So you may be wondering, “Does our church need an app, and is a church app worth the money?”
In this article, I compare the two in hopes to help you arrive at a decision you can feel confident about.
Short answer: There’s a better way to accomplish what you want from a church app.
- Church apps cost a lot and have a low success rate (that is, few people download and use them regularly)
- If you get a church website that’s mobile responsive, you effectively get a church app without paying for one
- A website can typically do more than an app—and do those things better
(For clarification, a mobile-responsive church website is one that adjusts to various screen sizes for a pleasant browsing experience, whether you’re on a smartphone, tablet, or desktop.)
Here are seven comparisons between church apps and mobile-responsive church websites that explain why a church app is probably not worth the investment.
1. Church apps are more expensive than church websites
On average, church apps cost between $75–$200 per month, and that’s if you’re getting a church app made from a template.
A truly custom church up could cost way, way more—up to $100,000.
That’s a lot.
Conversely, you can get a solid church website for free or less than $20 per month.
That frames the choice pretty simply: if you’re going to invest in an app, you want to be sure it can accomplish more than a mobile-responsive church website.
And as I’ll continue to share, that isn’t likely to be the case.
2. Information on church apps won’t show up in a Google search
Here’s one example of how a church website will outperform your church app.
When someone is curious about your church service times, Googling your church name + “service times” won’t lead them to your church app.
Neither will “churches in [your town name]” or “[your church name] volunteering.”
In short, information in apps is hidden. You have to log in to see it, and then you have to find it.
Information on a church website is a Google search away.
And because people have internet browsers on their phones, they can find what they need any time—without digging for it in your app.
So the visibility for important information is much higher with a church website.
Extra perk: The more people visit your website, the higher it ranks in Google searches. So when prospective visitors search for churches in your area, you could rise in the ranks. Driving members to your website can have the ancillary benefit of driving new visitors to your church.
3. What you want in your app you can get in your website
Aside from informing people of special events, what else are you looking for in your church app?
Maybe you want to make it easy for people to:
- Find and watch sermons
- Give online
- Sign in to your church management software
If you can do this on your church website, and your church website is mobile responsive (most are), then you effectively don’t need an app.
A mobile-responsive church website functions just like an app.
So really it comes down to whether your app can do something your website can’t, and if that’s worth the investment. My contention is that a good church website should be able to do anything a church app can do, but better.
4. People spend more time on websites than apps
Let’s turn the conversation toward some of the downsides of apps.
Here’s a statistic that almost single-handedly settles the argument between church apps and church websites: 80% of people who download an app will not become an active user.
Applied to your church, only one in five people who download the app will use it with any regularity. And when you account for all those who won’t even download it to begin with, you could be looking at fewer than 5% of your church using your app.
Think about your own phone. How many apps do you have that you never use? If you’re anything like me, you hardly use most of them.
But people actively use the internet on their phones. In fact, more than half of all web traffic comes from mobile. That means people are searching the internet on their phones more than they are their desktops.
Simply put: people are used to searching the internet. It’s an ingrained behavior. The likelihood of your church app replacing the internet as a regular touch point is very slim.
In fact . . .
5. Apps are not the future, and churches are no exception
“Browsers, not apps, are the future of mobile.”
That’s the title of an article all about why mobile apps are on the decline.
The reason is simple: most organizations don’t need their app to do anything the internet can’t. Even Patagonia ditched their app because their website was doing the job just fine.
This is only the case with a mobile-responsive website. If your website looks clunky on phones, then people won’t want to visit it. But if it looks good, they are likelier to use it over your app.
Toward the end, the article claims, “The web is and will always be the most popular mobile operating system in the world.”
- 60% of apps in the Google Play app store have never been downloaded
- The average user downloads less than three apps per month
- Half of US smartphone users download zero apps per month
But this is actually good news for churches. A mobile-responsive church website + a smartphone is a winning combination. It performs better than a church app, and it costs less.
6. Your app competition is too strong
Well, what about apps like Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube? Don’t they perform well?
Some apps perform exceedingly well—and you could count them on one hand.
Of the hundreds of thousands of apps in existence, just five account for 80% of time spent on apps: Facebook Messenger, Google Maps, Google Search, Instagram, and YouTube.
When people are using apps, more than likely the apps are from multi-billion dollar companies.
The competition is steep.
So my recommendation? Ride it, don’t fight it.
If you want your church to have a mobile presence—which I commend—you’d do better to open an account on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube than to compete with them on your own app.
That way you’re getting into that 80% share of time, not competing against it (and losing).
For all these reasons (reasons 4–6), you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone online saying custom apps are a good idea for most organizations. The data suggest it’s an exercise in futility.
7. People tend to turn off app notifications
When you install an app, you’re typically asked, “Allow this app to send notifications to your phone?”
And if you’re like most people, you say no. 1 in 5 people disable notifications, and among millennials, the number drops to 1 and 20.
Conversely, if you are on social media apps, your notifications are either a) getting through, or b) not necessary, because people are seeing your posts anyway.
And when it comes to your church website, a good church website should integrate with your church’s email system, so that when an important announcement goes out, people see it. That’s the case with Faithlife Sites.
However you slice it, a church app simply isn’t the best way to get your message in front of people. Your church website and other apps will give you better success.
- Get a mobile-responsive church website. They are cheaper, get higher engagement, and perform better than church apps.
- Get on Facebook and Instagram. If you want to meet people on their phones—a very good idea—you’re more likely to get engagement this way, because people are already using these apps consistently.
- If you still want an app, try one that complements your church website. For example, Faithlife has a free app you can use for online giving, viewing a digital bulletin, and interacting with your church community.
Blessings to you as you decide what technology is right for your church.
Faithlife Sites offers mobile-responsive church websites for free or as low as $16.67/mo.
Matthew Boffey is a licensed minister and a writer for Faithlife.