21 Mindblowing Facts About Church Apps

The gold rush for mobile apps began almost 10 years ago. Does it still make sense to build church apps today?

March 9th, 2017

Almost everyday I see a church ask this question: “Should we build a church app?” Churches are beginning to realize that their websites don’t serve as good central hubs for their congregations.

Why? Nowadays, church websites best serve potential new visitors. They act as the digital front door to your church. But what about people who are already inside the house? What does your website do for them? Evidently, not much.

Giving, sign-ups, and content consumption happen on church websites, but these often get buried in the back pages. As well, your church’s website is likely primarily made for desktop, not mobile devices.

Most church websites are not user friendly for your existing congregation. A common solution? Inevitably someone will say, “Let’s build a church app. This app can have everything! Sermon videos, message notes, ministry signups, event registration, calendar, giving, etc. And, it will be built primarily for smartphones!”

2 Unique Platforms For 2 Unique Audiences

This makes a kind of sense. I’m fully on board with churches having two unique digital platforms to serve two unique audiences. Using your website to serve both new visitors and your existing congregation can be unwieldy.

But creating a church app isn’t cheap (especially if you want a quality app). I asked a handful of churches using mobile apps what they were paying, and the average cost was between $75-$200/month. Not a small investment.

Since the monthly fee for an app is considerable, let’s look at the metrics. Will your church app be successful? If you’re going to spend time and money to build this thing, will it work?

Let’s start with the most recent data on the subject.

We Use Mobile Apps More Than Every Other Form Of Digital Media Combined

When you’re in the market for a church app, these are the type of statistics that are thrown at you. Admittedly, the data is convincing. The sheer weight of the numbers is staggering. Mobile apps clearly play a huge role in our lives — more than any other form of digital media. In fact, we’re using mobile apps more than every other form of digital media combined!

But let’s dig a little deeper into the data to tease out how people are actually using mobile apps.

90% Of Our Time Using Mobile Apps Is Spent In Our 5 Favorite Apps

  • Smartphone users spend 45% of their time using their #1 favorite app (Source: comScore)
  • 9 out of every 10 minutes of app usage on smartphones is spent on a user’s top 5 apps (Source: comScore)
  • Tablet users spend 61% of app time in their #1 app (Source: comScore)
  • Tablet users spend 87% of app time in their top 3 apps (Source: comScore)
  • Push notifications are declining: 38% of users say they “never” or “rarely” agree to accept push notifications, up 31% from last year (Source: comScore)

Now that we’ve looked a little closer a clearer picture emerges. While we are using mobile apps at a staggering rate, the vast majority of our time is spent in our 5 favorites — apps like Facebook, Instagram, Email, iMessage, Snapchat, YouTube and Twitter.

Perhaps even more telling is the decline in push notifications. On the whole, we’re beginning to get tired of being pinged all the time. While one of the distinct strengths of a mobile app is its ability to send push notifications, as more and more people turn these off completely (close to 1 in 2), this advantage is lost.

60% Of Apps In The Google Play Store Have Been Downloaded Zero Times

  • 60% of apps in the Google Play Store have been downloaded zero times (Source: Google)
  • The average smartphone user downloads less than 2 new apps per month (Source: comScore)
  • Half of U.S. smartphone users download zero new apps per month (Source: comScore)
  • 80% of users who download an app will never become active users (Source: Quettra)
  • 25% of apps that are installed are never used (Source: Fortune)
  • The average Android app loses 77% of its daily active users within the first 3 days; 90% within the first 30 days (Source: Quettra)

Thus, while it’s undeniable that mobile apps play a huge role in our lives, it appears that 9/10ths of the ‘app pie’ is gobbled up by the big guys, leaving a single sliver left for everyone else to fight over. The result? 6 out of 10 apps in the Google Play Store have never been downloaded even one single time.

The numbers also point toward another important trend: mobile apps are beginning to decline. Ten years ago Apple announced the release of the iPhone and the App Store. Since that time, mobile apps have risen to be the status of being the most important source of digital media in our lives.

But that trend is beginning to curb. Web apps can now do anything a mobile app can do. We’re downloading fewer apps than ever. We’re using fewer apps than ever. You might say that all the gold has been already been discovered. The gold rush is over.

Another interesting trend is that, although apps are on the decline, something else is on a steep incline.

