The Complete Guide to Church Apps

The Complete Guide to Church Apps

A church app are a vital part of a digital engagement strategy. 77 percent of all Americans now own smartphones. They spend an average of five hours per day on mobile devices—including more than four and a half hours on mobile apps. It’s no wonder thousands of churches use custom mobile church apps to engage their congregations before, during, and after their services. These unique apps allow them to extend their ministry beyond a physical campus by providing a digital hub for everything they do.

Giving. Teaching. Connecting. It’s all mobile now.

Custom apps were once a luxury for organizations that could afford a staff of developers. But people have come to expect apps for everything. And while today’s mobile apps are capable of far more functionality, they’re also much easier to create. When Apple launched the first App Store in 2008, there were only 552 apps. Now there are more than five million apps available across multiple app stores. In 2017, more than 500 million apps were downloaded every day.

If your church is thinking about joining the mobile revolution, there are some things you’ll want to know first. In this guide, we’ll walk you through everything your church needs to get up and running.

Here’s what we’re going to cover:

  • Key benefits of a church app
  • Essential church app features
  • How to tell if your church is ready for an app
  • How to increase engagement with your church app

Let’s get started.

5 Key Benefits of Church Apps

Every church app is unique. But churches tend to use them for the same handful of benefits. A good church website or giving kiosk can also provide most of these benefits, but no other giving solution can match the accessibility of an app—one tap takes people to everything they need, and apps have unique features that drive engagement.

1. Increased giving

Gifts given through a mobile app are higher on average than other online giving methods, including text-to-give. The average gift size through Pushpay’s mobile app is about $176.

Every year, fewer and fewer people carry cash and checks. But many churches still rely on passing the offering plate to make ends meet. As trustworthy as your ushers are, most people just aren’t comfortable passing around their credit card or bank account information.

Church apps provide a simple, secure way to give via credit card. With Pushpay, a first-time giver can donate to your church in seconds, and they can save their information to give even faster next time. About half of our customers also see a 75 percent increase in recurring giving within their first year—which means a lot more giving happens automatically.

church apps
Even when churches have already used another digital giving solution, switching to a church app increases giving. One of our customers even saw a 1,000 percent increase in giving after making the switch.

Plus, a church app saves so much time for staff members who have to sort through all the cash and checks every weekend, and it speeds up the year-end tax process. The time your church’s financial team saves and the increase in giving can make the app more than pay for itself.

2. Increased communication with your members

One of the problems churches often experience is digital drift. Between social media, email, and your church website, it’s easy for digital communication to become disorganized and unwieldy. People only get bits and pieces of information unless they follow and subscribe to every communication channel you have.

A church app centralizes and streamlines your digital conversation.

With a church app, people have a singular place to learn about events, prayer requests, and other pertinent information. And unlike the information on your website, your app isn’t static. Your congregation can share their own prayer requests, reserve their places at events, and interact with your content in other ways.

A church website is a library of information. A church app is more like a community.

You might think that if your website has blog posts, devotionals, sermons, videos, or social media, that meets your church’s digital communication needs. But an app provides more convenient access to that content than a website.

When people leave their homes, they bring three things: Their wallet, their keys, and their phone (soon the phone will negate the other two). The fact that people have their phone with them wherever they are means that throughout their day, they have more opportunities to catch up on the sermons that they’ve missed. This will help them get beyond a Sunday-only mentality and encourage them to stay engaged all week long.

3. Greater reach for your ministry

Apps don’t just increase your engagement with your congregation. A mobile app can make your church accessible to people outside your church, too. Here are just a few types of people an app equips you to engage.

  • People looking for a new church
    A church app is the simplest way to really get a read on a church’s culture. If a church has an app, people looking for a church can quickly see what kind of ministries are offered, check out their bulletins, read their blog, and listen to sermons. This is especially convenient for people who are new in town and looking for a church.
  • People who can’t get to church
    Have a hospitalized friend or family member? How about a senior who can’t get out too often? Parents with a new baby? A tablet loaded with your church app is a phenomenal way for them to participate in your church experience from where they are.
    When coupled with a robust visitation ministry, there’s no reason these people can’t feel like they are important and connected members of your congregation.
  • People who move away
    Sometimes people have to leave. Maybe they got a new job, left for college, or got married. Whatever the reason, people sometimes leave because they have to, not because they want to. A church app experience can help them stay connected to your community from wherever they are.
    They can still regularly support your ministry through mobile giving.
  • People who are serving as missionaries
    It can be hard for people serving in other cultures to feel connected to their own culture and church family. Your custom church app can help missionaries feel connected to your church community. It’s also a tool that they can use to minister to the community that they’re a part of now.
  • People who don’t know Jesus
    Think about all the people in your church whose loved ones have not discovered the living Christ. Getting them to download your app is a simple intermediate step to getting them to visit your church. They get to be exposed to your church and the message of grace, but they don’t have to endure the stress of actually attending until they’re ready.

4. Elevated visibility

On the internet, your website is out of sight and out of mind. Unless people need to visit it for a specific reason or stumble upon it in a Google search, there’s no reason for them to think about it.

