Tech Innovation in Ministry Part 3

The Engagement Platform

In the last blog, I wrote a bit about our decision to brand our grant: This was a necessary process of visualizing our app and creating a brand so that all of our content would point back to our work, our website, and ultimately the question of how the church can better engage young adults.

The task of following through with this particular effort meant envisioning what it would look like, what was on it (we’ll get to content in a later post), and also where it would live. That is to say, while we had already built a website on the WordPress platform, and had some branding and content there, a website isn’t an app. On most mobile phone platforms you can turn a web page link into a phone shortcut (aka an icon on the phone home screen that automatically opens the browser to the specific page), yet in the end, you are not actually providing a service as much as the user is creating their own convenience.

Additionally, web content is not always optimized for smaller screens, though that has improved a lot in the last decade.

The final thing about an engagement platform is that it can act as a single point of interaction that has its own ecosystem and fully utilizes the capabilities of a mobile phone. For instance, nowadays when you open some Bible reading app or church organization app on Sunday mornings, it can tell which church you are at and sync up the contents for that day’s activities, if you allow the apps to use geolocation.

The choice of platform was easy for us. We went with Subsplash, a private, family-owned company that has been a pioneer in helping churches take advantage of the ubiquitous smartphone–an item in the hands of almost every member of the congregation. Subsplash is also just down the street from SPU, and recruits a lot of SPU graduates into its ranks as they enter into their various careers: software engineering, sales, marketing, ministry, management, HR, etc. 

So, we bought into the platform in 2017 at the “Core” rate that at publishing time was $99.99/month which we paid annually (plus a setup fee) which got us into “The Church App.” While we had hoped to have our own branded app, which they do, the rate for that is double the “Core” rate.  Since we were also interested in promoting them as a partner to our work, a partner for churches looking to innovate, and as a supporter of young adult Christians who they employ, choosing to be a part of “The Church App” made sense both fiscally and missionally. They already serve a number of the Seattle-area churches we work with which are ahead of the curve using technology to form and support their congregations.

As soon as we made the plunge two things happened. Immediately, there were people at Subsplash available to help us get our content uploaded and create a user interface, and we realized we had little-to-no content to upload. But that is a unique problem to us as a brand-new grant, not a church that weekly creates opportunities of engagement, calendars full of events, preaching of the gospel, and recruitment into ministry opportunities.

The big question then is cost. In what ways does the app save time and money (think printed items) and what are the possible benefits of ease of connecting, organizing and informing/forming of the congregation? 

Recently, I discussed the pros and cons of online giving with some pastors. The transition has some interesting theological and practical implications, depending on how the congregation and pastoral leadership frames the transition. Especially as it concerns donations and tithing. Because Pivot NW is not in a position to have to raise money this set of questions is not a concern for us, but they would be important to the local church looking to make this transition. Here are a handful to get you started thinking or to bring up in a meeting concerning stewardship:

  • Do you still keep a basket available for gifts in the worship service? 
  • Is passing the tithing basket an important part of your theological identity? 
  • Is that identity held by people of all generations in your congregation? 
  • What are you saying theologically about the weight that money has in your church culture by your decisions to visually marginalize the offering or tithe by moving it online? 
  • And what does that communicate about how the church views money in the congregational culture? 
  • And how do those concerns weigh against the needs and opinions of the young adults in your congregation who are more comfortable interacting with the world through their phone?

This post is the first in an occasional series written by Martin Jimenez, the Pivot NW Program Manager. As part of our open-source philosophy we reveal the decision-making process behind some of our experimentation on using new technology to aid in our research and innovation efforts. We hope that our experimentation can inspire churches toward appropriate technologies, and in other directions as appropriate to their ministry contexts.