While Apple doesn’t exactly rule the world, it is king in the business of mobile apps, or so many mobile app developers will tell you. Church apps have been at the forefront of church technology for the past few years. Many churches are wondering if they should have an app. If so, what should the app do and how should it integrate with the other technology they’re using as an organization. Those who develop mobile technology for the church and faith-based markets are working hard to stay on top of things in order to provide the best solutions.

Apple is constantly updating its App Store Review Guidelines. Most recently, it has made some changes to the guidelines related to design (section 4) that limit templated apps. This is the style of app that many church app providers have built their businesses on to provide cost-effective solutions for the Church.

Apple’s Guideline Changes

Apple’s guideline changes were made to reduce clutter in the app store and to decrease the number of spam and generic ‘knock-off’ apps. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

For instance, section 4.1 speaks to this:

4.1 Copycats

Come up with your own ideas. We know you have them, so make yours come to life. Don’t simply copy the latest popular app on the App Store, or make some minor changes to another app’s name or UI and pass it off as your own. In addition to risking an intellectual property infringement claim, it makes the App Store harder to navigate and just isn’t fair to your fellow developers.”

Apple went a step further to add a whole section on templated apps. Templated apps are a simple way developers pull similar information to create an app based on a template. These types of apps makes a great looking, fully-functional apps, but are similar to the other church apps companies produce.

4.2.6 Apps created from a commercialized template or app generation service will be rejected.”

Some church app providers have had to scramble and work hard to develop a workaround or come up with a new app model. Others saw this coming and have been making plans to ready a new development process to fit into Apple’s new guidelines.

[Apple’s changes were] not a major effect [on us], because we already had a consolidated app solution in place since 2015, called My Church Apps,” says Craig Wishart, chief brand officer for Custom Church Apps.

Custom Church Apps continues to add features, most recently Geo-Fencing (allowing push notifications) and Beacons (Push notifications by location). They also just launched mobile giving.

The great news is that Apple has agreed to grandfather all of our current custom iOS apps (and future updates to them) in the App Store as standalone apps,” Wishart adds.

For Jonathan Bodnar of Apollo Apps, his team was poised to adjust quickly, make a few needed adjustments, and continue to serve the Church well.

We quickly adjusted to Apple’s requirements and are developing apps and publishing to the iTunes store without issue. We’ve only needed to adjust some backend code, nothing major has changed,” says Bodnar.

Apollo Apps doesn’t force churches into a ‘one app’ solution but rather plans to continue to develop creative and unique individual apps for churches.

Container Apps

One workaround to meet Apple’s demands is for firms to create what is called a container app. What this means is that the church app company creates a ‘parent’ app, if you will. The church user then downloads this app and selects from a list of churches in their ‘nearby’ location. Once they select their church, the app remains on the phone and opens automatically to their church when the app is opened. The only real difference is that the icon for the app on the phone’s screen will be different.

Aware3 responded to Apple’s changes by developing a container app called “churchOn.” Users looking for their church app will now need to download this app, then do a simple search for their church’s name. (They also wrote about the changes in a blog post on their company website.)

Once the user has selected their church, they never have to search and find it again. it will auto-load,” says Sean Buchanan, sales and marketing director for Aware3.

Buchanan says that their company was aware of the changes coming down the pike and had the container app ready to go once they made the decision to ban templated apps in the store.

There are some significant benefits to moving from a templated app to a container app from a development point of view:

We release new features every week, so with the container app, we’re able to push changes to everyone instantly. Because we developed so quickly, we can release them to the app instantly as we release new functionality,” Buchanan adds.

This is good news to churches. Faster, more robust updates can mean more productivity, more engagement, and more interaction with church members on a regular basis.

Church App Suite by Pixel Ark (formerly BulletinPlus) is also poised to meet both Apple and the Church’s demands for high-quality mobile apps for the faith-based market.

Jeret Slack, operations manager for Church App Suite, says many app companies across multiple industries are scrambling due to Apple’s changes. He thinks Apple’s goal is to return to a time when all apps were completely unique.

When asked how many churches actually have a fully-custom unique app, he thinks only about 5%. The lion’s share of the church app market has been templated apps. It’s what has allows most churches to get on-board with a church app.

In the church industry, church apps have opened up communication. With thousands of events, there was no one good way to share communication,” Slack comments.

We’ve seen a lot of success in offering bulletins, calendars, registration, and prayer requests through our app. But because Apple has changed the game, now church can’t have individual apps in the app store. Churches are going to have to have a container app–download the company’s one app, then find your church.”

The company has developed a unique container app using the programming language, Apple Swift 4.3. Now, churches download the company app, called ChurchScribe, and search for their church. In addition, each customer has their own subscribe/landing page to invite people to subscribe that looks like this:

Slack believes, “Every church app company is going to have to go to a container app. You won’t be able to trick Apple. If it can be done on a website, Apple doesn’t want it to be in the app store.”

If your church currently has a church app with one of these providers or one of the other providers we’ve reviewed here at ChurchTechToday, you’ll want to touch base and check in on what changes are rolling out if you haven’t heard from them already. Practically every church app provider has been affected by these Apple guideline changes–no one is exempt. The only apps that are exempt are those that are fully-custom (you’ll know these by their hefty price tag and development time).

Overall, a church app is one of the best communication tools the Church has readily at its fingertips to use to keep people connected, share valuable resources, dive into sermons and music from your church, and much, much more.