When they do want to visit your site, they need to remember the URL, bookmark it, or search for it.

That’s not the case with an app.

Your church app lives on people’s phones, and it will stand out. Even if it doesn’t get a coveted place on someone’s home screen, it’s still visible every time they search their apps, offering quick, one-click accessibility to your church’s information and content. Not to mention, push notifications mean people don’t have to open your app before you can interact with them.

5. Better data

Data plays a vital role in helping churches make informed decisions. But without an app or another online giving solution, that data is often limited to broad giving trends and a smattering of demographic information.

When you have to manually upload data, it’s hard to organize it in a useful way. The more advanced insights you want, the more time it takes the person creating your spreadsheets. There’s also a lot of data you’re simply not going to collect.

A church app automatically collects and organizes data about how people interact with your app, which helps you choose the best ways to engage your congregation.

Essential Church App Features

Not all church apps are created equal. Different app developers and companies offer different features. Some let you pick and choose which features you want, and others will lock in features you may not need or want.

Regardless of where you get your church app, there are 11 things you’ll want from it:

  • Sermon integration
  • Digital bulletins
  • Event registration
  • Blog and podcast feeds
  • Push notifications
  • Church calendar
  • Social media integration
  • A mobile giving solution
  • Custom branding
  • An accessible backend
  • Advanced analytics

1. Sermon integration

It wasn’t too long ago that the only way for pastors to get their message outside of the church walls was by recording the sermon on multiple tapes or CDs. Members could then listen to that media at their convenience and share it with friends. Marketing-savvy churches even mailed people sermon recordings through a subscription service.

Today’s churches have a better option: Church apps. Whether you record sermon audio or video, or you just publish the manuscripts on a blog, a good app provides an accessible way for anyone to revisit, catch up on, or share your sermons.

Be sure to test how smooth this integration is before you settle on an app. Find out what the sermon upload process is like from start to finish. The last thing you want is to invest in an app and get stuck with a clunky sermon sharing process you have to deal with every week.

2. Digital bulletins

You might think having a church app is an unnecessary expense, but consider this: A church of 200 people spends about $150 a week on full-color bulletins—that’s $7,800 a year! That’s a lot of capital spent on something that’s stuffed in a Bible, tossed in the trash, or lost on the floor of someone’s car. Digital bulletins cut printing costs and encourage your congregation to engage with your app.

3. Event registration

If you want to put on a conference or a concert, your church app should help you organize, promote, and even take event registrations. After all, the great thing about having an app is being able to bring all of your church information and services together.

4. Blog and podcast feeds

If your church has an online platform like a blog or podcast, you don’t want people to have to go anywhere else for it. You want them to be able to open the app and jump right in! In fact, if you have an app, a blog in the form of a daily devotional could be a good way to get your congregation into the app regularly.

5. Push notifications

Your website is kind of like a building. For people to see what’s inside, they need to come to you. That’s not the way a church app works.

Have an important meeting, potluck, Bible study, or event coming up and you don’t want people to forget? Push notifications let you share important information with users even when the app isn’t open.

Geofencing is another tool that allows you to send push notifications based on location. A geofence uses a GPS satellite to create an invisible “fence” around a specific location (like your church property). When people step onto your campus, you can remind them about sign-up deadlines, share important information, and help prepare them for worship.

6. Church calendar

Many people already use their phones to keep track of upcoming events. Including the church calendar in your app means people can easily see what’s happening at your church, and with Pushpay, you can register for events directly from the calendar. You can also sync your events calendar to your app so it stays up to date automatically.

7. Social media integration

When someone enjoys a sermon or gets excited about an event, it should be easy for them to share it with their friends on social media. Social media integration is non-negotiable.

8. A mobile giving solution

This is a no-brainer. A church app that doesn’t have mobile giving is a huge missed opportunity. When people finish watching a sermon, reading a devotional, or learning about your ministries, that’s a key time when they may feel led to support the work God’s doing through your church. If they have to leave your app in order to give, they may lose motivation before they find a way to donate.

9. Custom branding

Your custom church app should represent your church well. You need to be able to customize the app and decide what your members’ experience with it looks like.

10. An accessible backend

Some church app developers create amazing apps, but then instead of giving you the keys, they simply unlock the door. You can use the app, but you can’t change or update it yourself—you have to go back to the developers who built it.

Some let you make changes yourself, but the admin side of the app is so clunky and complicated that your staff might still feel like they can’t get in there. This creates a bottleneck every time you want to make changes.

Church app builders provide another option: They give you complete control over your app’s features and content. Here’s how easy it is to make changes in a church app created with Pushpay:

11. Advanced analytics

To have an app that’s getting used well, you need to know how people are using it. Analytics allow you to see what functions people use the most, when, and for how long. This data helps you make informed decisions about how your app can better serve your congregation.

Those are the features you’ve absolutely got to have. If you want to learn more about church app features, check out this list of advanced features you’ll find in every Pushpay app.

