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Church: There’s an app for that

By Jeremy Steele

With the Apple store crossing the million-app mark this year, there truly is an app for almost everything. Along the way, many churches have jumped on the app bandwagon, offering everything from donations to podcasts.  

Staking your ground on the home screen of smartphones in your congregation definitely has appeal. Let’s take a moment to look at the options for using the smartphone to communicate with your parishioners.

Do you need an app? (mobile websites)

Though your first instinct may be to Google “church apps,” you may have a much less expensive option already in place through your current website. Many website solutions have attractive mobile versions that can look strikingly close to what people will see when they fire up the average custom-built church app.

Before you hire a developer, check out your website on a smartphone and ask, “What do I need from an app that I am not getting from our website?” If the only need you discover is a desire to have an icon on the home screen, look no further.  

All major mobile platforms have a way to save a link to a website that looks like an app icon. You can find great instructions online on how to do this on iPhones and Androids. Simply adding those instructions to your site might solve all your problems for free.

You might also decide that although your church doesn’t need an overall app, a single-event app like the one The United Methodist Church produced for General Conference might enhance the experience of your upcoming conference or retreat.

Apps on the cheap (template-based solutions)

Whether you just want something in the app store or you have an audience who would really appreciate this form of communication, the first step will probably be looking at the template-driven providers like iBuildApp, ChurchApp or Roar.  

These sites generally give you prefab tools and widgets that allow you to plug in contact information, podcast feeds and content from your website. Depending on your level of service, you can even add premium features such as online (in-phone) giving and more.  

These solutions can cost as little as $10 a month. The downside to many of these solutions is the mobile website feel. Sometimes, there is no discernible difference between browsing your mobile site and firing up the app.

The sky’s the limit (custom-designed apps)

You get what you pay for, and if you’re willing to pay, you can get whatever you want … from a slick online-giving interface branded with your church’s logo to custom-animated transitions, textable invitations and more. All you need is money.  

Start by hiring someone you know or using something like The United Methodist Church’s My UMC App. Although the upside is limitless creativity, the downside is that you can count on starting any conversation about a custom app at a minimum $1,000.

No matter what you choose, allowing people to access your church via smartphones is a must in the digital age.