How We Developed, Launched, and Continue to Improve Our Mobile Application
In the fall of 2018, the Midwestern church I serve, The Crossing, started a new website design process and began to overhaul our web presence analytics. In doing so, we learned 54 percent of the traffic to our main website originated from mobile devices that is, cell phones. (Tablets accounted for only about 6 percent of traffic, while desktop/laptop devices made up the remaining 40 percent.)
It wasn’t all that surprising. In 2017, media measurement and analytics company Comscore reported, Mobile apps account for 57 percent of all digital media usage, and smartphone apps alone capture more than half of digital media time spent. This indicated people will visit your website from the device that is, quite literally, closest at hand. And the high percentage of mobile app usage suggested websites are merely information sources, but not really tools for interaction. We determined that to remain relevant, it was imperative for us to develop an app that would make engagement an easy and enjoyable process.
The Design Process
In June 2019, we took the information we had gathered and began designing a prototype for a new mobile app. Our original idea was to make our weekend sermons, upcoming events, and campus location information available all in one place. We quickly discovered a custom-built app would cost tens of thousands of dollars, which was more than we could pay. We continued our search until we came across Subsplash, an app development company that specializes in creating mobile apps for churches.
Subsplash’s portfolio includes some of the largest and best-known churches in the country, as well as many churches that average fewer than 500 weekly. The company produces high-quality products for a fraction of what their competitors charge. By the end of our initial consult, we had decided to begin development of a mobile app and more. Using this platform, we now have a mobile app supported on iOS, Android, and Amazon devices, a TV app for Apple TV and Roku, and web embeds for our sermon archive on our website, thecrossing.net.
With access to the builder, we have been able to customize the look and flow of the mobile app to match our branding and specific needs. We have a sermon archive, livestream, notes, a Bible, giving, campus list, connection forms, and much more.
Of course, designing the app was only the first challenge. We also needed to present it well and to stage a successful launch. We decided to incorporate three phases of testing and listen to feedback before launch weekend. This allowed us to make changes and fine-tune the app’s user experience. The app was launched via announcement from the stage the first weekend of September. We also used promotional videos, text-to-download, signage, and social media posts. We planned every detail and communicated to each of our campuses to ensure a successful start. We were quite happy when the first metrics report showed there were 1,300 downloads the first weekend. As 2019 ended, there were almost 4,000 active downloads, with an average growth of 100 downloads per week. We remain quite pleased, but being a church with a keen focus on metrics and data, we sought to understand exactly how people are using the app, so we continued to ask for feedback. One person wrote,
The app’s fresh, clean design makes it easy [to navigate], even for someone who is not tech-savvy. I can easily access all past sermons, watch the weekend service live without any failure, and connect with other members of the church. My favorite feature is listening to the weekend sermons as podcasts. This means I can easily listen to any messages The Crossing puts out on my way to work.
J. Greenwood, via email, November 24, 2019
We used push notifications, a feature of the app, to perform our first round of surveys for app feedback. This tool enabled us to create a feedback form and deliver it to everyone who had downloaded the app. We received 12 responses within the first 10 minutes! A friend of a staff member also posted this feedback via a Facebook post:
We rarely ever miss a whole weekend of church, but this weekend we did. I have to say, The Crossing app is great! I just watched our live service with no buffering, skipping, or delays!!! [I am] thankful for a church that will do whatever it takes to reach all [of] God’s children!
L. Stinnett, via Facebook, October 27, 2019
Tweaks and Updates
Our fall 2019 churchwide survey concluded that 70 percent of people first connect with our church through a personal invitation. And we believe word of mouth or personal testimony if you will, is also what is helping drive interest in the OneCrossing app.
Our church family is adopting the new app quite well, and as we receive feedback, we are tweaking and updating it to better connect our church with various ministries and opportunities. Some possibilities include life group guides, kids check-in, fill-in notes, music, podcasts, and much more. The integration with our livestream has exponentially enhanced the viewing experience. The added ability of casting a signal to a TV makes watching a live or archived sermon that much better.
Your church may not need all the bells and whistles. A simple app with a sermon archive, contact information, and a connection form for guests can go a long way toward helping people connect with your church. With the right tools, a church can start building an engaging mobile app in an economical manner. And with the right marketing strategy, your church can make your app a very useful tool for communicating and connecting with people all week, instead of just on Sundays. Mobile technology is changing the world around us, and mobile apps are just a new tool for helping the church reach the world for Christ.
Sam Oss serves as digital developer at The Crossing, a multisite church located in three states across the Midwest. For more information, contact him at [email protected].