I feel cheated. In 1989 I watched as Marty McFly zipped around on his hoverboard in the the year 2015. 2016 is only a few months away and even though I check my mail faithfully, I have not received my hoverboard yet! I haven’t even gotten a pair of self-lacing Nikes yet. We have all been lied to. Despite my disappointment in still being terrestrially rooted instead of floating about, technology has come a long way in transforming our daily lives. Back in the late 80’s, when I was in the Real Estate business, I had a ‘bag phone’. Remember those? I bought a kit that would allow the phone to honk the horn of my car when I was out looking at land I was thinking about buying. Good luck finding that in the app store! I thought I was so cutting edge!
Fast forward 20 years and that just sounds prehistoric. Mobile phones have gone from curiosity to ubiquitous. Smartphones and tablets now account for over 50% of global consumer electronics sales and are quickly making desktops and laptops seem obsolete. How the heck are church leaders supposed to respond and keep up?
The mobile strategies I see churches deploying today feel very similar to what I saw happening with websites back in the early 2000s. In those days, the common mantra was … JUST DO IT! Everyone knew that you had to have a website if you wanted to be ‘relevant’, but what? How? And why? Little thought was given to church websites. These questions were pushed aside in a rush to get something — anything — on the web. Few churches were asking how a website could help them achieve more purposeful goals like engaging people and moving them towards deeper connection and community. Well, it’s Back to the Future again. Today many churches are in the same place with the move to have a mobile tool, rushing to have something but missing the chance to answer how this tool can help them engage people and make more disciples. No one wants to be left out; I get that. Church leaders know that ‘we need an app!’ but, in most cases, they are just throwing things out there with little or no thought to what they hope will happen as a result. In short, the Church is in the middle of a mobile free-for-all!
Like any other technology tool, mobile is not a silver bullet. You must be intentional to fully leverage it. It has to be deployed within the confines of effective strategy and processes. Here are five key principles to consider:
1) Think of mobile as the new ‘welcome center’ for your church.
You know intuitively that many people will take a long time to get comfortable enough to show up at ‘Guest Central’. Some people won’t ever show up! Mobile apps like Aware3 allow these people to connect with your church on their terms, without awkwardness. Your mobile app can be your digital front door.
2) Identify your most critical ‘wins’.
Much like a overly complex website, a chaotic and unfocused mobile strategy can actually confuse people and drive them away. It is super important to define a small set (3–5 tops) of outcomes or ‘wins’ you want from your mobile strategy. What do you hope will be different and how will you know it’s happening?
3) Segment your strategy for congregants and leaders.
Church visitors and members have much different needs. As a visitor, I want to learn more about the church and connect in a safe and gradual way. As a leader, I need tools that can help me steward the people I lead. A single mobile app can’t do both effectively. This is why the integration between tools like Church Community Builder and Aware3 is so powerful. Church Community Builder can focus on mobile capability that empowers the leaders in your church, while Aware3 provides the congregational experience. The combination of those two core competencies provides a very focused and intentional set of tools for two very different users.
4) Secure staff buy-in and commitment.
Nothing kills effective strategy faster than a lack of staff buy-in and commitment to stick with it. This starts with the people who lead the vision, direction, and strategy of your church. They must become ‘evangelists’ for your approach and model the right behaviors. Next, it has to be clear to everyone on staff that ‘going rogue’ will not be tolerated. The first time someone decides to use a new mobile app or tool that falls outside your defined set of systems and processes, you must redirect them. It’s OK, however, to explore why they feel compelled to do something different. This will help you learn and adapt.
5) Communicate, communicate, communicate!
This may seem obvious, but regular and consistent communication must become part of your strategy. Too often I observe churches that communicate very well at the launch of a new strategy and totally ignore it six months later. Strategy leaks just like vision does. Make sure you constantly remind staff, leaders, members, and visitors about the presence of your mobile strategy and its purpose.
Mobile is the new frontier for the local church, and it’s impossible not to get excited about its potential. However, a lack of clarity and simplicity will do more harm than good. Just like everything else you do, your mobile strategy must be connected to your overall vision and mission. These five points are merely designed to get you thinking. If you want to drill much deeper into the details, download the free resource Ministry Gone Mobile. Even though a hoverboard is unlikely to magically show up at your front door, an effective mobile strategy can be a key component in helping people magically show up and engage in ministry with you.