Choosing the best church app builder

August 20, 2020

Thousands of churches are using church app builders to engage their congregations every day of the week. But why does a church even need a mobile app?

The truth is, when it comes to church communication today, mobile apps are king. 85% of people in the U.S. own a smartphone. The average American spends over 5 hours every day on their mobile devices, mostly using their favorite apps. 

Church leaders are feeling this shift to mobile-first engagement as well. In fact, nearly two-thirds of church members want more digital discipleship resources. 

A church app serves as your digital hub and provides many benefits, including:

  • Digital discipleship—Equip your congregations by putting your sermons, notes, Bible reading plans, studies, and more in their hands.
  • Increased engagement— Convenient access to your media content, such as sermon videos, podcasts, blogs, and more.
  • Better communication—Send important information with push notifications. Group messaging tools like Subsplash Messaging allow everyone to have real conversations.
  • Increased giving—Adding an online and in-app giving option increases average church tithes and offerings by 32%
  • More attendance—Keep everyone up-to-date with church calendars and digital sign-up forms.

Choosing the best church app builder is one of the most effective ways to digitally connect with your church community. Here’s how using the right church app platform can increase your reach, encourage generosity, and engage your community like never before.        

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What is a church app builder?

A church app builder is an online platform that allows you to easily build a mobile app. Church apps contain tools and features specifically designed to help your church engage your community.

Can you build your own mobile app without a church app builder? The short answer is “yes.” However, creating an app from scratch requires hiring app developers whose services will cost at least $25,000–$64,000, and they will likely take months to finish it. On top of the initial cost of creating your app, there will also be ongoing expenses for updates and maintenance. 

Fortunately, companies like Subsplash offer app builders packed with church-oriented features at a fraction of the cost of working with an app development company. That’s because app building platforms are optimized to deliver features created for churches on their existing platform. Let’s take a look at the benefits of using mobile church app developers and the features they offer. 

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Church app builder benefits

Simple to build. By offering a simple and intuitive dashboard, you can easily choose your design, add media and other content, and quickly build a beautiful and functional mobile app. A good church app builder will walk you through each step of creating a church app.

Support. Unless you’re a technical expert, you will need some assistance with getting started, creating an app, and getting your app onto the app stores. The best church apps offer one-on-one coaching and world-class live support. 

Software updates. Mobile apps require software updates and maintenance in order to continue functioning on the latest mobile devices and operating systems. Sometimes app stores will change their policies that require updates to the app’s platform, and they remove apps that don’t comply with their new policies and requirements. A big advantage of using top-notch church app builders is that they will make these updates to their platform for you without charging any extra fees.

Church-focused tools and features. A church app builder will offer features that focus on churches and their mobile audience. For example, corporate websites don’t need the Fill In Notes feature found on Subsplash mobile apps, which are used to help congregants follow along during weekend services. Let’s explore these features in depth.        

Top 10 church app builder features

Here are the ten most popular app features requested by churches and their communities. Your church app builder should offer these in order to create a mobile app that truly engages your audience:

  1. VideoShare your church’s media, like sermons, announcements, Bible study videos, and much more with an in-app video player.
  2. Audio—People love to listen to audio on their mobile devices. Good in-app audio players will allow people to listen online and download audio to listen offline. Subsplash mobile apps even allow users to listen to a video when their phone screen is turned off, perfect for when they’re driving, doing dishes, or otherwise unable to watch their screens!
  3. Tithes and donations—Encourage generosity by linking your app up to your online giving provider. This will enable your donors to give anytime, anywhere. 
  4. Push notifications—Direct your community to your church’s app by sending personalized messages instantly to their mobile devices. You can share recently added media, announce important events, and much more. Your app users can choose which type of push notifications they want to receive.
  5. Live streaming—Allow your congregation to join you in real-time for services and live events through in-app live streaming
  6. Events calendar—Your church community needs a place where they can easily find out what events are coming up. Your app should be able to integrate with your other calendars (like Google or Apple calendars) so your events appear within your church app with maps, contact information, and any special instructions. People can simply open your app to  quickly and conveniently find out what is happening.
  7. Bible—Put the Word and daily Bible reading plans into the hands of your church community wherever they are. The best apps will include an in-app Bible with different translations, the ability to highlight and copy verses, as well a sharing option.
  8. Notes & fill-in-notes—App users will love to use your note feature to journal their personal discipleship journey. They’ll also easily be able to get more from your sermons with fill in the blank notes that you provide for them.
  9. Blogs—Good church app builders will allow you to easily integrate your blog and news feeds directly into your app. 
  10. In-app messaging—Whether it’s sharing a prayer request, creating channels for small groups, or coordinating a meal, the best church app builders provide you with an in-app messaging tool. This allows your users to create instant messaging channels, invite their friends, and make new connections as well.

These are all great features that will help you engage your audience like never before. However, not all church app builders offer this array of features. Let’s take a look at what separates the best from the rest.

       

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The 3 easy steps of building a church app

While each church app builder company is different, you can create your app in three easy steps with Subsplash’s church app builder. Simply update three basic tabs, and your app is ready to go! 

Of course, you can update, change or add new tabs as often as you want. Here’s how to get started:

Step #1—Set up the media tab

The media tab is built to deliver your awesome media content to your app users. This content can be sermon videos or audio, podcasts, or other multimedia content.