Mobile Web Audiences Average 3X Larger Than Apps

  • Mobile app usage grew 52% in 2014, 25% in 2015, and just 11% in 2016 (Source: comScore)
  • Despite app dominance in usage time, mobile web audiences dwarf mobile app audiences. Mobile web audiences are growing 2X faster (Source: comScore)
  • Mobile web audiences average 3X larger than than mobile app audiences (Source: comScore)
  • Mobile web audiences have grown 82% since 2014, while mobile app audiences have grown just 45% (Source: comScore)
  • Apps’ walled-garden environment makes reaching large audiences more difficult than the more linkable desktop and mobile web — the mobile web has 4.5X more sites with 5+ million unique visitors than apps (Source: comScore)

Bottom line? Mobile apps are being replaced by web apps. What does this mean? Ten years ago the apps on your smartphone could do things websites couldn’t (ie. location tracking, dynamic motion, interactive elements, push notifications). But with the rise of HTML5 and the maturing of the internet’s coding languages, your website can do essentially everything an app can.

Moreover, your website can do it without requiring someone to download an app, set permissions, and use up space on their phone. A website doesn’t need to be updated every time a new operating system gets released. It’s considerably cheaper than a mobile app. And your website can be accessed by any device at any time, not just by a smartphone.

Of course, if you’re a social juggernaut like Facebook or Snapchat, you’ve won with a mobile app. And that makes perfect sense.

But the data points against a template-based church app jumping into the fray and being successful (especially considering the cost). Can it still happen? Sure. There are always anomalies. But when you’re working with limited resources like our churches are, banking on anomalies isn’t a sign of good stewardship.

Don’t Get Nostalgic

If you’re already in the process of developing or delivering a church app, you may look at the data and remain unconvinced. But I encourage you not to be nostalgic about the methods you’re currently using. Do your best to look at the data objectively.

You might argue, “Yeah, but our app got X amount of downloads this month.” Okay. Is that number good? What do you have to compare it to? What about the fact that 80% of people that download your app will never become active users. Sure, they downloaded it, but the vast majority will never use it. Is that really a win? For the amount it costs?

You might argue, “Yeah, but people in our church have told us how much they love our app.” I believe it. But using anecdotal evidence to make digital decisions is a flawed approach. You will always be able to ignore macro data and cherry-pick individual feedback to create a narrative of your choosing.

You might argue, “Yeah, but if we’re not using a mobile app, what else can we use? You said we need two platforms.” Correct. So let’s revisit that for a moment. The reason most churches begin down the path to developing an app is because they know their website can’t serve two unique audiences equally well. You do need two unique platforms to serve two unique audiences.

Introducing Nucleus.Church

Enter: Nucleus.

Nucleus is the all-in-one central hub for your church. It functions like a mobile app, but it’s accessible through a single URL online. Remember when I said that the internet has caught up to apps? Nucleus is the realization of that.

Nucleus is 100% customizable. You can brand it and build it however you see fit. And it’s meant to house every single next step for your existing congregation: message notes, connect card, giving, prayer requests, calendar, ministry sign-up, event registration, etc. All in one convenient spot. No downloading it to your phone, no searching for it in the App Store, no permissions that need to be set.

Nucleus is accessible from every device, but it’s built mobile first. It feels just like an app without the barriers and restrictions of an app.

Imagine, every time you announce something at church, every time you post a promo on social media, every time someone asks you in person about an upcoming event, you can send them to a single URL every time (i.e.: mychurch.info).

Question: “Where can I signup for baptism?”
Answer: “mychurch.info”

Question: “What time is the Women’s Brunch again?”
Answer: “mychurch.info”

Question: “Where can I give online?”
Answer: “mychurch.info”

When you remove the barriers of connecting with your church through an app, more people will take next steps because there are no hurdles they have to jump over. And when you simplify every next step to a single location, more people will take next steps because they always know where to go.

Nucleus.Church — Launching April 25th

Nucleus is launching on April 25th. If you want to be the first notified of this launch and get an exclusive lifetime discount, click the link below and you can join the launch list.

Nucleus.Church – The all-in-one central hub for your church – Launching April 25th

Summary Of The Data

  • Apps are incredibly dominant. We use apps more than any other form of digital media combined. 52% of all time spent on digital media is spent on apps.
  • All of this time is spent on just a small handful of apps. 9 out of every 10 minutes spent on apps is spent in a user’s top 5.
    App fatigue is becoming a Thing. Push notifications are being turned off more frequently. Half of U.S. smartphone users download zero new apps per month.
  • If the app world were a giant strawberry-rhubarb pie (my favorite), 9 out of 10 slices have already been eaten by the app giants — like Facebook and Youtube — leaving just 1 piece for everybody else. No wonder 60% of apps in the Google Play store have never been downloaded.
  • Interestingly, while mobile apps are on the decline, mobile web is on the rise. Mobile web audiences average 3X larger than app audiences.
  • Knowing that mobile apps won’t solve our two-audience issues, we need a solution that serves our existing congregation.
  • Enter: Nucleus. The all-in-one central hub for your church. The power, mobility, and flexibility of an app, without the barriers and hurdles.
  • More reading: The mobile app gold rush is over by TechCrunch.
  • More reading: Why native apps are really doomed by Eric Elliot.

