Smartphone apps have been the rage since Apple first introduced its App Store in 2008. Plenty of technology businesses solely rely on custom apps to engage with users. So it’s only natural for churches to begin creating apps, too.
That begs the question: are apps worth it for churches? Should we invest the time and money into creating a smartphone app that might go viral, or be completely ignored?
There are real pros and cons to creating and maintaining a smartphone app for your church or ministry. Let’s delve into both sides, beginning with a few reasons why an app likely isn’t the best solution for you.
4 reasons you don’t need a church app
It’s tempting to spin up an app for your church. They’re easier to create than ever and it seems like a technological win for a ministry. However, your default should be skepticism towards custom app development for these primary reasons.
1. Your website has you covered
If you’ve taken the time to create a decent church website, you’ve already covered most of the features an app provides—especially information about your church, directions to the building, and the ability to watch recent sermon videos.
What if you don’t already have these pieces on your website? What if your website isn’t usable on mobile devices? An app still isn’t the right answer. Instead, you should focus on improving your website. Basic information and mobile responsiveness are expectations for all websites. Your website should be able to cover almost everything a basic app can do.
Besides, your website is more focused on new visitors compared to a mobile app. Potential new guests can (hopefully) visit your website easily, but they’re not likely to download another app to their phone just for a one-time visit. Apps are much more focused on engaging existing members with features that just aren’t already available on your website.
2. You don’t have the time
Church app providers boast about how easy their platforms are to maintain—and this might be legitimately true. However, they do take time and some education to continue uploading new content and keep the information up to date.
Regardless of what your role is at your church, you’re likely overworked. That’s true for full-time, part-time, and volunteer workers. You likely have too many responsibilities and too little time. So ask yourself if you have the time to add another set of tasks to your plate every week.
Don’t assume that someone else is going to handle the app—because they’re overwhelmed just like you. They also don’t have the margin to upload the weekly sermon video or troubleshoot that new bug. Some of these tasks may even be automated by the software company, but it still takes time and effort to create and maintain a worthwhile ministry app—time you may not have to spare.
3. Your budget is better spent elsewhere
Time isn’t the only cost involved with building a custom church app. The other cost is in dollars and cents. Many church-specific app companies offer apps starting at about $50-100 per month. That may even be a price your church can pay. But that’s also the bottom end of the spectrum—creating a completely custom app is likely to cost more in the range of $100,000.
Ministries have notoriously skinny budgets and therefore have to be wise in how that money is spent. That $50-100 per month might be better repurposed to improving your website, boosting social media posts, or on a helpful digital tool like the Adobe Creative Cloud.
Ultimately, what you have to consider is the value you’re getting out of creating a church app. What unique feature is your congregation able to gain that they can’t get elsewhere? Because the truth of the matter is—most church-goers don’t typically use your app anyway.
4. People don’t tend to use them
If you announce a new mobile app at your church, you’re likely to be met with some initial excitement. It’s new and shiny, so people will likely download the app to see how it looks. Then, they’ll likely never use it again.
Stats show that 90% of smartphone usage is focused on just someone’s top 5 apps. And those apps are almost always Facebook, YouTube, Gmail, or some of the most popular apps. The majority (60%) of apps in the Google Play store don’t even have a single download.
So after you’ve poured all of that time, energy, and money into this app, it might not even be used. Or if it is, then it’s likely just by the same small group of church members. If you’re looking to reach new people, creating a ministry app isn’t your best bet.
3 reasons you might want a church app
There are certainly exceptions to these reasons. Megachurches like North Point, Elevation, and Hillsong all have apps that reach thousands of people globally. So what are some considerations for why your church might be in that same category?
1. If it provides a feature your website can’t
In 2008, Life Church in Edmond, Oklahoma created the YouVersion Bible app. Their goal was to invest in new technology to reach people with God’s word. It was a risky investment that most churches wouldn’t have been able to make, but it paid off.
As of 2021, the Bible app has been downloaded over half a billion times, offers more than 2,000 different translations in about 1,300 unique languages. Besides just reading scripture, it offers unique features like exclusive Bible reading plans and community connections.
The Bible app has been able to reach far beyond just a basic church website. It provides a unique and relevant value for millions of people. Even if your ministry doesn’t have that level of scale, you should consider developing an app only if you can provide this kind of value to people.
2. If you can reach beyond your congregation
Megachurches can primarily justify the cost and time of creating an app because they have more resources. However, they also have the capability of reaching a much wider audience than just the people who walk through their physical doors.
They’re able to cast a wider next with which digital platforms they invest in. By necessity, smaller and mid-sized churches have to be pickier about which technology they use. However, if you genuinely believe that you’re able to reach new people beyond your church—an app might legitimately be a worthy endevor.
How can you tell if this is the case? You’ll start to see this in the content you’re already sharing on other platforms. In other words, do you have people from other states and countries visiting your website? Are your social media posts getting high levels of engagement in the community? As you start to see those things occur on other channels first, then you can think about creating an app.
3. If church members use it
The stats show that most smartphone apps, especially from churches, aren’t used. But that doesn’t mean you won’t be the exception. If you’re providing a unique value to a large group of people, then the numbers should reflect that.
Thankfully, many of the church app providers include tracking analytics on their platforms. You’re able to see the number of downloads and monthly active users. If you already have an app, you’ll want to ensure that these numbers are rising or at least staying steady.
If you’re considering creating a new app, there’s another way to see if people might use it—ask them. Create a church-wide poll and collect some feedback directly from your congregation. Inquire what features they might use and which apps are already popular with them. The results shouldn’t decide for you but could give you a sense of the potential demand.
Does your church have an app? Are you thinking about creating one?