Church App Checklist: What features do you need?
A mobile app can be a wonderful benefit to the church and the community it serves. Apps enable the church to reach beyond Sunday morning and far beyond the four walls and interact with the community anytime, anywhere. We have seen cases where the number of those using the app, far exceeds church membership. This usually occurs when the congregation begins sharing the app, a favorite sermon, a blog post or daily devotional with a friend. Or perhaps it is as simple as a FaceBook or Twitter post from the app.
We are not here to convince you of the need to go mobile. If you are reading this document, then you are well past that stage. Most churches understand they need to go mobile, they just don’t know how. Therefore, we have written this guide in plain english (no technical talk) to be used as a checklist of features, functionality and use cases you should be considering when going mobile. It will help you understand what is possible and then determine what is right for your church.
As you go through the list below you are going to start to understand the power and possibilities of mobile. When you are done, I believe you will conclude that mobile needs to be woven into the DNA of your church.
A word of caution. As you read through the possibilities you are going to be saying to yourself, YES, I WOULD LOVE TO BE ABLE TO DO THIS but …… how much does it cost. That is the beauty behind BuildFire. The hard work has already been done. We’ve implement solutions for thousands of churches. You can see all the functionality below working in a live on a BuildFire app. Just download “The Vertical Church” on iTunes or on Google Play or go to our website and play with a live web version. So for now just imagine the possibilities and when you’re done reading, let’s talk!!
So let’s get started ……
An absolute must for any mobile platform. A statistical discussion is beyond the scope of this document, but it should suffice to say that study after study indicates giving increases when a mobile solution is offered. It really is intuitive – when people are thinking about giving, provide them the tools to do so at that moment. Implementing a mobile solution is very easy, especially if you have a mobile friendly giving page on your website. If not, it very inexpensive to change it. No need for any fancy mobile giving software, simply import the web view from your website into your phone. When done right, it will provide the user with a very nice giving experience.
Another one of those “must haves” in a mobile solution. To begin with, it saves money. How much do those Sunday morning bulletins cost? What if you could print 50% or 80% less? What if there was a last minute sermon change? How about all that material printed for retreats, bible studies, etc. Sermon notes is not just for sermons, they work for any seminar or meeting. Some churches attach follow-on bible study material to a sermon. On the user side, let’s face it, these notes might last a week or two before they are thrown out. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a place to electronically take personal notes while in church or in your Bible study, then store the notes in a private place for future reference, bookmark your favorite notes and be able to search for past notes based upon keywords, etc? Make sure if you are going to implement a sermons note solution that your mobile solution is optimized for tablet use. Most people using this functionality will do so on their iPad or Android tablet.
An absolute must! Push notes have a 97% read rate!. There are many use cases, but the most valuable are those where you need to reach out and alert people now. A change in a starting time, a cancelled service (a favorite in snow country), a last minute special event, change in Easter service times, a special Good Friday service reminder, etc.. I recall visiting a church where they were expressing disappointment with the attendance at a hastily planned weeknight event. A great guest speaker was in town and they were unable to contact enough of the congregation through email (less than 10% read rate). There are many features to push functionality but one that is key for churches – Groups. The ability to target groups within the church … you don’t want the entire congregation receiving a notification regarding the women’s ministry.
Daily Devotional/Daily Scripture
A fantastic way to reach out to the congregation; send something inspirational each day. Tie it into the weekly sermon. If you lack the time and resources to do this manually, simply automate …. there are a number of free services that provide messaging that can be automatically updated in the app each day. Find a service you are comfortable with, set it up once and let it run.
Play video recordings of Sermons
For those that can’t make it on a Sunday, are traveling, or perhaps were inspired and want to hear it again (you should be so lucky). Yes, I know sermons are on your website but people today are mobile. They want to watch from their bed, in the back yard, while waiting for a plane, etc. I recall sitting beneath a park tree with my wife while on vacation listening to a sermon from our home church posted earlier that morning. People will share the sermon through the app … “hey … check out this sermon.” If you record your sermons this is a must have and very easy to do. Most churches use YouTube or Vimeo to post their sermon. If so, this functionality is easy to implement. From then on, just update Vimeo or YouTube and your app automatically is updated at the same time.
