Tips and Tricks

Quality and Content: The Keys to Church App Success


As mobile changes the technology industry, much like the shift caused by social networking or the bubble, entrepreneurs and people of all sorts are diving in head first to develop their own apps and make a quick $billion (thanks Instagram). Apps are clearly the popular choice, but how do you know if it’s right for you and what should you do to make sure it’s relevant?

There are many great ideas for custom apps, but it's likely not realistic for ministries to create their own custom app. As a church or non-profit, how would you go about creating an app that adds value to your mission?

There truly isn't one key ingredient to making a successful app for your organization, but there certainly are some important strategies that go into it. First and foremost, your app must serve a purpose that keeps people coming back. Let’s hope that’s an obvious conclusion. Apps such as Starbucks, Pulse, and ESPN serve as great tools that keep people engaged because they make something more convenient, are easy to use, and they just work correctly. Since those are all custom apps or highly recognizable brands, how can we learn from their successes? We’ve developed hundreds of successful apps for various organizations and have seen recurring themes that are hard to ignore. Although there are many pieces that contribute to success on the mobile front, for most organizations or groups, the two biggest contributors are quality and content. We get contacted by numerous groups every single day that are hoping to capitalize on the app explosion. Although doing some type of custom app that shoots lasers into the sky and helps you identify the location of bigfoot would be cool, it’s probably not realistic for most people to think about custom development that can easily cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Also, you never want to create an app that serves simply as a novelty. If someone opens your app and it doesn’t make them want to use it again, it’s a waste of time and money and could even hurt your brand. I’m willing to say that there are groups out there that don’t need an app until they have a reason to engage with people through a mobile device. That's why we focus on quality and content. The app has to work right, look good, and it has to have relevant content or serve a purpose. This can be done through platform based apps. A mobile app platform is a system that one would use to manage and create their app using pre-existing feature sets and have access to a service that will take care of the code, publishing, and help keep their app up to date. It's a way to have a customized app at a fraction of the cost. Here at Subsplash, we have created the  The Church App, which enables one to very easily create their own app that is an incredible tool for engaging with people and getting content into their hands.

QUALITY: This is the single greatest factor for creating a successful app. No matter what type of app you are creating, it has to be done right. I’ve seen far too many apps that I was excited about the potential only to delete it shortly after the download. How annoying is it to download an app, open it up, and find yourself wasting precious moments of your life on a poorly thought out app. I don’t even read the app descriptions anymore because they can be greatly misleading. Instead, I automatically go look at the screenshots to make sure it is even worth interacting with. If you are making an app, do it well! Don’t cut corners or work with someone whose work you don't trust. A proper app is well thought out from concept, to design, to the development of the app itself. It should be a thing of beauty that makes life more convenient. You don’t want to settle for an app that’s pulling in feeds or has text with little design or graphics. You want to implement your own unique look and feel while making sure each feature delivers simplicity and function.

With The Church App, we have focused on how to deliver content in the best way possible on a mobile device. When we present audio in an app, we don’t just want it to be a play and pause type of feature, but rather we made it so the end user can fast forward and rewind, download for offline listening, listen in the background, use native phone controls, and the audio file remembers exactly where you left off if interrupted. Imagine how frustrating it would to listen part way into a 30 minute audio file, only to be interrupted by a call and have to go try to figure out where you left off. It’s like reading a book and forgetting to use a book mark, you can find your place again, but wouldn’t you rather have just book marked it? Quality matters greatly with apps and as soon as there is a single point of failure or frustration, your end users will likely run for the door, or in this case, the dreaded delete button.

