The App Your Ministry Should Consider Building
It is no secret that web traffic is going mobile. Seeing this shift, you might be tempted to look into developing an app for your church or campus ministry. For the most part, though, it really is not worth it.
Most of the functionality a church would be looking for can be accomplished through a well-done responsive site. If you really need people to see your logo on their phone and be able to get to your content with one click, teach them how to create a mobile bookmark on their home screen.
So, if not a mobile app, what are we talking about?
The first smart TVs came preloaded with apps, but the user had no ability to add or delete items. Now, most people access the internet through plug-and-play external devices that access the major app stores.
The most affordable is the Amazon Fire Stick, which retails at $39 (as of September 2015), but you will often see it on sale for less. It has access to the Amazon Appstore and is built on a foundation familiar to Android developers. The flashier option is the new Apple TV, which will be available in October 2015 starting at $149. As they proclaim in the product marketing:
“It’s all about apps… developers are creating experiences that will change what you expect from your big screen, making your TV feel as personal as your iPhone or iPad.”
It is important to note that if you do consider creating an app for TVs, you are not creating the same kind of app you would use on a phone. You are not recreating your mobile site. You are creating an experience tailored to the TV.
- Obviously, this is going to be very video heavy. We use our TVs to watch video–not listen to audio programs or read long passages of text.
- TV watching can also be a shared in-person experience. It is uncomfortable for a group of people to huddle around a laptop much less a phone, so we just post funny things to each others’ walls and watch them on our own devices. But we have all had the experience of watching TV with family and friends.
- TV apps offer the option of both live and on demand. Events like big games or awards shows bring in live viewers, while DVR and streaming has allowed us to time-shift our viewing of other programs.
- We also tend to engage for longer periods of time with our TVs. Mobile apps are things we drop in and out of quickly, but we sit with our TVs for entire movies or TV episodes–not to mention binge watching!
What got me thinking about this topic was the Social Media Church Podcast’s brief wrap-up of the recent Apple announcement. One of the co-hosts, Jay Kranda, is the Online Pastor for Saddleback Church, and he said that they have already discussed developing an app for Apple TV. They currently have one for Amazon Fire.
As you can see from the screenshot above, their app focuses on streaming live worship and providing video archives. I can see this providing other types of content as well. Imagine if you created video-based small group curriculum that anyone can access week-to-week and lead a group.
Obviously, with all new tech, we have to see how people use it. We also need to think theologically about those uses. For example, while I understand how valuable online/streaming church can be from an outreach perspective, I am deeply invested in the incarnational aspect of being present in worship with the gathered community (and the leaders being there in person).
It goes without saying that most ministries are going to have to hire someone or a company to put it together. It will also require an investment to create regular video content and/or live streaming. So, there will need to be discussion and discernment about whether the investment is wise and necessary for type of ministry God is calling you to lead and the people God is calling you to reach.
However, the context of the TV is different from our phones and tablets. The on-the-go nature of mobile can easily be covered by a good mobile site, but with a TV app you have the opportunity to craft a unique experience.
Pre-Publish Update: After this post was written but before it went live, the Social Media Church Podcast tackled Apple TV for the church head-on in a full episode. While the majority of what they talked about is covered in the themes and points above, I still encourage you to check out the 20-minute episode here: https://overcast.fm/+BBNxuX8bA. In addition, at the end of the episode, they announced that they are working on a way for all churches to be able to have their own Apple TV app easily and affordably. Likely, this will take the form of a customizable template, but you can subscribe to their mailing list and watch their website for details.