Play audio recordings of Sermons
This one is more important than video. People love to listen while exercising, walking the dog, in the car, etc. There are a million use case. What is real important for audio …. Make sure the audio player in your app works in “background mode.” In other words, when the app is closed, the audio player still works. Otherwise, every time your app shuts off, you will lose the audio; eliminating 90% of the potential use cases. Seems simple, but many app solutions do not work in background mode.
You can have one or many calendars…i.e. One for each ministry or just one comprehensive church calendar. If you maintain an online calendar(s) through Google, Microsoft, etc., you should find a solution that permits app calendars to update automatically from your existing online calendars. No need to manually maintain and update separate calendars. If you choose to integrate a calendar solution, make sure it provides the ability for users to add church events to their personal calendar with a simple “click.” It is nice to be able to periodically peruse the church calendar and add events of interest to my personal calendar. In addition to the date and time, make sure your calendar solution provides for location information (address) to enable mapping and directions functionality. With all of this, you will be able get a reminder of event on your phone along with driving directions and estimated time you should be leaving your current location to arrive on time. That should certainly increase attendance for any event!
Home groups/Bible study times and locations
By posting addresses of these groups (along with phone, pictures, descriptions, etc. if you choose) you can make it easy for people to find a group near them. The phone’s GPG function will show a map of where they are in relation to all the groups around them. Find one you like, click on the map to get directions and/or click on the phone number or email to inquire.
An easy call and very easy to implement. Your congregation will now have access to the Bible, anytime, anywhere. There are many on-line Bibles, pick one and use a web-view to enable this on your mobile solution.
Contact Us/Find the Church
Similar to Home Groups above. You can have a listing of all church staff organized by ministry, alphabetical, etc. Include addresses, pictures, phone numbers, emails, etc. The nice thing about a mobile app is the integration with the phone’s technology for GPS mapping, locations, driving directions, emails, calling etc. ….. as simple as a click and contact. An important note for larger church campuses – make sure you have the capability to provide detailed campus mapping. If looking for the administrative building, the address alone will not be enough. You will need the ability to specifically identify a location on your campus. This is a great on-campus feature for users to easily identify where they are in relation to the Administration Building, Children’s Ministry, Sanctuary, Bookstore, etc.
Public social walls
Men’s & women’s ministries, high school, etc. can all have separate chat walls. These social walls have a variety of uses. Some churches use them as prayer walls, others to allow the congregation to post comments on fun events they have attended, pictures, reminders, encouragement, etc.. We have seen a number of cases where people have reached out for help using either these public or private (see below) walls. It is amazing to see how people respond to those in need. In any case, you should be able to have as many of these walls as your church size warrants. If you implement these social walls, make sure your app requires user registration before they can post to walls and your solution provides an administration panel that enables you to lock out anyone posting inappropriate comments.
Private chat with the church
Some churches like to provide members the ability to chat privately 1X1 with the church. This might be a private prayer wall, someone reaching out for counseling, etc. This is a “many to one” chat feature where anybody with the app (many) can post a private message to the church administration (one) and the church can reply back privately as well.
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Church Blog Posts
If you maintain a blog, this is a must. Very easy to integrate into your app via RSS feed. Feeds come in directly from your website into the app, it’s that simple. The good thing about a mobile blog is …. people may actually read it. When you post a new article, send out a push message letting the congregation know there is new material to read. Perhaps add a teaser … preview of what is coming this Sunday. In any case, it is an opportunity to engage and minister during the week.
