3) or activity trackers (FitBitCharge/Charge HR, Jawbone Up, Polar Loop/M400, Garmin Vivosmart, Misfit Shine, and several others), the wrist is the place where ambient computing seems to be making landfall. The challenge with smartwatches so far has been battery life. The challenge with activity trackers has been richer-notifications and app support. Including Apple's upcoming entrant, there's some considerable activity in this space worth keeping wrists tuned to – and for the pastor that does – leveraging those activity communities to spur more motion when out and about will be just as significant as what and and where it is being worn.
Mobile Trend #2 Services
Let's start with what hasn't changed from 2013: Bible study software such as Logos, OliveTree, Accordance, etc. are still here. Outside of a few efforts like MAF's Estante and YouVersion's Bible App for Kids, there isn't so much new as much as there's just some polish on the formula.
Social networking still seems to begin and flow with and around Facebook and Twitter. However, the rise in issues related to security, identity, and expression have made efforts such as Open Garden's Firechat appear as better solutions when beyond domestic sharing efforts. Videos and imaging are the main drivers for content in the social media space, with Instagram and YouTube being as vocal as ever. Vevo, Vimeo, Snapchat, Kik, and others will continue to carve out followings, but the groups on those platforms will move as soon as mainstream acceptance and use hits them.
Collaboration and Productivity
On the side of collaboration and productivity, I've been hearing and seeing a lot more people pay attention to Microsoft's Office 365 offerings. While I'm sure a good bit of that has to do with the familiarity of the offering, Office 365 does seem to have a good chance to be the default online office of many ministries, with their CRM (customer relations management) systems and IT policies needing to play nicer with Microsoft and each other. I do see a falling away from Google Apps for some to Microsoft, but only for those not as cost-conscious.
Lastly, mobile giving is pretty much here to stay. The only question is how fast will churches evolve. The issue isn't so much with mobile, nor with services, it with transaction fees and ease of use. Services such as Givelify seem to be pointing in the right direction – as do several SMS payment vendors. The challenge here is behavior, and if anything is going to change, its going to have to be the pastors starting to give using Apple Pay, Google Wallet, and text-to-give to show what's possible. It's this or else the only way forward for the mobile giving trend will be in donations and the few countries who already have critical mass in mobile payments.
Mobile Trend #3 Experiences
When we last looked at trends, we talked about mobile experiences being defined in three ways: personal connector, communications's engine, and magic wand. For 2015, we will continue to see these expressions of mobile fleshed out – with some added regional flair. For the pastor wanting and willing to connect, mobile has to be treated equally along these lines.
In connecting personally, the pastoral service trend of being as close as a text (or group) message will continue. But, pastors need to be aware of what they are communicating, and how that message is out of their control once the message goes out. Teaching and observing boundaries will be vital.
As a communications engine, mobile has taken some of the guess-work around who the pastor needs to connect with and how. I'm hopeful this is the year pastoral conferences use mobile more than paper business cards and flyers (richer information and granular connections).
I think its safe to say that pastors get that the mobile can be a magic wand. From controlling a projector through a Chromecast during bible study, to using the mobile to become their own video-blogger, its clear the mobile has become as necessary as a bible for many pastors. I don't think we'll see new uses of mobile from pastors until battery life gets better, but I do think the addition of wearables to the mobile experience will allow some pastors to be in the moment rather than attentive to the ding of the mobile device.
So, that's what 2015 aims to look like for pastors and leadership engaging mobile ministry. As with any projections, these are just trends, not instructions. Its up to you (pastor) to create the spaces in which God's creative spark allows for these tools and experiences to tether people to a fuller, maturing relationship with Him.