The Bible, the bestselling book in world history, continues to transform lives. But as technology progresses, are Christian leaders and ministries also changing along with the times?
This is, of course, a subjective curiosity, however one church is, indeed, adapting to emerging developments — and the impact of its efforts has been monumental. LifeChurch.tv, known for providing quality, world-wide church services online, is also transforming the way that people around the world access — and read — the Bible.
A few years ago, Pastor Bobby Gruenewald, innovation leader for LifeChurch.tv, created YouVersion, an online app that offers complete access to the holy book from any smart phone or tablet. In an interview with TheBlaze, he detailed the project from its inception to current standing, highlighting the immense impact that digitizing “God’s word” has had on believers and non-believers, alike.
HOW YOUVERSION WAS DEVELOPED
Gruenewald said that the idea for YouVersion came while he was standing in a security line at Chicago O’Hare Airport back in 2007.
“I was processing about how, if we leverage technology and tools that are available today, it could transform how we engage in the Bible,” he said, likening his search for a usable idea to the development of the printing press.
The printing press, invented in 1450, monumentally expanded the Bible’s reach. Just the same, Gruenewald wanted to harness the power of new media and technology to see a similar expansion take place in the modern-era — one that would have an equal if not more profound impact on the Bible.
In Sept. 2007, YouVersion went online, but the original website was just the beginning.
“The response to it was okay, but not great. We saw about 20,000 unique visitors over the first three months of launching it. We felt like it certainly wasn’t revolutionary,” he admitted. “We were about to scrap the whole thing, but there was one iteration that we wanted to try, which was a mobile version of the website.”
And that did the trick. Months after the website launched, Gruenewald and his team, in a last-ditch effort to spark intrigue, created the mobile app; YouVersion’s popularity took off from there.
“Two things happened — one was we saw our traffic go up. We noticed an increase in the number of people visiting and revisiting the website from their phones,” he said. “We found ourselves naturally engaging in the Bible in a more frequent basis. We paid attention to this metric.”
THE APP’S POPULARITY
Gruenewald wanted to come up with a way for people to have greater access to the Bible. What better than an app that allows individuals to easily take the book around wherever they go? In a world in which cell phones are very literally attached to peoples’ hips, YouVersion’s app roll-out changed the scenario for LifeChurch.tv.
“We really had no idea [how popular it would be]. If you had told me that 80,000 people over the course of the year would have installed it [I would have been surprised],” Gruenewald said.
But within mere days, 83,000 people had downloaded and installed the app. As of Monday, nearly 94 million people across the globe had downloaded YouVersion. Gruenewald and his team hope that this will soon pass the 100 million mark — a major milestone.
The operation has grown along with the numbers. What started as a mere concept in an airport security line has grown to an operation that includes 25 full-time workers and hundreds of others who devote their time to the cause.
“In addition to 25 full time people, we have about 350 volunteers who help support the app in different languages,” he said, highlighting YouVersion’s massive scope. “This year our budget will be several million dollars — some of that is significant new features, but some of it’s just simply supporting the growth of what comes with [the app's popularity].”
As far as funding goes, LifeChurch.tv started by footing the bill for the entire project, but donors have since also stepped up to help in YouVersion’s growth.
While the logistics and numbers have changed, Gruenewald maintains that the goals are the same, as his team hopes to “engage people in the Bible.” Among the targets are those individuals who don’t necessarily read the book frequently. Considering the portability of the app (it’s part of users’ phones, after all), the potential to impact these individuals is great.
CHRISTIANITY AND TECHNOLOGY CONVERGE
Gruenewald also spoke at length about the importance of Christian churches getting on board with technology. While LifeChurch.tv is certainly answering this call, some aren’t moving so quickly. Regardless, he believes that failing to meet emerging trends in technological advances could truly harm Christianity.
“I think it would be one of the most historic misses for the church if we don’t,” he said of harnessing the power of technology. “Our point of view is that we’re alive at this extremely unique time in history … there’s this exploding population … and you and I are occupying this space in history … that’s going straight to the roof — and at the same time, we have these tools and technologies that knit us together like never before.”
In sum: This is the perfect time to engage people in the gospel, at least according to Gruenewald.
To learn more about the tech preacher, LifeChurch.tv and YouVersion, be sure to visit the app’s website.
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