Helping Your Church Bridge the Gap Between Sundays: A Look at the CRCNA’s New Mobile App

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Let me be straight-forward here. Nine times out of 10, I’m likely to be against a church creating, promoting, and using a mobile app. Oftentimes this is because there is not a clear vision for the app. Churches see something “new” and want to use it, which is great, except that they don’t think through how to best utilize this new technology for the cause of the Gospel. Another reason I’m often against mobile apps for churches is because the return on investment just usually isn’t there. Churches spend a lot of money creating mobile apps, promoting it hard week after week, and see very few downloads and even less engagement. Many churches also poorly execute their church app. They go with a company that allows them to semi-customize a template (which, by the way, Apple isn’t allowing anymore).

Churches build their mobile app thinking it will be a great outreach tool — but it’s not. Visitors aren’t going to download an app without already having some investment in the church. And without the right vision, upkeep, and real understanding about what an app should be, the lackluster performance, with high costs, usually make a church app a bad decision. So, when I first heard about The Bridge, the CRCNA’s mobile app (now going live for all congregations in Canada), I was afraid it was going to fall into these common app development traps. I came to the table thinking The Bridge was going to be a mediocre effort by the denomination to help churches use this cool, newer, technology. But, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that The Bridge is different. Honestly.

Although a skeptic at first, as I began to learn more about The Bridge app, and use it, I began to see how this could be a great tool for many churches. The Bridge provides a well thought out and executed app that churches across the denomination (in Canada, for now) can fine-tune and execute for their church. The creators of the app went about things the right way and created an app that CRCNA churches can use, for little cost, to drive deeper engagement and disciple-making, effectively bridging the gap between Sunday gatherings.

The goal of The Bridge makes it clear — this is an app designed for your congregation to use; existing to “empower local churches, local believers, and ministry for Christ by offering tailored content for disciples of Christ.” In fact, the focus is on your congregation. The Bridge provides your church a way to be more effective in doing ministry, by providing devotional content, event updates, contact information, and more all throughout the week.

When you create a version of the app for your own local congregation, you also gain access to certain denomination-wide resources. For example, the widely-read Today devotional is built right into the app, so users can access and read the day’s devotion on-the-go. For your local context, The Bridge allows the use of a church directory, helping members interact with and grow together. The app allows your church to upload and host sermons or other video and audio content, or you can simply link to wherever you may already host your content (YouTube, Vimeo, etc.). The app makes it easy for your church to continuously pray for each other with the ability to directly post prayer requests. An option for online giving is also done simply and integrated nicely. Even the Bible is built into the app! All of these features make The Bridge a one stop shop for all of your church-related needs.

Is your church considering a mobile app? If you have thought about it, before looking at the cookie-cutter template companies, I strongly encourage you to take a deeper look at The Bridge. It’s a church app, done well, specifically for CRCNA churches, and may be an incredible opportunity for your church. Want to talk more about the app, or to see if an app is right for your church? Feel free to contact me. I’m here to help you energize your church communications.

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Participant

Bryan. Sounds good but like you, I'm skeptical of "new apps for the church" too.  The last CRCNA app, the Banner app, doesn't show comments or allow for commenting.  Thus, anyone who accesses the Banner with the Banner app is excluded from commenting on articles, and from seeing the comments of others.

My question about this app:  does it have companion web capability?  That is, if a church enters its directory data in the Bridge's back end database, is that data entry "one time" so that those who use a computer platform of the Bridge can also access that database?

If this isn't "cross platform," I'm not seeing the benefit as being greater than the burden for (especially smaller (local churches).

Guide

Hey Doug - great point. The purpose of The Bridge is not to be a church management system (ChMS), where you can keep membership records and manage your people as part of the congregation. When a user downloads the app as part of your local church, they have the ability to add their contact information, and decide how that information is shared. As far as integrating with a ChMS or database, I'm not sure. That would be a great question for The Bridge staff, though.