CONTENT: Now if you have an incredibly well done app, but there’s no content, you’re up a creek. So, you have to make sure you have relevant content. It’s not considered success to have people download your app and then never use it again, you’ve got to keep them coming back. When we look at all of the apps we've created for churches and ministries, they have had tremendous success because they are constantly manufacturing amazing content that they are distributing through audio, video, and text. They are giving people a reason to use their app on a regular basis. Whether the end user is watching a sermon, reading a devotion, checking out upcoming events, following the pastor’s blog, or making a donation, it’s all made available through the app (and people are using them like crazy!). Why wouldn’t you want to make your content more accessible? We are seeing millions upon millions of launches each month on the Subsplash App platform from regular users who are accessing content from their favorite organization’s app. If you are thinking about creating an app, make sure you have the content to support it. You don’t necessarily need a bunch of stuff packed in there, and it’s certainly not a place to dump or duplicate the same content from your website, but it is a place to make your most meaningful content incredibly accessible.

We want to help see churches and ministries increase their impact through technology! So, good luck in your app adventures, but be cautious, have a game plan, and make sure you take the time to do it well!

Why Mobile? Do I Need An App?

The Question:

“Do we need an app?” That’s one of the primary tech related questions being asked today by organizations of all sizes. There are a number of reasons to consider taking your message and offerings mobile, but how do you know if it’s right for you?

Today, people are consuming data nearly as much on their mobile devices as they are on their computers. In fact, mobile is projected to become the dominant source for data consumption in the near future. Just two short years ago, app development was largely reserved for game creators or huge corporations with substantial budgets for custom development. Today, apps are being created daily for anyone looking to connect with their audience in a new way. It’s no longer a conversation for the Fortune 500 or tech elite, it’s now mainstream.

The Story:

It all started with a little company called Apple, you know, the world’s most valuable company ( Or you could say it started with Palm in the late 90's, but we'll just start with Apple when they created the iPhone and subsequently the App Store, which then started a revolution of mobile mania that created a new industry and attracted competition from other humble companies such as Google and their Android Platform and Marketplace. When the iPhone first came out, mobile websites were the first to break ground. These mobile friendly sites made navigating easy on a tiny screen. But soon, the incredible features and overall experience of apps began to seize control. These days, apps are by far the preferred choice by mobile users. In fact, people spend an average of 81 minutes per day using apps. Apps give users the ability to do things that still aren’t possible with mobile websites such as bluetooth, camera, and GPS. Apps have the edge in the overall speed, performance, and user experience because they are designed specifically for your device. Now, with HTML5 on the scene, mobile sites are growing in feature capabilities and experience, but will likely always be a step behind. Furthermore, to have an app in the App Store is a big deal. It’s more than just having something that works with a mobile phone, it’s about making it incredibly available. The App Store, as well as the Android Marketplace, are today’s storefronts. It’s the market and it’s where the mobile generation shops!

The Answer:

So, do you need an app? Well, it really depends on what you want to do. We’ve seen two primary keys to having a successful mobile app; content and experience. First and foremost, you have to have the content. If you are creating an app as a novelty, you are probably wasting your time and money. But, if you are giving your audience a reason to use your app and to return to your app, then you should think about mobile. It’s just where people are! Why not make your content easier than ever to access? Second, you need to make sure that your mobile app is good, really good. If people download an app and it just doesn’t look good or work right, they will likely delete it immediately or never open it again. Be very cautious with how you proceed. You need to make sure your app is high quality and you need to have a plan to keep it up to date. If you focus on keeping your content fresh and having a high quality experience for your audience, you should have a very positive response.

The final piece of the puzzle is to figure out how to get your app developed and then published. There are a few options to consider and they couldn’t be more different.


You can work with work with a consulting firm like us to help you build an incredible custom app across multiple platforms. This will result in the best possible end product and you can really do anything you want. It will truly be a brilliant bit of software, but it will cost much more and will take time.

2: In-House

The second option is to try to do it yourself or work with an individual developer. This process is often the longest and the end result will vary largely depending on what you are trying to accomplish. It may also end up costing more money than you bargained for.

