Apps are an important part of product offerings for some Church Management Systems. They are the primary delivery system for other church related online services like payment processing, content delivery, and communication.
We've watched and been a part of the technology and church software market for a couple of decades now and have a different take. Even if you totally disagree, we thought it might be helpful to look at Apps from a different angle. Here are three perspectives that lead to our summary thoughts.
The Culture Perspective.
Thank you, Steve Jobs, for the iPhone! We love our mobile devices. It's hard to call them phones anymore because the phone is such a minor part of what we do with these devices. In fact, we do everything through our phones. Well maybe not everything, but you know what I mean.
If our local bank and restaurants have apps, why shouldn't our church? And why shouldn't our Church Management System? We want to communicate that we are in tune with the times and wouldn't an app be a great place to get our message out? It sure seems like it.
The Technical Perspective.
A mobile app is a unique product built to live "natively" on your mobile device. That means it is something that is downloaded, has to be updated and thus takes up time, attention and resources to manage. It is much more efficient and automated than back in the day when we hosted programs on our local computer, but technically it's the same concept.
Computer programs became cloud applications for a reason, but they had to go through the natively hosted stage first. In our opinion, phone apps represent this stage of innovation and, like computers did, will eventually give way to cloud-based applications.
The development of software languages and browsers that optimize websites and web applications for mobile are the leading indicators of the future. Plus, it just makes sense based on what we've already experienced with desktop and laptop software.
That's why, back in 2012 we chose to build our entire application on a mobile optimized platform. We didn't want to build new products for Apple and Google to link to the original application and then have to constantly upgrade user experiences on and data sharing between three products. It just makes sense to use the latest browser technology to give our clients the best of everything in one place.
The one advantage right now that a native application on the phone has over a cloud application is use of proximity services like bluetooth and near field communication. There could be some applications of this for church management like for taking people's attendance when they walk into your building or pushing notifications based on proximity. But, there are also privacy concerns that make some of this seem creepy and they've not been adopted yet. And by the time we solve those social problems, browsers will likely have the same functionality.
The Pragmatic Perspective.
As just mentioned, a mobile optimized web application is technically much simpler and cleaner to develop and maintain from a software architecture perspective. Similarly, though, there are some really practical things churches need to consider in using apps.
Website. Your website will always be your church's front door. Guests are NOT going to download another app on their phone to a church they are just barely considering. So, you can't abandon your website. Then a high percentage of your regulars are going to use your website for what they need as well. Adding a church app doubles the work for staff to manage the same information in two locations.
Promotion. Once your church goes all in on developing your own app or using a vendor's app for church management or other service, you now have the task of getting people to adopt it. Downloading an app becomes another activity competing for platform, bulletin, website and other promotional space. Often the hoped for solution becomes another competing demand. Here are a few stats we recently gleaned from a webinar put on by a church app company that may help you think through promotion goals.
- The industry standard for adoption is 40% active engagement in 6 months or your app promotion is a bust.
- Church apps are used less than 4 minutes per month.
- People download maybe 1 app per month.
Go Where People Already Are. We discovered way back when we were focused entirely on small groups that getting volunteers to respond consistently started by going where they already were. This is why we have invested so heavily in building features that embed custom links in emails and texts to take people right to the page they need to be on to do what you are asking them to do. Let the software do the hard work so that all people need to do is click a link to do what they are asked to do.
Save A Shortcut. People are so used to apps that they often overlook how easy it is to save a shortcut to any webpage on their home screen. We offer these instructions right on our login page. It is way easier to do than downloading an app and you still have a moveable tile on your mobile device home screen that can be manipulated just like any other link or app. Even many apps are little more than links to web pages.
How Many Apps Does A Church Need? It is interesting to see churches have separate apps for check-in, giving, Church Management, archive content access and their basic church app for week to week interaction. It sounds exciting from a tech app developers perspective, but what do you suppose the real adoption rate is for each of these?
Everybody uses email and text. These are the on-ramps to the Internet. Without them, you can't create accounts for any web or mobile application. They are not novel or fancy, just solid, dependable approaches to get where you want to go.
It's hard to get even 40% of your church to download an app or adopt a new technology. To us, this is not a battle worth waging. Instead, we build technology smart enough to use email and text to automatically capture needed information with a single click. Then, without a bunch of intermediary code put the data immediately into the one, central data repository from which your ministry feedback comes.
A case can be made in light of the culture to build a church app. Our recommendation with this is to be clear on the purpose of your app. Understand its relationship to your website. Be realistic on your expectations. And use a provider that is flexible enough to use Churchteams links for things like registrations and online giving. You can import data from other sources into Churchteams, but there is an easier way.