4 Ways Church Technology Is Evolving

4 Ways Church Technology Is Evolving

When it comes to technology, churches have pretty specialized needs. Many churches use a wide variety of digital tools throughout the week. Tech lets churches:

While the future of technology is rapidly evolving, there are a few things we know for certain about the future of church tech.

As you prepare budgets and think about what your church needs, here are four changes in tech you need to keep in mind:

1. Church technology is becoming more mobile

With every passing year, more members of your congregation are on mobile devices. But it’s not just that they have mobile devices.

Your congregation uses mobile devices to stay connected to the people and things they care about. Even if your congregation is mostly seniors, the percentage of them on social media has tripled since 2010. Almost 70 percent of all Americans are on some form of social media.

Church technology will only continue to be more mobile and more social. “Being on your phone in church” isn’t a disruption anymore—it’s a normal way that people participate.

They’re using their phones to search scripture, take notes, and share snippets of your message that are connecting with them.

If your church doesn’t already have a mobile app, your congregation has to look for meaningful online community elsewhere—with apps that lack the specialized features and spiritual growth opportunities your church can provide.

Start planning for mobile today

One of the biggest ways churches can embrace the mobile revolution is to create a custom church app. While most of your congregation is already using some form of social media, a custom church app centralizes that online community around your church, removing the need to hunt for other church members and eliminating the distractions that come with other social apps. Everything about your church app is designed to help foster spiritual growth and community.

There are a couple ways to get your own church app, but before you get into the features, you need to figure out what kind of budget you have to work with. (This way you don’t spin your wheels comparing tools that you can’t afford.)

Once you know what budget you’re working with, it’s time to decide what features you need. Here are a few you should consider:

  • Giving. When churches added a mobile giving app to another online giving solution, we’ve seen as much as 76 percent of their digital giving come from the app. And that shouldn’t be surprising. Successful companies like Amazon have reported that a majority of their sales comes from mobile devices. With the visibility your brand gets in an app, you stay at the top of people’s minds—and they can give at a moment’s notice.
  • Sermons. Sometimes listening to a sermon once isn’t enough. Sometimes you miss part two of a three-part series. Adding a sermon feature to your app lets people catch up or revisit highlights while they wait in line at the store, commute to work, or get things done at home.
  • Prayer requests. Praying for the specific needs of those in our spiritual community shouldn’t be limited to Sundays. And not everyone has a close-knit community they can call on for prayer at a moment’s notice. Having a prayer request feature in your mobile app means that anyone, at any time, can ask other people in your church to pray for them—whether he or she has been coming to your church for years, or just came for the first time last week. This also helps your most vigilant prayer warriors pray for specific needs throughout the week, helping them maintain an active prayer life.
  • Blog feed. If you’re already producing regular content you want your congregation to read throughout the week, your church app should include it. Ideally, if someone has your church app, they can access all things church-related there—including your blog—instead of wading through email or other social apps to scrounge up your latest post. With an app, your congregation can see what you have to say with a tap.
  • Push notifications. When you have something you really want your congregation to pay attention to, how do you tell them? They’re already bogged down with emails and buried in Facebook notifications. Having a mobile app means you can send messages people actually read. With some apps, you can even segment these notifications by specific groups or geographic locations, so your mass communication is both timely and personal.

Get a custom mobile app that meets your needs

There are two main ways you can get a custom mobile app: use an app builder (like Pushpay), or build your own (which means hiring a software developer). You might think that an app builder limits what you can do, but it’s actually quite the opposite. You’re working with a team of developers, not just one person, and the deep customization options will probably leave you with a more robust app in the end, built on an established tithing platform you can trust, with the support you need.

Whichever route you decide to take, you need a mobile app that your members actually want to use. Unhelpful, glitchy apps won’t stay on their phones very long.

Once you have a church app, get your church on board

Getting an app is the first step, but you still have to get people to actually use it. Announce it in person during the service so people know it not only exists, but that your staff is serious about using it. Tell them what they can do with it and share your vision for your church’s new digital community. Then make sure they can find it.

Your app should have a prominent position on your website, Facebook page, and anywhere else where people find your church online. There are a lot of apps out there, so link directly to your app’s page so people don’t get lost or download the wrong app.

Bring mobile into every step of your strategic thinking. Whether you’re planning a new ministry initiative, sermon series, or outreach initiative, look for ways mobile technology can accelerate your efforts. Always be on the lookout for ways to make your app better.

2. Church technology is becoming more data-driven

Whether you need to follow someone’s journey from visitor to member, track attendance over time, or dig into statistics on your church’s giving history, church technology constantly leverages data to make your day-to-day processes more reliable and efficient. As your software and apps evolve, churches will be more empowered to make objective, data-driven decisions, and forecast how your actions will affect the people you serve.

