2012 Resolution #1: An App is Not A Strategy

Welcome to 2012 and Mobile Ministry Magazine (MMM). Since 2004, we’ve talked a lot about this intersection of faith and mobile technology and how this has often looked like applications. We’ve talked about the good and bad about these applications, what has improved, and what still isn’t being touched. And yet there’s there is a pervasive resolution that I think you should endear to any mobile ministry efforts for 2012: an application is not a strategy.

We’ll summarize how we come to such a conclusion in this article. Some of these concepts have been covered before, other parts not yet in enough depth to give you a means to continue. But don’t worry, as we encourage you to step into 2012 with your mobile ministry efforts, the goal of this article is that you address mobile ministry as a spoke in a larger wheel of your efforts, no matter where you are in the chain.

This article focuses specifically on these points:

  • What is Mobile Ministry?
  • What are the specific areas in which mobile has addressed a ministry context?
  • Is there anything consistently applicable across those areas of mobile ministry?
  • If applications are part of the solution, what else is there?
  • What are some resources for applying these points?

What is Mobile Ministry

Mobile ministry is the application of mobile devices, services, and/or experiences for the purposes of forwarding ideals and characteristics of a faith movement.

Mobile computing has a market-led definition (portable, cellular and/or WiFi-enabled computing devices which have screen sizes between 2.2 and 5in, and have some form of primary input that is not mediated by accessory-attached mice/keyboards). We take the stance that mobile computing devices can include any portable computer that is not designed specifically as a clothing accessory.

Mobile services include, but are not limited singular applications of cellular (voice, data, SMS, multimedia), Internet (browsing, email, IM, VoIP, Wi-Fi, GPS), and applications (including the tools to create and distribute, API structures/protocols, development standards/practices, etc.).

Ministry is defined as any activity which forwards the ideals and characteristics of a faith movement, that may be personally motivated, community organized, and/or governmentally implemented.

This definiton is intentionally not grounded on any one religion/faith, and has been [slightly] refined from its more academic-correct beginnings. Discussions towards refining this further should be a part of any conversations brokering mobile as useful in ministry contexts.

Specific Areas of Ministry Applied in Mobile
Over the course of seven years, MMM has observed six specific applications of mobile technology within ministry contexts. This doesn’t mean that there are not, or could not be others. Within these six areas, we have identified unique approaches combining devices, services, and/or experiences which create avenues for personal, media, and cultural transformation through faith-binding activities.

These six areas are as follows:

We will further define and illustrate these areas throughout 2012. Please refer to former articles and presentations on this subject in order to see some of the progression of these ideas. We will endeavor to link to articles tagged with these topics in order to best consolidate the discussion on this site towards these points.

Layers of Mobile
We are careful not to simply define mobile in the context of devices or development. There are three components which encompass the mobile environment which all need to be considered and included within the context that is mobile computing:

  • Devices
  • Services
  • Experiences

We will further define these areas beyond our initial exploration of these throughout 2012. Please refer this article/document for a direct linking to that discussion.

Applications and Beyond
It should be clear within what we’ve explained so far that defining mobile ministry strictly or specifically in the context of downloadable applications is incomplete. Applications are only a part of the usable toolkit for mobile within ministry endeavors. Streams in which mobile can be developed/sold/applied within ministry contexts include:

  • Software Applications
  • Hardware Applications
  • Voice Services
  • Video/Audio (Streaming, Downloads, Sharing, etc.)
  • Text (SMS, language transcription, etc.)
  • Downloadable/Streaming Media (APIs, content libraries, etc.)
  • Mixed Media (creation, distribution, specifications, etc.)
  • Security
  • Reporting
  • Personalization

We will further define these areas throughout 2012.

Resources for Moving Forward

Conclusions: An App is not a Strategy, But…
We will not debate the point that for many endeavors, the first door that mobile will open is that through an application store. However, the first door seen is not the only door available. Depending on what it is you are developing, offering, or enabling, an application might not be the best point of entry.

For 2012, consider your opportunities and challenges within ministry, and whether mobile is the best route. If it is, then you will want to start looking at where you sit in terms of those areas of mobile, and then whether you are targeting devices, building a service, or managing an experience. After that point, it becomes clear how you should approach mobile. It may very well be that you do need an application – but now it will have a specific target, you can begin planning and setting up your team and content appropriately. If it means you need to outsource the development of your mobile solution, you do so with knowledge of more than simply “make it work on this device.”

At the intersection of faith and mobile technology, what are you pointing towards? In 2010, don’t let your strategy (or lack of one) turn mobile into a dead-end for your effort.