There’s been a big push recently for churches to start using a church app for their congregation. Many churches’ first step towards “increasing their digital presence” is to create an app on a pre-made template, share it with their congregation, and call it good because, you know, they’re putting things online.
But if I’m honest, I really don’t like this trend, especially among the 95% of churches that are small and mid-size.
I don’t like this trend because, for most churches, it’s not a strategy shift at all.
We’re Already Good at Investing Energy Inward
Honestly, a lot of the efforts in our churches are already focused pretty far inward. We spend a whole lot of energy thinking through how to better communicate with the people already in our church. We spend a whole lot of energy planning a service that will mostly be attended by our church people, creating videos only our church people will watch, and promoting events that only our church people will be interested in.
And don’t hear me wrong: At some level, we have to focus inward as we grow and develop the body of Christ. So I’m not saying we shouldn’t have any focus inward in the weekly life of our church.
BUT Christ’s call is still to go and make disciples. And very rarely do our efforts inward lead to efforts outward.
So... back to church apps.
For many churches, developing an app is simply more energy invested inward disguised as digital progress.
There is only one group of people who benefit from your church developing an app: Your congregation. Sure, it can be a great way for them to engage with sermons, share prayer requests, give, etc. But your church app doesn’t provide value to the people outside your church. None at all.
And if you ask me, that’s perpetuating a cycle of ineffective ministry in the new cultural and digital age we live in.
"For many churches, developing an app is simply more energy invested inward disguised as digital progress."
A New Strategy
In small churches especially, our time is limited. We only have so much capacity to give to our online presence, which is why I wanted to write this article. It's important for our churches to be intentional about where we spend the energy we have when it comes to digital communication.
If you have a church app or are thinking of getting one, I’m not saying you should delete it or never have one. They can provide great value. But I do want to clearly communicate that the development of an app for your church is energy invested inward, not outward.
So how do we invest our energy outward online?
I’m glad you asked! There are two primary ways:
1) Invest in the quality of your website (and talk to the right audience).
Your website is the new front door to your church. Not your app.
Over 90% of people will look at your website before they ever attend your church for the first time. Seriously.
So for the majority of people, your website is the first impression they have of your ministry. (And a lot of our church websites are communicating that our ministries are outdated, confusing, and isolated.)
Many websites I see are designed with church people in mind. They highlight events for the church family, they answer questions only church people care about, and they miss an opportunity to welcome new people before they ever step foot in the building.
But if our website is the new front door to our church, we have to shift the audience we talk to there. We have to move from informing people of what’s happening to welcoming people who aren’t part of the faith. And that shift should be the main influence behind the design and messaging of our site.
2) Start creating digital content (and a lot of it).
We live in a very different world from when many of us started in ministry. And one of those changes is that the people in your community spend a lot of their time on social media.
Here’s why that matters: Today, people make decisions differently than they ever have before. People look to build trust with organizations online before they ever take an actual step with them. That’s just how it works.
The problem is that a lot of our churches spend all of our energy promoting our in-person service instead of creating meaningful content to build trust with the people we’re trying to reach.
Trust is the key that moves people from awareness to consideration.
So here’s the strategy shift: Instead of posting on our Facebook page about the changed time of the prayer meeting, let’s share a video about 3 Ways to Handle Anxiety. Instead of posting an image that says “You’re Invited,” let’s share a post where we highlight the 5 Things We Love Most About Our Community. Instead of spending 100% of our energy on content only our congregation will care about, let’s start thinking about how to add value and build trust with our community through articles, podcasts, and outward-focused content on social media.
It’s Paul that said, “I became all things to all people that by ALL MEANS I may reach some.” Well, today, these are often the means necessary to move people in our community from distrust or indifference towards trust and connection.
Maybe that doesn’t sound spiritual to you, but it’s true. In 2020 and beyond, the content we post online is crucial to our effectiveness as a ministry.
I totally get the draw to church apps. And again, I’m not saying you should never have one. But it’s important to remember that the more energy we invest inward, the less energy we have to give outward. If we want to leverage our online presence to reach our community, it starts with our website and the digital content we create.
Austin is the Managing Director here at 95Network. From Normal, IL, Austin gets that ministry can sometimes feel anything but “normal.” He grew up leading in the small church his dad pastored, and has since served on the launch teams for two church plants. He holds a Communications degree from Moody Bible Institute and is passionate about seeing churches grow healthier and make a difference in their communities. Austin and his wife, Larisa, reside near Peoria, IL.