Are Mobile Apps Really the Right Direction for Churches/Ministries

MMM on the N8 - Share on OviIt is a very common topic these days to talk about mobile applications and whether they are good, bad, and the myths around them. And around some company, they really are the best thing since sliced bread.

Even with¬†the reality of mobile application use, I wonder about the push the “get a mobile app” button. There are a few too many questions that aren’t asked, and when they are, the conversations gets a bit interesting. In some cases, the conversations revolve around a specific platform or application/service delivery method, and this always gets away from the primary focus of engaging people with the Gospel, using the technology as a relevant tool not just for the Gospel, but other parts of their lives.

Over at Youth Ministry, there was a discussion stating 21 reasons why a church or ministry needs a mobile application. It has a many good points for mobile engagement and mobile apps. Here’s a reposting of my comment made for that piece:

I agree that ministries need to use mobile tech in ways to engage and communicate, I don’t agree that you [always] need an app to do it.

(1) Application development (as has been talked about in the comments here) is expensive unless you are using a turn-key solution such as Nokia’s Ovi App Wizard

(2) At that point, its free, but you are merely just repeating what’s on your website [by using RSS feeds] – and now you’d be doing this for every mobile platform represented in your congregation [103 app stores, 6-7 major mobile platforms].

(3) Most people *do not* own a smartphone – there are 6 major smartphone platforms they could be using [and over 100 app stores] – and unless their parent’s are really nice with getting into app stores without supervision, you’ll have to figure out the best means to promote your application which costs you time and more money.

(4) Going the route of taking your existing website, and making it mobile-friendly (use a service like mobify.me, or if you already are using a blog/CMS like WordPress, Typepad, etc., there are plugins for those platforms). If you haven’t made your church’s site mobile-friendly, or at least made it appear nice in a Google Local search, ¬†then you don’t need an app as much as you just need to make your content findable.

(5) Mobile interactions aren’t the same as PC; therefore you need to decide what you are going after with mobile. If it is just communications, do you need a mobile app/website, or just SMS and MMS. SMS/MMS isn’t just less expensive, but its already understood, costs less for the user/receiver, and offers faster and better response rates than other forms of communication

(6) Maybe you are under the assumption that they will sit on a mobile and wait for a downloaded song or sermon; nope. These items are usually downloaded while at a PC and then sideloaded to the mobile device. [In cases where connectivity isn’t as easy, people swap memory cards to exchange content rather than doing it wirelessly.]

(7) Social networks are already mobile-friendly, and your youth are already there; why not just engage them there, and use the mobile as another window for you and them to communicate and connect. Create wallpapers and ringtones specific to your ministry and post them a Facebook/MySpace and encourage them to download and share them with others. Heck, go really ahead of the game and use QR codes and multimedia as an alternative to handing out tracts. This is mobile too.

Don’t get me wrong, apps are good. But, when looking to engage folks with mobile, you’ve got to look at not just what seems popular, but what is actually going to work. I ask and experiment in this space often, and can tell you that there’s no silver bullet. As with anything engaging in media, you’ve got to use several methods, not just the loudest ones.

Definitely check out the rest of the comments at Youth Ministry; they are insightful from several perspectives and prescriptive of some of the matters that a church/ministry should consider if going the application route.

Also, take with you the understanding that a mobile application (or website, or social network) is not a strategy. It is a tool that is part of your strategy for engaging and communicating with communities. Take to heart our definition of mobile ministry – the behavior of ministry is bolstered by the tools for the cause of the Gospel.