The big promise of apps is that they’ll promote themselves. Just by getting your church or ministry into the iTunes store, or the Google Play, millions of users will magically come to find, use and enjoy your app. And based on research showing increased media consumption by app users, and longer user engagement why wouldn’t you?
The untold story is the friction of 500,000+ apps in the iTunes store and the noise they make as they’re looking for installs. A simple search for “church” in an app store (for example at Google Play) gives results for church organ apps, church bingo, guitar chords, poker… and that’s just the first page. Apart from celebrity mega-churches, and directly searching your church name, getting found in the app store is going to significantly limit your install base.
The Walled Garden Effect
A native app, no matter how well designed, requires visiting an app store, finding the app, and downloading the app. It doesn’t matter how simple you make the QR code or easy the bit.ly link is; unless a user regularly attends your church, or consumes your content elsewhere, they’re unlikely to find and install your app. So, if the content provided in the app isn’t easily accessible without installing an app, you’ve built a walled garden protecting (and limiting) your content, that’s just for your insiders.
Instead ministries should consider building on the platform that’s preinstalled on every mobile device and can be found on Google, shared on Facebook, and sent in an SMS message. The web is the ultimate platform for mobile; a URL needs no explanation or installation, works on the desktop and mobile, and can point to every piece of content your ministry has ever published. It might not seem as glamorous as an app store, but the web reaches the people where they’re at. Your mobile strategy might end up looking a lot like your current site, or just enhancing with CSS media queries, or a custom mobile site.
Whatever decision you make, mobile is just a methodology for communicating the Gospel. It’s not the only way, it’s not the best way, it’s a way. Don’t be fooled by slick marketing or articles, you don’t need an app. You need to equip people to go out on mission with the Gospel. Do it in the best way you can.