Here are a few ways you can start relying on data now:

Get a church management software

Church management software helps you make sure no person falls through the cracks. Every piece of contact information you collect goes into a database, where your staff and volunteers who have permission can access it. You can track how visitors interact with your church and follow their progression through baptism, membership classes, volunteering, and other events that inform how you communicate to them.

Use Google Analytics on your church website

Google Analytics helps you determine what’s working on your site, and what isn’t. You can see which pages people are viewing, how many people are viewing them, and for how long, where they’re coming from, and a whole lot more. This data is essential for any website, and your church website is no exception.

Use Facebook Page Insights

Likes alone aren’t really enough to tell you what’s working well on your church Facebook page. Facebook Page Insights lets you compare all your posts at a glance so you can see how your audience is interacting with your message. Are people clicking your links? Which type of posts are performing the best for your church? Facebook insights help you decide what you should do more of, and what’s not worth the effort anymore. You can use data to:

  • Identify common themes in your best (and worst) posts
  • Find out what days and times people are most likely to interact with your posts
  • See who’s “checking in” to your church and where they’re from
  • Learn when people are talking about your church
  • And more…

3. Church technology is becoming more cloud-based

Floppy disks and VHS tapes died pretty quick when CDs and DVDs hit the scene. It didn’t take long before people didn’t even have VCRs or floppy disk drives.

How many new laptops have you seen with CD players?

Cloud-based technology is in the process of rendering CDs as obsolete as floppy disks and VHS tapes. We’re in the midst of technology’s next great overhaul, working our way into a world where web-based and downloadable software is not just the norm, but the only option. Is your church preparing for the future or chaining itself to tools the digital world is about to leave behind?

It’s time to identify and replace the disk-based software your church depends on. Church management software, presentation software, word processors, and Bible research programs all have cutting-edge cloud-based options, so there’s no reason why your church needs to get left behind. And preparing for the future now means you still have time to do it in stages. Budget to replace your software while it’s still teetering on the edge of becoming obsolete, before you’re stuck with a stack of disks you can’t even use anymore. Future you will thank you.

But you’ll also probably find that switching to cloud-based technology helps you right now, too. Using cloud-based software means that your team can work from anywhere—from home, the office, the lounge, on-the-go, in their favorite coffee shop…you get the idea. Going back to point #1, a lot of cloud-based software is also becoming more mobile friendly, so you don’t even need to be at a computer to take care of business.

(And while we’re on this note: if you don’t have it already, you’ll definitely want to set up wifi throughout your church campus.)

Working in the cloud also creates exciting new opportunities for teamwork. You don’t have to save files and hand off thumb-drives anymore because your work saves to the cloud, so it’s already “handed off” over the web. Instantly. This is the future for church teams.

4. Church technology is becoming more connected

Even now, you might have to hunt for a while before you’ll find a church management software, church presentation software, or church accounting software that doesn’t connect to other tools. Software companies know that their tools don’t exist in a bubble—churches who use software at all will probably need multiple programs for a wide range of tasks. Instead of becoming a jack-of-all-trades, most software companies are choosing to specialize, converting other companies into partners instead of competitors. This is a big win for the church, because it means you get to choose the best tools for each task, instead of getting stuck with a program that’s okay at everything.

As you’re choosing apps and software, pay attention to how they integrate with other programs and take note of what those tools are. You definitely want to choose the technology that meets your needs, but it might not be long before that criteria includes “works with ___.”
Connecting the tools you use all the time makes your workflow smoother every week. Probably, you have multiple people working on each service with a variety of software. Just as cloud-based tech is making handoffs smoother within each program, integration is improving handoffs from one program to another. Your presentation program can access the service plan someone else created in another program, so you don’t have to duplicate their work. Your accounting software connects to your management software, so you can see more data in one place. And as technology evolves, the tools that don’t play nice with others are going to become less and less valuable to your team.

Is Your Church Planning Ahead?

We can’t always predict how technology is going to change. We can, however, identify how it’s changing right now and embrace the direction it’s heading in.

Each of these major transitions show no sign of turning back. Why would the church want to become less mobile? Why would we want our tools to become less accessible? Or reliable? Or integrated? Each of these transitions is becoming a pillar of church technology, not just a feature. And even these changes are happening in tandem—mobile technology is often cloud-based, apps are integrating, and data is at least in the background of most apps.

The gospel will always be relevant, but the way we “do church” is changing. Technology is actively changing how we study the Word, how we share our lives with one another, how we pray, how we give, and even how we worship. Your congregation is already adapting to these changes—are you?

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.