Customized church apps

An article in the Wall Street Journal highlights the use that a growing number of churches are making of mobile apps. Much of the same content that churches currently offer on their web sites (sermons, devotions, calendars, pictures, and social connections) can be squeezed into one single app that the members (or prospects) can take with them anywhere. Members can listen to audio from last week’s message or interact with others through built-in social media on their smart phones or tablets like the iPad.

No programmers in your congregation? You can use the services of ROAR or The Church App to set it up for you. Just be prepared to pay several hundred dollars for the initial set up and a few hundred more for an annual subscription. Maybe this idea is for mega-churches and entire church bodies more than for little neighborhood churches like the one that I serve. Fortunately, my denomination (the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod) already offers a very attractive and useful app available for iOS and Android.

Although there’s no doubt that a mobile church app could add to opportunities for parishioners to be connected to the Word and to each other during the week, there’s also the possibility that it could distract from face-to-face ministry.

If you could design a mobile app for your church, what features would it include?

PastoralCare devotional app

The one tool a pastor always has with him as he makes visits is a Bible. These days, you might even consider leaving the Good Book at home and simply using one of the many Bible apps that are available for your smart phone or tablet. Now another very useful resource has been prepared for use on your iPhone or iPad: The Lutheran Service Book: Pastoral Care Companion.

The app is iPhone-only for now, but of course it also works on an iPod Touch, and the publishers say that the app will soon be upgraded to work natively on the iPad as well.

The PastoralCare app includes resources to use in many different ministerial tasks. Bible readings, hymn verses and prayers are given for the many different situations a pastor might normally find himself in: ministering to prisoners, the sick, the elderly, the lonely, and the dying; but also rejoicing with those who are celebrating a new birth, an anniversary, or other blessed events.¬† There are rites for conducting weddings, funerals, and more. You’ll also find prayers for your devotional time, and even a dynamic calendar of propers (designated readings for each Sunday in the liturgical church year).

This is an excellent resource that I’m glad to have with me no matter where I go (well, as long as I have my iPhone or iPad, which means everywhere but at the gym). You can purchase the book ($32.40 at, or the Kindle version ($28.80 at, but this iOS app is a real bargain ($19.99 in iTunes).

The publishers of PastoralCare are the same that brought us the excellent PrayNow app. Both of them serve well as devotional apps for pastors and laity alike.


Ay Ay Ay! Which i do I choose?

iPad vs. iPhone vs. iPod Touch

In my last post I spoke of one advantage to owning more than one Apple mobile device: If you purchase an app for your iPhone, it is almost guaranteed to work on your iPad and your iPod Touch as well. One download of a universal app means a copy of the same software on every iDevice you own. But clearly that’s not feasible for everyone. A pastor’s budget is a tight budget, and these days more than ever. So what if you have to choose between them? What if you like what you see in the App Store but you can’t afford more than one gadget?

The iPhone naturally has the advantage of being… well, a phone, as opposed to just a portable computer-like device. Not only does this mean (the obvious) that you can make calls from it, but as such it is likely to be that one device that you take with you everywhere you go. If you have your iPhone, you also have a camera, an agenda, an iPod, etc., etc. The newest iPhone 4S has an amazing voice command/dictation feature called Siri, but on the other hand you can still pick up an older 3GS for free. Either way, the biggest expense by far is going to be the ongoing monthly costs which of necessity include a data plan.

The iPod Touch (from $199) scores points for exacting no monthly fees. It’s perfect for the pastor that already has a phone that he likes (or has to put up with) but drools over some of the iOS apps that are available. The Touch fits perfectly in a shirt pocket, ready to be pulled out for checking your agenda, taking attendance, looking up a quick Bible passage, or reading a bit of Luther while you wait outside a hospital room. And if you have a wireless network available, you can use the Touch as a phone or even video chat thanks to apps like Skype and Facetime.

