Why Amazon Go Is the Future of Church Technology

It’s the “coolest” new thing in the grocery industry right now. Just ponder the concept. You can head into the new Amazon Go store in Downtown Seattle, swipe your smartphone as you enter, pick up whatever you want, and head out the door.

You never swipe a credit card, hand over cash, or get a thrilling ride in a police car because you didn’t pay.

No long checkout lines. No temptation to pick up a copy of the National Enquirer.

Just pick up your food—and go!

Your receipt comes right to your phone when you walk outside the doors.
The Jetsons didn’t even have this.

Check out the video Amazon made to promote it.

But here’s the kicker: Amazon Go isn’t just a cool retail idea. It also represents the future of church technology.

Wait! What? No Lines?

After several years of anticipation, Amazon Go debuted in January to much fanfare. People lined up around the block to get in. The new store uses machine learning, computer vision, and artificial intelligence to automatically detect what shoppers put in their bags. Their account is charged automatically without them having to physically hand over payment.

Amazon says it has no intention of installing new stores elsewhere or selling its patented grab-and-go technology, but it’s hard to believe if the experiment succeeds the company won’t try to profit off the innovation. It’s a safe bet you’ll see this technology replicated in other retail stores in the next few years.

Why Amazon Go Is the Future of Church Technology

Your church may never need a grab-and-go technology that cuts down on long lines. Most local churches won’t have enough retail sales on their campus for this to make sense anytime soon. But this technology still provides a few clues about the direction church technology will go in the coming years.

This post explores two of those clues.

1. Your Technology Should be Invisible

When I was in high school, I spent a summer as a Little League umpire. Frankly, I was awful. My eyesight wasn’t great. My judgment was worse. One day, in the middle of a hotly contested game, there was a close play at first base. I couldn’t decide whether the runner was safe or out, but I knew I needed to sell the call to everyone. So, as loudly as I possibly could, I screamed, “You’re out.” Unfortunately, I made the arm motions of a safe call. Needless to say, I ticked off both teams and all the fans. That day I broke the cardinal rule of umpiring a baseball game. I became the story.

If you’re cognizant of an umpire in a baseball game, it’s likely because there’s a problem. Umpires should be invisible.

So should good tech. Technology that’s doing its job won’t be a conversation piece. People do not go to your church because they want to experience technology. They attend church because they want to worship God, build relationships, and be a part of something bigger than themselves. Technology’s purpose in your church is to help people participate in your church, not be the topic of conversation.

If people notice your technology, it’s likely because it doesn’t work effectively.

Technology should just work.

Most new technologies start out like I umpire baseball games: They’re clunky, bigger than you’d like, and generally stand out. The natural progression of technology should make it smaller, simpler, and easier to use. People expect this.

Enter Amazon Go. When you visit Amazon Go, you don’t have to think about it. You pick up what you want to buy, put it in your bag, and you go.

It’s invisible.

It’s easy.

It just works.

So should your church’s technology. People don’t download your mobile app because it’s cool. They download your app so they can give, watch your worship services, and engage your content. If it’s not simple and easy-to-use, they’ll dump your app. Or at least, they won’t use it.

2. Lead with Mobile

Amazon Go wouldn’t work if the company didn’t have a smartphone app. Your first action when walking into the store is to swipe your phone. Everything hinges on the smartphone.

Amazon has spent a lot of time, money, and effort throughout the years training its customers to engage them on a mobile-first basis. Typically, around 70 percent of Amazon’s holiday sales come through its mobile app. The Amazon app is easy-to-use and rarely crashes. That’s not by accident. When such a high percentage of your company’s sales come through a mobile app, you make sure it works. You don’t leave it to chance.

People spend five hours a day on their smartphones. 90 percent of that time is on a mobile app. But it’s not just the incredible usage of mobile technology that makes it so critical to your church’s future…

It’s that mobile will be your hub. In the past, a church’s hub was its building. If you wanted to increase participation (whether that means giving, worship attendance, Bible study, etc.), you had to get people through the front doors of your church.

That’s not true anymore. During a recent Pushpay webinar, Clay Scroggins noted that attendance had plateaued on North Point Community Church over the past few years, but giving, volunteering, and small group attendance were all up. Nearly every metric that the church traditionally used to measure the health of the organization had climbed.

But attendance was down.

As church participation continues to become more and more decentralized, your mobile app will be a glue that holds your congregation together. It’ll be on your app where most people will get information about how to plug in to what you’re doing. Many will choose to participate in worship services from a device—away from your church building and their house. The vast majority will give on a mobile device.

Your community expects more freedom to participate with you from afar than it would have just 20 years ago. To do that effectively, mobile is the key.

No, your church likely won’t have people walking out of services and dropping items into a virtual cart anytime soon. Again, there’s no need.

But take a good hard look at Amazon Go. Your church has a lot to learn from it.

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