Community Builder

In developing The Bridge, one of the principles relating to the directory is that churches and individual users would have primary control over that content.  We have sought to make it as easy as possible for churches to upload their directory data -- via an Excel template that merges data with the fields in The Bridge.  But there is no 'standard' for church databases.  As Bryan states, The Bridge is not intended to replace a church's ChMS, but we do want to allow for the easiest movement of data, while also ensuring that this data remains under the control of the local church and the user.  I hope that helps with the principles behind the data management question.  How this will play out will vary from system to system and from church to church.

Community Builder

Doug, I think you are missing the point somewhat. You see, this tool is in many ways meant to take the workload off of administrators and thier ongoing upkeep of the Directory. That is a huge yearly job as many can attest to. But in the Bridge app, there is only a one time set up of the ine function 'Directory.' for the administrator and then after that every user manages the data they wish others to see. The adminstrator has to do no other thing than approve the changes to ensure it is all appropriate and correct (ie. forgot a digit in the area code; delete an inapprpriate photo etc.)

Also, The Bridge ap pties together all of a local churches web material and keeps it at the fore so people can get to it simply. The rest of the functionality can be gained from a laptop if one uses an apple, but until Microsoft catches up in their capacity to use apps on a desktop or laptop, the Bridge app remains a phone only tool. But considering that an app receives approx 20X more traffic than a static website, its worth it.

Hope this helps.

Participant

OK, thanks Darren.  I think you are suggesting that the directory is simply populated by end users and that there is no central database repository of directory information??

So I've downloaded the app (Android OS) and I've had my "account verified."  However, it would seem that all the local churches that are available to associate with are in Ontario, save one in Bellevue,  Washington CRC churches (my local CRC is in Salem Oregon).   For that reason, I can't really explore what this app would do that would benefit local CRC churches.

How would my church (Sunnyslope CRC, in Salem, Oregon) go about "being one of the local churches" listed in the app's local church listings?

Community Builder

Hi Doug.  You are correct that at this point in time, there is only one US church (Bellevue, Washington) because they have agreed to be part of the pilot/testing process.  The Ontario churches that are currently listed are all from Classis Niagara; the classis that also agreed to be part of the pilot project.  The majority of Canadian classes have approved adopting the Bridge App, and as CRCNA staff we will now be concentrating on bringing those churches onboard.  But, outside of Classis Niagara, with the lone exception of Bellevue, all other users would select 'Online App Church'.

As for the directory question, there are a couple considerations.  There are legal aspects relating to this data that vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.  Many churches are fully onboard with uploading of their directory data since they currently have digital or print versions of that same data, and those directories are available to verified members.   And there is no single platform that churches use for their d-bases.  In building the directory function of The Bridge, we have attempted to find a compromise that works for the majority of churches.  For those with no d-base, right up to those with a sophisticated system, an Excel template has been created.  Some can do a straight export from their existing software.  Others can do a cut and paste, or enter only the essential data.  In consultant with the pilot project churches, this was suggested as the best compromise.

Keep in mind that you are looking at what is essentially the pre-release version of The Bridge.  It is encouraging to see the excitement about this App.  But, as part of the team that has been working on The Bridge App, the most exciting aspect is that the best ideas have yet to be discovered.  As The Bridge rolls out, we are looking forward to hearing from churches how this App can be used to build bridges within their congregations, and between their congregation and the communities they seek to serve and reach.  We have no idea what new features the Bridge App will have in 4-5 years, except that we need to start now and then build toward those possibilities.

As for when The Bridge will be available in Oregon, that's a question for the senior leadership of the CRCNA, as well as for your local classis (FYI, the Canadian classes that adopted the App have also approved providing funding for the next phase of the project)

Participant

Thanks much for that Ken.  Very helpful.  We'll patiently wait.  :-)

Participant

I loaded the app and have been playing with it for a few days now.  I think it is a good app.  Of course, I can't access my local church resources just because this is in "beta", and least in terms of usage.

Were I to describe the app's function in non-technical ways, I would say it is just a bit like Nextdoor (for those who are familiar with that).

I do think the app needs to be code duplicated so that it is fully accessible by computer (and not just Apples' since they are not, yet at least, rulers of the technological world, even if they want to be).

I look forward to broader distribution.  And FWIW, this is a kind of resource that the denomination should be involved in, because it is a tool that local churches couldn't easily develop and it is a tool that can serve all local churches (which is the dominant role of the denomination).