How to Tell If You’re Ready for a Church App

23 percent of Americans don’t have smartphones. If they’re all in your congregation, a church app might be overkill. For a church app to be effective, your members need to actively use technology.

Not sure if your church needs an app?

Here are five signs that it’s time for you make the leap.

1. Most of your congregation reads the Bible on their phones

YouVersion’s app is one of the most popular Bible applications available. Their “happening now” page, updated in real time, gives some pretty remarkable statistics about how people are engaging with the Bible on their phones:

  • Over 320 million installs
  • Over 125 million reading plans completed
  • Over 315 billion minutes spent reading the Bible on the app

There are many other Bible apps out there. There’s a good chance that many people in your church already use mobile apps to read and study the Bible. Take a moment on a Sunday morning to ask your congregation how many of them do.

You might be surprised by the show of hands.

This growth of Bible reading on mobile devices isn’t simply a sign of individuals embracing the convenience of technology. It’s a sign that they don’t see “digital” and “spiritual” as mutually exclusive concepts—and you shouldn’t, either.

2. You’re seeing a plateau or dip in giving

If you were to divvy up a room of people based on their reliance on cash and checks, the split would be generational. Millennials carry less cash and seldom write checks. In fact, more than 20 percent of Millennials have never paid a bill with a physical check. This means that if your church still prioritizes physical offerings, you can expect giving to flatten out or even drop dramatically (if it hasn’t already).

A drop in your giving isn’t necessarily a sign that people are unwilling to give. It might be an indicator that you’re not meeting them where they’ve established their financial habits—a sign that it’s time to emphasize mobile giving via an app.

3. Most of your website traffic comes from mobile devices

Roughly 51 percent of global traffic on websites comes from mobile devices, and that percentage is only going up. In 2015, Google announced that their search engine would start prioritizing mobile-friendly sites in their search results—proof that mobile users are becoming a huge online priority.

A quick look at Google Analytics will tell you how much of your traffic is coming from mobile devices. You’ll also be able to see the trend over time. It’s critical to get an understanding of this change in internet use because a lot of that traffic is coming from your members who are visiting the website to find out about events, watch sermons, and stay connected. How much easier would it be to do all of that from your church app?

4. People ask if you have a church app

When someone asks if you have a church app, it’s more than a simple yes-or-no question: It’s a signal that they expect one. Apps have become so ubiquitous that people are beginning to assume that everyone has one, and they are surprised when you don’t.

5. You’re serious about having a digital presence

When you stop and think about what the world was like before the internet, the difference is staggering. The web has changed everything—including community. The ways people connect, engage, and communicate in the post-internet world is still evolving.

Churches who want to have a significant impact need to think outside of the traditional physical model for Christian community. They need to ask themselves how to become a communal hub in a world where digital technology has a profound impact on everyone’s social lives.  

A church app is a way to centralize your digital communication and keep your congregation engaged in the fashion that they’re growing increasingly accustomed to.

Once you decide your church is ready for an app, it’s time to think about what specifically you need that app to do.

How to Increase Engagement with Your Church App

Churches often go through the process of investing in a mobile solution, but then the execution falls apart at the seams. That’s why we don’t just invest into our mobile app, but into the whole ecosystem and strategy that gets people downloading (and using) your church’s app.

That’s why we’ve developed two major avenues to simplify the process of getting your app to the only place that matters—in the hands of your community.

1. Make it simple to get your church app

You could talk about downloading your new app Sunday morning until you’re blue in the face, but it won’t matter if the process to download your app is too complicated for people to follow. Pastors are told to keep their sermons to three points and a conclusion, so why should downloading your app have five steps with footnotes and a three page addendum explaining the process?

We created Text Engagement to solve that problem, making downloading your church app as easy as sending a text message. With Pushpay apps, all you have to do is text your church’s name to Pushpay’s text code, 77977, and you’ll get a download link that automatically sends you to either the Apple Store or Google Play, depending on what kind of phone you have.

With App Link, sharing your app is as easy and intuitive as using it—you can even create slides in your Sunday morning rotation with the instructions to download the app, like “text LCBC APP to 77977 to take us with you.”

2. Make every interaction count

Companies like Facebook, Amazon, and Google know that the mobile phone is the key to success—but just having an app isn’t what sets them apart. The key to their success is having a system that intelligently drives users towards their apps.

Offline conversion leverages the same principles, and ensures that every digital interaction with your church leads people toward your mobile app. So if someone makes a gift to your church—whether that’s on their phone, on a computer, over text, or even with a check—they’ll get a text saying thank you and prompting them to download your app to stay connected with your church. That takes someone from their first act of generosity towards the next step in discipleship.

Test Drive a Church App. One of the best ways to learn about what an app can do for your church is to experience it for yourself. That’s why we’ve personally demonstrated Pushpay’s custom mobile apps to thousands of churches. We’ll talk through the best ways to meet your church’s needs, and what it looks like to actually build your very own church app. Talk to an expert today!

Ryan Nelson

Ryan Nelson has been a volunteer youth leader with Young Life for nearly a decade. He writes in the Pacific Northwest, where he lives with his wife and twin boys.