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 Introducing the Westminster Church App
 Westminster Presbyterian Church in Barrie, Ont. received a $1,000 Innovation Grant from the PCC to help fund this initiative. In the summer of 2020, 31 Innovation Grants were provided to PCC ministries to encourage
innovation in the areas of discipleship and public witness
during the time of COVID-19.
 By the Rev. Matthew Ruttan, Westminster Presbyterian Church in Barrie, Ont.
The prevalence and power of smart- phones has transformed how many people live their lives. Almost 90% of Canadians are online and almost all of them use social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
I read about a study of seven thou- sand 16- to 30-year-olds across the U.K., U.S., Spain, China, Brazil, In- dia and Mexico. Over 50% between the ages of 16 and 23 would “give up their sense of smell rather than sacrifice their social networks” (Reg- gie Joiner, Zombies, Football and the Gospel). I’m not saying that’s healthy; I’m just saying it’s reality!
And it’s not just younger people. According to Statistics Canada, the fastest growing group of users is seniors. They enjoy how they can connect with family and friends through email and Facebook. And more and more people are shopping online as well.
Enter COVID-19. Physical-distanc- ing restrictions, online meetings, on- line family events, and evolving work and study-from-home scenarios are pushing our time online through the roof.
None of this technology was around in the first century. However, Jesus had a habit of meeting people where they were, whether that be on a hillside or by the lake. He didn’t wait for them to come to him; he went to them. In this same spirit, and because so many people are spend- ing huge chunks of time online, the elders at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Barrie, Ont., decided to get a smartphone app. The decision was accelerated by COVID-19. We wanted to make it as easy as pos- sible for congregants to connect with their church at the touch of a button, especially at a time when so many are experiencing the stress and strain of an uncertain time. Further, since we were already live streaming, and since we were already produc- ing a lot of online content, we knew
we were good candidates for an app because the congregation is already used to new, daily material and re- sources from the church.
Let’s dig into some details. First, what is an app? An app is a tool on your smartphone. All those little squares (or tiles) are different apps. “App” is short for “application”—as in software application on an elec- tronic device. If you’re wondering about the difference between an app and a website, think of it like this. A website is kind of like your online platform to the world. It probably has a comprehensive program listing and some background about your church. An app is a bit different. Even though anyone can download it, an app is more like a platform for your weekly church family and is designed more specifically for use on a smart- phone. It highlights content that is more likely to get used on a weekly basis.
Second, who made it? We re- searched three different companies and landed on You’re right,
the name makes it sound like it’s all about giving, but it’s not. They started as an online giving program but have since expanded to become a full-service app development com- pany. About 80% of their clients are churches. Our app didn’t have a large set-up fee. Instead, we chose from different templates and then went through a process of syncing our in- formation with the app. Some of the content gets updated automatically, and other parts are updated manu- ally through a website. It is an easy- to-use format which makes updates simple and instant.
Third, what does it include? You can:
• access videos directly from our YouTube channel, or anything else we decide to upload;
• go directly to the live stream for our Sunday morning worship services;
• see prayer requests, and even submit a prayer request at the push of a button;
• read up-to-date announce- ments—which is super helpful when many of us are no longer producing paper bulletins like we used to;
• find pictures;
• access all of our social media
feeds in one place;
• watch or listen to sermons;
• fill in weekly “notes” that ac-
company the sermon to help you engage more deeply with the text and teaching;
• get the latest information on our small-groups program or youth groups;
• find our blog and faith-at-home resources;
• learn more about us and how to be in touch;
• give donations;
• access an online Bible (with
multiple versions);
• and find a daily devotional that I
write called Up!
The most popular section on the
app is clearly the prayer wall, which is so encouraging. At the push of a button, people can find out who needs prayer and instantly lift those concerns up to the Lord.
In addition, when you download the app, you can choose to receive “push notifications.” These are short, timely updates (notifications) on your phone about new resources, live worship services, outreach initia- tives, small group or youth initiatives as they become available.
Fourth, how much does it cost? It’s free for users! The app was sup- ported and paid for in part by be- quests to The Presbyterian Church in Canada. Isn’t that great? Because of this, the app won’t cost Westminster anything in the first year. After that, the estimated cost to the church is just over $900 annually.
When it comes to smartphone apps, it’s good to be realistic. They’re not the be-all and end-all of online church communications. Some peo- ple will use it; some won’t. Some churches may be well-suited to an app, others won’t be. And that’s okay. It is simply one more tool to further the gospel of Christ and the mission of the church—a tool which just so happens to be wired into de- vices in our pockets, which are an increasing part of our everyday lives.
We’re living in a hyper-connected world. In the 60-Second Marketer, Nicole Hall reported that there are “more people using smartphones than there are people using tooth- brushes.” Wowzers. I hope people are still using their toothbrushes! But wouldn’t it be great if they powered up those smartphones to help them learn, pray and grow in the hope of Jesus?
Want to check it out?
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