Learn more about Nucleus and join the launch list at Nucleus.Church.

  • Brad Zimmerman

    Love this, I have been telling my team and others this type of stuff (without all the research) for years. I’m so glad I’m not alone in thinking apps don’t make sense for most churches. Such great information, plus i’m really excited about nucleus, well done Brady and team!

  • Brandon Conn

    I’m curious to see Nucleus. When you describe Nucleus it sounds like what our website already does. And I agree that our app is just another version of our site and could be a waste of resources. We basically duplicate the same content in both places. But there are a lot of people in our church who exclusively use the app to watch sermons and check for events/info. It works great as another portal to content. I think using apps is definitely in decline like you said but we aren’t abandoning our app just yet when it is getting a ton of traction. If we didn’t already have an app I would seriously question whether or not we build one but for now I think it is another great tool for us.

    • Brandon, the last sentence you wrote really intrigued me. We’re getting closer to Spring and one thing I tell myself every year during my Spring cleaning of my wardrobe is this…I’ll pick up a piece of clothing – let’s use a shirt as an example – that I’m debating on keeping or giving away and I’ll ask myself, “If I didn’t own this already, would I buy it today?” And if I can’t honestly answer “yes” I’ll give it away.

      Sounds like you’re asking yourself a similar question when it comes to apps. I think it’s a great exercise.

      • Brandon Conn

        Good analogy. We may eventually abandon our app but right now it’s working. I checked stats again today and the app logs about double the sermon views as our website and approaching as many launches as the website as well (about 75% as many). We may be one of the exceptions but for some reason our app is hit a with people. All that to say I am still VERY excited to see Nucleus launch. 🙂

  • Ryan Arp

    I agree, but…I believe some caveats need to be established to make the article a little less ambiguous.

    #1 — All churches should without question focus your resources on a responsive site first and only once that’s completed with excellence should you consider more options. If you adhere to that one rule, then 90% (or more) of the churches will never get to the point of an app being feasible. Of the 10% that will ever meet the first rule, they’re probably at the point that $100-$250 a month is nothing.
    #2 — Apps are not acquisition tools. More than 60% of my church’s weekly site traffic is on mobile and more than 60% of overall traffic is new visitors. If your church’s stats are similar, (and I bet they are) this should be obvious to anyone responsible for digital strategies that an app should never be built for the purpose of acquisition. People won’t download your app to learn about your church. Also, most churches don’t have a digital strategy, they just do what feels trendy.
    #3 — If you’re part of the 10% of churches that might be ready to try more digital assets, it probably means you’re a larger church with a lots of regular attendees. An app should aid in engagement and retention for your members that don’t have a reason to repeatedly visit a site geared primarily toward selling the church and dispensing information to new visitors. Regular attendees (members) are most times better engaged with a tool vs a site and so an app might make better sense as long as it’s features are driven toward that goal and not just a copy of what’s on the website (which is what most are).

    I do think most all of the rules still stand, but I also believe it’s a deeper story. I also do agree most packaged app platforms are selling churches on false perceptions of needs. But, can you blame them? It’s an easy sell and they’re in the business of making money with the most broad feature set.

    Last, as a Sr UX/Product Designer who designs digital strategies and tools (sites and apps) for a large corporation, I would argue that apps are still the best tool for the right job. Churches are just confused in realizing what that job actually is. They’ve employed an app to do a job it can’t accomplish.

    Can’t wait to see Nucleus. Keep up the good work!!

    • Ryan, plenty of great points here. I agree about app platforms selling on false perception of needs. That’s a VERY IMPORTANT point. Thanks for this comment.

  • Gabe Tringale

    Great article as always, I love the stats. I will say though, that our app is getting positive feedback verbally (not just a few, dozens of people approaching staff to say how much they love it), it is also getting new downloads each week, as well as quality minutes spent on the app (our platform, PushPay and eChurch Apps, gives us stats on unique launches and how much time was spent in the app.) So some of our data contradicts the national trends you’re referencing. Which brings me to my point: national trends certainly show that most people spend 90% of their time in their 5 favorite apps, however, committed church goers will certainly break that mold. If you’re looking for a way to connect with sermons, videos, devotionals, signups, events, etc from a local church body, an app on your phone is AS CONVENIENT as it gets. Lastly, I’m cool with most of our congregation spending 90% of their time on FB, IG, ESPN, and iMessages, so long as we have some of that leftover 10%. It only takes 1 – 2 minutes to open our app, read the details on the event and sign up. Or 1-2 minutes to open the app and give. Or 1-2 minutes to open the app and have the sermon audio or video playing through the car on their commute to work.