You have a bookstore, selling study material, etc.? Make it available through the app. An upcoming study series …. remind them to purchase materials through push notification and allow them the purchase using the app. This can be done very cost effectively with existing online solutions like Shopify, WooCommerce, etc.. When you settle on a mobile solution make sure you can integrate with an E-Commerce solution. Alternatively, you may already have a mobile friendly E-Commerce site that will work well with a simple web-view.
Sharing the App
It is about sharing your faith so make sure you have this functionality. The ability to send and email, text, etc. with a link to download the app. The link can accompany any message you like. “Hey … check out my church and listen to the sermon last Sunday; it was awesome!!!” I know many people who encourage their children who are at college or moved away to stay engaged with their “home church” on the app.
Sharing on Social Media
Similar to share the app. Make sure people can sign into your app using Facebook and Twitter. Provide them with messaging and graphics that they can easily be posted their their Facebook and Twitter accounts telling them about their great church!. The user can of course create their own message, but pre-templated messages provided by the church make it easier and you control the message. Think about including a short video in the message. Can you imagine the entire congregation sharing this on their Facebook and Twitter accounts; how many people would see this video? You will grow the congregation and likely find you have followers who are not even in your geographic area but like your sermons, blog posts, music, etc.
Youth Attendance Rewards
This one is a bit different but very cool. A twist on Loyalty and Reward functionality built into some app solutions. All kids have smartphones; so engage with them. Set up an attendance based reward system where, based upon attendance, they earn points towards rewards like a personal bible, church hat or tee shirt … the possibilities are endless. You just need a “check in” feature that is controlled by youth staff and a tracking method. Most loyalty based programs can do this.
If your church offers counseling or other appointment based services, this one might be right for you. This provides the ability for users to view your calendar and set an appointment. No worries here, they can’t see your personal calendar, just a calendar where you have identified times when appointments are available. You can also limit the amount of time that can be booked … only one 15 minute spot can be booked at a time. This is an easy one to implement. There are a number of free or relatively inexpensive third party solutions that can provide this functionality, just make sure your app can integrate with the one you choose.
How many forms are filled out each year at your church? Let’s pass on listing all the possible examples and just say it is a lot. Wouldn’t it be nice to have all these forms completed and submitted electronically? It is super cheap and very easy to integrate into a mobile app. Take a look at the options and pre-formatted templates available from Google forms, JotForms, TypeForms, to get some ideas. If forms is a need, make sure your app can integrate with the solution you choose. Also, make sure your mobile solution is optimized for tablet use. Most people using this functionality will do so on their iPad or Android tablet.
Polls, Surveys, RSVPs
Want feedback of any type, try a service like PollDaddy; they even have a free service. It is easily integrated into mosts apps. The point with mobile is that you can reach people and request feedback in real time, wherever they are. Send a push notice and ask for immediate feedback. Better than sending an email, waiting for them to get in front of their computer, hoping they read it (or it gets past the spam filter), further hoping they go to the survey website and then waiting and see if you get a response.
Encourage the congregation to be registered. Many states have an online process. Create an interface on your phone, it is easy. On election day, send out a push message reminding the congregation to fulfill their civic duty.
Multiple Ministries on a single App
I see many churches with multiple apps. I saw one recently that had a High School app, another for Jr. High, a music ministry app, a men’s group app, a separate one just for sermon notes. Yikes!!! … what a maintenance nightmare and talk about confusing the congregation. With advanced folder capability (keeping each ministry within their own folder) and the Group Push functionality we discussed earlier, a single app should be able to provide for each of these ministries and/or functions. These capabilities should even provide for multiple campuses on a single app as well. There is no need for multiple apps.
Listen to Christian Radio
There are a lot of great Christian radio stations that broadcast over the internet. Stream their broadcast through the app. Give the congregation a few stations to listen to while on the go, in the car, walking the dog, etc. The app provides them with mobile access.
What do you think? Could your church benefit from a mobile solution? Have questions, want to explore more possibilities or just get started? Click here to set a 15 minute appointment with one of our church experts here at Buildfire.