3: Platform

The third option is to use a native app platform to create a high quality mobile app at a fraction of the cost of custom development. Using an app platform like ours, the Subsplash App Platform, gives you complete control of your content and helps you offer a variety of features without having to break the bank. You would use our App Builder to control all aspects of your app from layout and branding to new content. This is also the best option for keeping your app up to date. We take care of OS updates, bug fixes, analytics, add in new features, give full tech support, and more. It is really the simplest option if you have content that you want to present to your audience. With these apps you have a number of robust features for content presentation such as videos, audio, blogs, calendars, news, maps, social sharing, and more.

I hope this has helped you answer some questions about mobile. It’s an amazing new world where people can access content from anywhere, anytime. We want you to be a part of it!

Points to Consider Re: Mobile Technology for Churches

Mobile technology is certainly changing the way society ingests information, and it’s important for churches to be aware of this revolution. In fact, AdMob Mobile recently reported that “smartphones accounted for 48% of worldwide traffic, up from 35% last year. In absolute terms, smartphone traffic increased 193% over the last year.” Furthermore, with the launch of the iPad, the use of mobile apps will not only solidify but skyrocket. Thus, churches should carefully consider the impact this technology will have on their ministry. For any church considering developing with any type of mobile technology, here are a few points to consider: 1. iPhone app or mobile version of your website: Churches often wonder if they should build a mobile version of their website or a dedicated iPhone app for their church. A mobile version of your site is great to have. Most mobile browsers can handle full websites but the drawback is that most church content is Flash-based. Having a landing place for mobile visitors makes a ton of sense especially when paired with a more immersive and engaging native iPhone or Android app. With a mobile app, there is potential for richer user interface, higher quality animations, and offline interaction. All of these aspects enhance the personal connection, user affinity, and the likelihood that people will continually engage with the church’s content. That is what we like to call, in Web 2.0 terms, a “sticky” experience.

2. Developing an iPhone app in-house or using a third party: Developing in-house offers flexibility and can seem free... however it often comes with a cost. You can customize your app to meet the needs of your church and develop it to embody certain functions of the website. However, there are two downsides.

First, you need an expert on-site. Objective C is unlike most other programming languages and working with Apple provisioning, testing and submitting to the App Store is enough to make a grown man cry. Additionally, the lack of standardization amongst platforms like Android, iPhone and Windows Phone 7 increases overhead and is ultimately less economical for one church to produce across all platforms. Second, companies like Apple are notorious for changing standards and imposing new restrictions on their platforms. Basically, tech support doesn’t exist, good luck talking with a real person, and lastly, they retain the right to reject your app for many reasons. In general, Apple is extremely close-handed about the developing platform.

We love developing for Apple, but they can present many challenges for any developer. Apple makes things appear very easy from a user standpoint, but when you become an iPhone developer, the whole game is changed. Most recently, Apple has changed it’s SDK agreement to eliminate cross platform technologies like Adobe Flash. Thus, using a third party can mitigate some risk associated with developing on these platforms.

If you are a church considering a third party developer, here are some red flags to watch for:

1. If a company offers to build your church an iPhone app for free or “almost free,” be weary.  You usually get what you pay for. Support may be spotty or the apps may contain ads—both of which may be out of your control.

2. If a third party doesn’t have any examples of previous work, strongly consider other development shops. If you are using a third party, you want to ensure that they can deliver the quality you want. With over 150,000 apps available, many are third rate, sub-par apps that only contribute to the white noise of the store-both in terms of stability, usability and design.

3. Make sure that your content remains yours. Steer clear of people who want to own or sell your content, but it's common for a third party to maintain ownership of their code. Software as a service is a great option and that would include services like Basecamp from 37 signals, Dropbox, and Beanstalk.

In summary, mobile technology will significantly impact the Church. For churches who are ready to adopt the new technology today, they should carefully consider the the costs and benefits of building a mobile version of their site compared with those of an app. Churches should also be aware of the challenges of developing iPhone apps in house and potential red flags when considering third party developers. For churches who are still on the fence, please consider engaging in the mobile dialogue. Understanding the importance of mobile technology is imperative for remaining culturally and technologically relevant.