Many thought the iPad (starting at $499) would be nothing more than an oversized iPod Touch, but the extra real estate allows for increased creativity for designers and greater productivity for users. The result is a screen which feels exactly the right dimensions for individual viewing of web sites, PDF documents, videos and more. Unlike the iPod Touch, the iPad is available in wifi only or 3G versions, so you can sign up for a monthly data plan if you feel you need to have access to the internet at all times.

Each of Apple’s mobile devices has its strengths, but any one of them could prove quite useful in a pastor’s ministry (and personal life). All of them are game-changers, much like the original iPod was 10 years ago this week.

My favorite iOS universal apps

Someone asked me once, “Why would I need an iPad when I already have an iPhone? Don’t they run all of the same apps?” Precisely! That’s the advantage of owning both Apple devices — virtually all the applications that you purchase for one will work on the other. The best developers offer what are called “universal apps.” That is, a single download (and payment, if not free) gets you an app which will look custom made on both your iPhone (or iPod Touch) and your iPad. This clearly gives you the best bang for your buck, so I’m always on the lookout for universal apps.

Here are some of my favorite apps that work well on both the iPhone and the iPad. They may work differently on each of the devices, but they are well adapted for the different screen sizes and potential uses. It’s no coincidence that these are among some of my most used apps.

  1. Instapaper. After installing a bookmarklet in your browser, you can send any news article or blog post with a single click to your “read later” queue. Instapaper removes all the ads and unnecessary graphics, leaving just a simple page of text that you can read on the go. I use the iPhone app when I’m waiting in the doctor’s office, and the iPad app when I finally get to relax on the family room couch at night.
  2. Bible +. This is the app from Logos (formerly Libronix) which brings the Bible and hundreds of other religious texts to your fingertips. The Logos desktop program is excellent for text analysis and in-depth word studies. But it’s hard to read at length from the computer screen. When I come across a reference to a lengthier quote from Luther, I prefer to open it up in my iPad app and take it over to my favorite easy chair.
  3. Dropbox. DropBox has rescued me more than a couple times when I’ve forgotten to bring a hard copy of a certain document (say, my Sunday morning sermon or Bible class notes). Since I save almost all my working documents on my DropBox folder on my harddrive, they are automatically synced online and accessible over the internet on any iOS device with the app installed.
  4. Evernote. I put my larger documents in DropBox, but smaller notes go in Evernote. It’s perfect for the dozens of little notes that you write to yourself or lists that you keep.
  5. Netflix. Clearly this app isn’t essential for ministry purposes, but even pastors need to relax sometime. With a Netflix subscription I can watch instantly any of hundreds of movies or TV shows. I enjoy watching some of the television series that I missed during my 14+ years in Brazil. Because it’s a universal app, I can pause a movie on my iPhone and then pick it up at the same place later on my iPad.
  6. Kindle. Similarly, books that I’m reading in Amazon’s Kindle app are automatically synced so that I can pick up reading at home where I left off when the mechanic said my car was finally ready. All the books I purchase digitally from Amazon are available on every device (including Android, etc) that I own.
  7. PrayNow. I’ve mentioned this devotional app before. Because it’s a universal app, I’m much more likely to get my daily Bible reading in, even on the busiest of days.
  8. Facebook. This is another non-essential app, although some have used Facebook to great effect in their ministry. It took Facebook a year and a half to come out with a universal version (the iPad app only was made available recently), but both versions are well done.
  9. 1Password Pro. With all the many passwords we need to keep in this digital age, I’m glad to have a program that stores them all for me and seamlessly keeps them organized on all the devices that I’m likely to need them.

These universal apps rise to the top for me because they scale well or take advantage of the strengths of each iOS device.

I’ve briefly considered trading in my iPhone for an Android, but then I realized I would have to invest in a new library of apps (many of them the same ones I mentioned above). An excellent marketing move by Apple to maintain my consumer loyalty. Oh, Steve, you had me at “App Store.”