Subsplash’s church app builder includes media hosting and delivery. This means your videos are delivered directly into your app without any ads or third-party video-hosting services like YouTube. 

Step #2—Set up the events tab

The events tab keeps your church members current on your upcoming events, from weekend services to Bible study groups to choir practice and so on. Having an updated calendar of scheduled events will make your church’s app more engaging and useful. It also draws people back to your app over and over again. 

Step #3—Set up the home tab

Because first impressions are important, the home tab is the most important tab in your app. 

Now that you’ve set up your media and events tabs, it’s simple to customize your home tab. You can match your church’s branding and direct people to your other tabs and content.  

Here are three examples of basic content you can include on your home tab to ensure a pleasant, engaging user experience:

  • Your most recent sermon video or media item
  • A link to your church website
  • Your most recent sermon video or media item
  • A link to your online giving provider

       

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Paid vs. free church app builders

You get what you pay for. Some church app builders lure customers by offering a free app when you pay for their other services. While the appeal of getting something for nothing is clear, how do these “free” apps stack up against paid apps?

Free apps offer limited features

Whenever you see an offer for a free app, be on the lookout for limited or missing features. For example, many free apps skip important features like push notifications. If you want to enable push notifications, you can sometimes pay them a monthly fee to enable “premium” features—if they offer them at all. 

A good illustration of a limited feature would be apps that offer a “sermon player” that allows your users to watch sermon videos. You’ll find, however, that these media players are nothing more than a YouTube player within your app. This means your users will have to watch random (and sometimes inappropriate) commercials before watching your videos. 

The best church app builders offer dedicated media hosting and delivery. Subsplash Media, for example, gives you 1–5 terabytes of storage and delivers your videos quickly. No need to upload your videos to YouTube, Vimeo, or other platforms first, and there are no annoying ads. Also, you continue to own all of the content you put on Subsplash Media. This is important because you lose ownership and control of any of your videos uploaded to YouTube or Vimeo.

Use the top 10 church app features mentioned above as a checklist to ensure that you’ll get the features you need. 

Free apps are “container apps”

Free church apps are not fully customizable, standalone apps that can be found in app stores. Your app will be contained within the app of the church app builder, known as a “container app” because all of your app content is contained within their app. This can be confusing for those in your community who are wanting to find your app within the app stores.

To illustrate this, imagine that you get an app from the Acme Free Church App Co. Here are the steps your community would need to take to find your app:

  1. Download and install the Acme Free Church App Co. app from the Android or Apple app stores.
  2. Search for your church within the Acme Free Church App Co. app.
  3. Launch your church’s app and select it as your default app.

Because this is an unfamiliar process, it can take longer for your users to get familiar with a container app and fully adopt using them.

Having your own custom branded app on the Google or Apple app stores provides a much better experience for your users. They can simply download and install your church’s app for free directly from the app stores. You can also share your app download link on your church’s website and social media to make it easier for people to find and use your app.

Free apps focus on what’s important to the app Companies

Free apps offer layouts and features centered around the church app company’s interests instead of your interests. For example, a free app from an online giving provider will focus on the giving features of your app. For example, they will default your app’s home page to a “donate now” page. Many of these pre-set features cannot be removed or customized.

Your app should focus on the features that are important to you and your community, not the church app builder. Otherwise, the user experience will be poor and your community won’t want to use it!.

       

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How to choose the best church app builder

Your church app builder should provide you with the most popular designs, useful features, a simple building process, and your own custom-branded app available in the app stores. But what else sets the best church app builder apart from the rest of the crowd?


World-class support

Most app builders will offer documentation on how to use their platform. Some will even offer video tutorials and email and chat support.

Only the best church app builders will supply you with personal support from the planning to the launching of your app along with ongoing tech support. 

Subsplash stands above the competition by offering a dedicated Client Success Manager to provide live coaching and technical support every step of the way. 


Integration with a broad engagement platform

Having an app is a wonderful way to connect with your community. But does building an app mean more work for you and your team? In other words, do you have to manage your church app, website, online giving, and media on separate platforms, systems, and dashboards?

For most church app builders, the answer is yes—managing the app is separate from managing everything else. To illustrate this, imagine that you want to live stream your service to your app, website, and YouTube channel. Most church app builders require you to manage several separate live streaming dashboards. This can be confusing and a lot of work! 

What if the changes you make to your church’s mobile app could automatically be updated on your website as well? The good news is that Subsplash is the only church app builder that is integrated with a much broader platform. 

For example, using the same streaming scenario, when you livestream using Subsplash Live, your stream will be broadcast to your app, website, YouTube, and even Facebook Live. After your stream is over, the recording is automatically added to your Subsplash Media library so your users can watch it on demand on your app and website. The Subsplash dashboard will even allow your users to listen to the audio only with the click of a button. 

Only Subsplash offers all of these features, best-in-class support, along with a seamless integration into a robust engagement platform. Since 2009, we’ve been honored to serve churches with best-in-class engagement tools and support. 

Connect with a ministry consultant for a free demo of the Subsplash church app builder, and experience for yourself how The Ultimate Engagement Platform™ can transform the way your church engages with your community!

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