If you and I sat down for coffee, we would probably have two different definitions of discipleship. We could point to a variety of verses that lay out complementary visions of what discipleship looks like practically and philosophically. But we could agree on these two things:
- Discipleship requires the ability to be present. Put another way, discipleship is local.
- Discipleship is missional. (Now, whether you think discipleship starts before or after conversion, we can all agree that disciples grow into missionaries, or as Paul put it, “ambassadors for Christ” [2 Cor 5:18–21].)
These days, churches around the world are getting creative in the ways they work to make disciples, and one powerful tool many churches are adopting is a mobile app. If you’ve never experimented with a church app before, it’s simply a mobile app anyone can download from the Apple or Google Play store.
But when is an app not just an app? When it’s a discipleship tool—not only a communication tool.
In this article, I’ll answer some questions you may have about church apps—and maybe some questions you hadn’t thought to ask (yet).
1. Really? A mobile app helps churches disciple people?
When we think about how church apps empower discipleship, we have to start with an understanding of who these mobile apps are for. We could easily say, “Everyone,” and call it a day, but we’d miss a chance to know the sheep we’re trying to reach—and what those sheep need from us.
Here are a few examples of groups your church might reach with an app:
- People new to your church. They are investigating what you’re all about, and they want to find community and a sense of belonging.
- New Christians. They love Jesus, and they’re learning how their faith impacts everyday life. The Bible is confusing, but they want to understand it.
- Faithful members. These people love the Lord and your church, and they want to read every update and attend (nearly) every event.
- Parents. They want to raise their children to know the Lord, but they get mixed messages from social media, TV, and other parents. They want to learn from seasoned parents at your church.
I could go on, but you get the picture. You can’t possibly address every particular person with every particular need every Sunday—and discipleship tools like church apps help fill the gaps.
A church app (like this one from Faithlife) creates a kind of third place for your church where you can curate biblical content on topics like parenting or leadership, invite people to share anything that’s on their hearts, and welcome guests who want to belong.
2. How is a church app different from a website?
Think for a moment about the apps you use everyday. (Or check how much time you spend in them—use the screen time function on iOS or screen time apps for Android.)
And when do you open those apps? Many times, you use them as boredom busters: when you’re waiting for take out, going for a walk, or even sitting on the couch bemoaning the lack of anything good on TV.
Now think about when you (or people in your church) go to your church website. Generally speaking, people only end up there when they have a specific question, and they can’t find the answer on their podcast app or your social media pages.
That illustrates the difference between church apps and church websites:
- A church app is a long-term, easily accessible discipleship tool for your members and visitors
- A church website is primarily for potential church guests considering a visit to your church or members who have a specific question or task (like signing up for a Bible study)
Some things should live primarily on your website (like an email sign up form), but everything else should be in your church app.
3. How can we use a church app for discipleship?
Maybe you’re still wondering whether a church mobile app can really be a discipleship tool. Well, it all boils down to your vision.
If you think the best your church app can do is give people yet another place to listen to last week’s sermon, then yes, your app’s potential for discipleship will be limited. But if you see your church app as a primary way to connect people with biblical resources, small groups, and Scripture—now we’re talking.
To really use it as a discipleship tool, think through three things:
1. What to put in your church app
Most church apps include a built-in Bible, but there are lots of other things worth including, such as:
- Sermon audio/video (and sermon archives)
- Sermon study notes
- Blog posts from your church
- Upcoming events
- Connection card
- Playlist of Sunday songs
- Playlist of songs your kids’ ministry uses
- List of recommended resources
- Videos for small group leader training
- Questions or sermon quotes to spark conversation
2. When to update it
At the very least, you should update your app weekly to add the sermon and any small group or study notes.
However, keep reading to the fourth question below to see a simple trick for keeping your church mobile app updated—without even touching it.
3. How to keep people using the app regularly
Why do you keep visiting the same apps over and over? What makes those apps sticky? More often than not, there are three reasons you go back often—and they’ll work for your church mobile app, too:
- It’s valuable to you. On an app like Instagram, the value comes from seeing uplifting photos or life updates from friends and family. On a church app, the value is in edifying conversation with like-minded believers and finding biblical resources to read, watch, or share.
- It’s a two-way street. You aren’t only consuming content—you’re actually interacting with it. You can listen to a sermon and take notes. You can post upcoming events and invite new people to attend with you. You can pray for needs within your church and share your own requests.
- It has fresh, new content regularly. This one is most important—but also can be incredibly easy. You don’t have to create it all yourself! Yes, your church’s weekly sermons and small group curriculum should have a home on the app, but when you invite people to share quotes, prayer requests, or questions (and when you set a strong example by doing it yourself), people will keep coming back to see what’s new.
Your church mobile app shouldn’t be an info dump where people show up to gain a factoid and hop off. It should be a place where people can be equipped and build community. In other words, it should be a place where people can grow (locally) and be sent into the world (missionally).
And when you keep your church’s app stocked with things your congregation is hungry for (that’s question 1, remember?), people will be more likely to joyfully open the mobile app all the time.
4. What sets Faithlife’s church mobile app apart?
Now, at this point, you may be wondering how a church mobile app can do all this. And the truth is: many can’t.
When your church uses Faithlife’s integrated ministry platform (the first of its kind!), you get a one-stop-shop for your members and visitors to stay in touch with your church. Additionally, you get to create a powerful custom home page for your church to use on the Faithlife app. It’s simple to create and free to use—and it makes everyone’s lives easier.
How Faithlife’s church mobile app serves the congregation:
- That two-way communication we were talking about? It’s built in, since it’s an app for what people experience on Faithlife. Small group leaders can create meeting times, add notes for what’s coming up, or invite people to share prayer needs—and people can respond immediately. No need to go to the website or Facebook. It’s all in the app.
- There’s only one place your congregation needs to find out what’s coming up, catch earlier sermons, or read Scripture on a church-wide reading plan. It’s all a couple taps away in the Faithlife app. And because everything is in one place, it removes the friction between your members’ best intentions and the ability to actually follow through.
- It’s a painless first step for people who start attending your church. In my experience of visiting different churches, the places where I’ve felt most comfortable have been ones where I could easily get information from the church through email, social media, and so on. That’s what the Faithlife app does—it gives church visitors info they want in a low-pressure environment.
How Faithlife’s church mobile app makes your job easier:
- Remember how I mentioned above that your app can keep itself updated? That’s exactly what the Faithlife app does. Anything you post inside your church’s Faithlife group automatically goes straight to the app.
- It’s an easy way to collect info from your church visitors and guide them toward getting connected at your church. When people want to connect with your church using the Faithlife app, they’ll join your church’s group on Faithlife and be prompted to create a free Faithlife account. Visitors can fill in as much or as little info as they’d like (only name and email are required). You can easily see who recently joined your group and reach out to say hello and connect them with a small group nearby.
- You can give the app a nice, custom tab with your own branding and shortcuts to all the things your people look at regularly. Here’s one example of how yours could look.