Change Is Coming to All Church Apps
Your church’s mobile app—in fact, all templated, standalone mobile apps—will change dramatically in the coming months.
If you haven’t heard, recent Apple App Store guidelines released in June will usher in large-scale changes to the church app industry. Apple’s new rule (Rule 4.2.6), puts an end to standalone templated mobile apps (and commercialized templates).
That’s the vast majority of mobile church apps—it’s also every other stand-alone, templated app created for other industries. There’s a lot of conflicting information out there right now, but I can assure you we’ve done our due diligence and confirmed our information with Apple directly.
No Grandfathering Allowed
Don’t be fooled by church app publishers telling you what you want to hear with talk of their church apps being immune to these changes. Unless the code for your app is generated uniquely for your app (an expensive process that you can read about later in this post), your app will eventually have to change.
According to our own conversations with Apple, no one will be grandfathered in and escape the need to make these changes in perpetuity. Yes, app publishers will be able to continue as is for a time, but not forever. App publishers impacted by this change have been given (or will be given) an end date by Apple, regardless of whether they’ve communicated this end date to their customers.
We believe for your church to have an effective mobile engagement strategy moving forward, you need to have all the information possible about these important changes. We don’t want you to be surprised. This is important for us to communicate with integrity, even if we are sharing an unpopular truth.
But don’t fret—this means the era of low quality church apps with weak engagement features is coming to an end.
Beka Johnson recently described on our blog how the end of standalone templated apps will ultimately make for a better user experience. Users will navigate through fewer alternatives to find their church app. More importantly, they’ll get the mobile app experience they have come to expect from similar best-in-class apps.
It’s a win for church app users. It’s a win for churches. It’s ultimately a win for church app publishers.
Your Church Has a Choice
But all of this does mean change—and a choice that will impact your church’s digital strategy for years to come.
Like I mentioned earlier, you can’t keep doing what you’re doing. No matter who you’re partnering with to produce your apps, the process will change. Apple is compelling publishers to improve the user experience. Inaction just isn’t an option. So what do you do?
You can narrow your church’s options down to three:
1. You can focus on providing a mobile-responsive website
Now, let’s be very clear here. You should always do this. It’s critical you do this. Every church needs a mobile-responsive website because potential guests will usually visit your site before downloading your app. But you cannot only create a mobile responsive website.
You’ve probably heard the saying, “out of sight, out of mind.” It’s particularly true of mobile websites, which typically aren’t visible from your phone’s home screen and aren’t accessible when you’re not online. You won’t engage your community if they forget your mobile presence exists. That’s part of the reason why Americans spend 84 percent of their smartphone time on apps.
Mobile apps simply provide a richer mobile experience for your users. Sharing and social media integrations are native to the app. Videos and other media load more effectively and play more smoothly from within your app than from a mobile website.
But for a church that wants to grow engagement, here’s the kicker. Mobile websites seriously limit your church’s ability to send out customized notifications and provide a personalized experience for end users. You also lose mobile-only capabilities like geo-targeting, native maps and directions, in-app messaging, camera access, and rich media playback. And let’s not forget about interactive notifications that allow users to immediately respond to your communications in a single tap from their home screen. It’s functionality that mobile websites simply can’t duplicate.
2. Some churches may decide to create their own custom mobile app
Before doing this, churches should first think through the staggering costs that come with choosing this path. Mobile apps aren’t cheap to create, and they’re not cheap to maintain. All of the studies show that users gravitate toward the best-made mobile apps and ignore most of the others. We expect excellence in the mobile apps we use frequently as consumers (e.g. Instagram, Spotify). We don’t have time nor the inclination to indulge apps that don’t provide a great experience (even if it is our church’s mobile app). Excellence costs money. Lots of it.
Creating a mobile app on your own will likely cost your church more than $100,000. But it’s the maintenance and future innovation costs (typically 20 percent of the initial development costs annually) that will damage your bottom line. The most effective companies in the mobile market today don’t just hire a few developers. They hire hundreds. Uber has more than 2,000 developers that work on its mobile application and customer experience!
We think your church likely has other priorities on which to spend its money. Every dollar you pay a mobile developer on in-app maintenance costs is another dollar that can’t support your church’s core ministry efforts.
We’ve seen some of the biggest churches (with names you’d recognize) sink a large amount of money and time into creating an app, then choose not to update it because it costs too much to maintain. Today’s church app users expect excellence that can’t be maintained through just a handful of developers. But echurch offers you an alternative—a consolidated app—supported by almost 100 people in our product and engineering team and our award-winning success team.
3. The vast majority of churches will go with the third option—publish a mobile app experience through a consolidated app
The echurch consolidated app, for example, will offer your church the same level of customization and branding you have come to expect. Your church’s customized app is simply accessed through a single consolidated shell. Users will find your church’s custom app experience the way they could find your stand-alone app previously. For example, as before, users can text a unique keyword to 77977 and be sent a link to download the consolidated app. Because they’ve come to the app through your specific keyword, the consolidated app will open directly to the custom, branded experience you’ve provided for your users.
Thanks to an industry-standard process called fingerprinting, which uses people’s digital footprints to determine which custom experience to provide for them, most of your app users will be pointed to your church’s custom experience immediately. If not, they will enter your church’s name or keyword to instantly find you.
Once users have chosen their correct church, the app will function as it does now. If you’ve used the Major League Baseball mobile app, you’re familiar with this experience. Users download a consolidated MLB app, pick their favorite team, and once they do they’re left with a completely custom experience related to that particular team. Our consolidated app experience will be even better because the vast majority of users won’t have to search for your church. Through fingerprinting, the app will know which experience to provide.
The Consolidated App: The Future of the Mobile Church
Thanks to the consolidated app model, we’ll be able to roll out mobile innovations at a much faster pace because we only need to update one app. Less time spent on automating app store processes means more time building features which help you build your community. We’re working on other mobile app changes that will further customize the user experience through the consolidated app, such as Facebook and Google integrations and a dynamic homescreen.
We believe the mobile app experience will be at the heart of churches’ efforts to engage their communities. Your church’s ability to personalize your messages and deliver them anytime, anywhere will revolutionize church communications and accelerate your mission to new levels.
The new consolidated app will be a big part of that process.