Do you notice people checking their phones during services? In one hour, people usually check their phones nine times. That’s once every 6.5 minutes! In a church service, that number probably ramps up even higher, because attendees are taking notes, reading their Bibles, tweeting meaningful passages, and checking their calendars. Mobile, for churches, is a communication channel flowing with milk and honey.

A common stumbling block for churches on their trek to the “Promise Land” of mobile is misconceptions about mobile apps and mobile websites. What is the difference between the two? Which is more important?

A Sermon vs A Small Group Meeting

The difference between a mobile website and a mobile app is comparable to the difference between giving a sermon and holding a small group meeting. Both are important, but have different functions. Mobile sites are one-stop spots for finding information and quick facts, such as service times or the church address. Like a sermon, mobile site uses one method of communication to reach a large audience and is primarily one-way. Mobile sites “talk at” their users, and, while they provide valuable information, they are accessed infrequently.

Mobile apps provide these services as well, but a mobile app also allows for a very tailored interaction with the members of the congregation. Like a small group meeting, mobile apps provide a means to learn through repeated engagement and two-way communication. Mobile apps provide you with a platform to host videos, news updates, prayer requests, and bulletins. A well-designed mobile app is easier to navigate and feels more natural than a typical mobile website, and it is much easier to access.

From a technical perspective, mobile apps are downloaded directly to your phone. Although they use internet connectivity to update, they run natively in your phone’s operating system and can seamlessly integrate a variety of news and media from your church. Since data connectivity is not required and apps generally load faster than sites, they feel fluid and personal, like a conversation with a friend.

Which is More Important?

By 2017, over half of all Internet traffic will come through wireless and mobile devices. A good mobile site is a necessity for a church, because many looking for information about your church might be doing so at red lights on their way to the service! If your church is looking to better their mobile site, each your web developer or marketing agency is the first place to start.

Mobile apps, however, account for 80% of time spent on mobile devices, and are exponentially more effective for tailored communication and interaction with church-goers. The chart below offers a comparison of mobile sites and mobile apps.

Mobile Apps vs Sites

How does a church build an effective mobile site if their current site isn’t great?

A church’s best bet is to contact their existing site provider. Responsive design is quickly becoming the standard for web, as it intelligently re-formats your existing website when it’s accessed on a mobile device. If you try building an effective mobile set while keeping your current site the same, you’re going to end up making all of your updates in two places. That’s just not something most church administrators have time for.

Additionally, if you’re unhappy with your web provider—which, if you don’t have a mobile-optimized site by now, you probably should be—these providers build great sites using responsive design:

Are You Ready for a Mobile App?

The best way to gauge if your church is ready for an app is through how frequently people are accessing content. Mobile sites are geared toward quick, one-time information seekers. These people are in need of service times or directions, both of which are vital to getting people through the doors, but only require one visit to the site. Mobile apps are optimized for “tap happy” repetitive content users. These people frequent sermon podcasts, event schedules, and bulletin updates to not only walk into the church on Sunday mornings, but to stay engaged with church happenings throughout the week.

Ask yourself two questions:

  • Do a good percentage of our members and guests use smartphones?
  • Do I want to engage and empower those members and guests on a regular basis?

If both answers are yes, it might be time to look into an app. At Bluebridge ChurchApps, we hold a 1-hour “App Assessment” to determine whether or not a church is ready to have their own app. By the end of that meeting, it is usually clear whether a church still has work to do or if it’s time to move to an app.

When choosing an app provider, a church should be sure to ask:

1. What kind of technical support and regular updates the company offers with their app

2. What branding and church personalization features included

3. The possibilities for multi-campus churches

4. The availability of push notifications within the app

5. What are all of the costs involved with developing and maintaining the app

6. What the timeline for an app looks like, from start to launch

Mobile is the new “Promised Land” of church communication and technology. Like the combination of Sunday morning sermons and weekly small group meetings make for a connected church body, both mobile apps and mobile sites are important to a comprehensive communication strategy. Each serve different functions within the church, but are most powerful when used in conjunction with each other. If you haven’t already, start a conversation about your church’s mobile presence.

How are you planning to connect with your smartphone-toting church body?