    Overall, I love the stats and your fresh perspective and I’m looking forward to seeing what Nucleus is all about, I just signed up! But I’m not ready to abandon an app that costs almost nothing since we get it basically free with our PushPay agreement. Oh, and I forgot, push notifications from annoying apps I don’t care about get turned off. Push notifications telling me church is canceled due to snow or reminding me that small group starts at 7pm are more than welcomed!

    • Gabe, the only thing I would caution you about is using anecdotal evidence from your church as reason why an app is working. We all fall prey to confirmation bias. That’s why empirical data like the stats in this article can be so helpful.

  • Ryan

    Wanted to learn more about nucleus but there isn’t any info, only a signup for when it goes live. I want to find out more. Where can I get real info?

    • Ryan, we’ll be releasing tons more info as the launch date gets closer!

  • Jen Watts

    Anxiously awaiting the launch of Nucleus!

  • Magen

    What a teaser. I hope you got compensated for this. Nucleus could at least do you the favor of giving you more sneak peeks to share. Screenshots? Bullet list of features? Link to a video?

    • Hey Magen, our company is building Nucleus so no need to be compensated for our own platform. As for sneak peaks, this is our first announcement of Nucleus – lots to come down the pike in the coming weeks.

      In the mean time, I did a podcast where I break down the complete platform here – the episode is called “What Is Nucleus?”: https://itunes.apple.com/podcast/pro-church-podcast-brady-shearer/id848673237?mt=2

      • Magen

        Lightbulb moment! Congratulations on the new adventure! Any product you create will be excellent. I’ll have a listen.

  • clyons045

    Do you have any examples of churches with web apps? Curious as to what it looks like

    • Check out Church On The Move’s site cotm.info. Perfect example.

      • clyons045

        Thank you

      • Greg Vennerholm

        Thanks for the kind words Brady!

        We built COTM.info (nearly two years ago now) to meet some of the needs that you’re mentioning here. It’s been a great tool for us, and is integral to our communication strategy (it’s the default call to action on the weekend).

        We still use and maintain native apps, however we felt that asking a new visitor to download an app was wasn’t serving first-timers well. Instead, letting folks go to an open-web solution made more sense and has proven to be very successful.

        Good luck with Nucleus! Sounds like a helpful tool for a lot of churches.

        • Default call-to-action! Yes. That’s the key, Greg. Comparing a Nucleus/COTM.info to an app isn’t a perfect one-to-one comparison because they don’t do the exact same things.

          Another product we produce, Greg, is called provideoannouncements.com. We produce video announcements for 120+ churches each week. And with that volume we see so many different call-to-actions used. Lobby, app, website, phone number, email address, talk to Pastor Sheila, etc. With Nucleus/COTM.info you can always have a single, memorable call-to-action with each announcement which is key for succinct and simple communications.

  • josh

    Brady, I love PCT and you have been so valuable to me and to the kingdom, keep up the good work!!!!

    I see your fight against church apps, it’s been loud and clear as of late. I see the data and I know you have done your homework. I also see the need of investing in social first.

    This is my argument for a church, at least our church, in why we should have an app.

    1. Equipping & Resourcing. My job as a pastor is to equip the saints for ministry. We don’t use our app as a outreach tool but to equip our people. It is for our church and we hear consistently from folks that it helps them in their walk. Podcast, calendar, sermon notes. Yes stuff they can get on our website as well but the app makes it easier. We have the ability to add content remotely through google docs which can keep resources in peoples pocket.

    2. The Money: we paid 100 for the build and 50 a month. $50 which supports an independent missionary who uses the money to fund his mission. If we were printing bulletins or notes it would cost us that much a month to resource our people so we do it in the app. It is a worthy investment for us and not a waste. I could argue that paying for video announcements(which we do in house) is a waste of money as well.

    4. The data: I am sure your data is accurate but You have not polled our church. I think each church has its own culture. Our church is less than 100 people and about 80% under 35. I would say that 65-70% of our people use the app. Most of that is during service for notes etc however we get reports all the time of people using it through the week. So where I agree with you in part I think it is not beneficial to make blanket statements when you don’t know the culture of an individual congregation.

    We work very hard and consistently on social media and spend money on ads, it’s awesome! We need to do better but our ap is also incredible in our culture!

    • Josh,

      Great points (though your third point is mysteriously missing…jokes haha).

      Like you say in your first point, you have stuff on your website and app that is duplicate content. I’m not a huge fan of duplicate content. Seems like more work for the staff. But aside from that, you said that “the app makes it easier.” But this is only true if people actually have downloaded the app already, otherwise, accessing that content via app rather than a website is more difficult. And as we can see from the data, on scale, convincing people to download an app and become active users of it is difficult.

      As for the data, and your specific church context, obviously the sample size is small in a church of 100. What I would say is this…just because it’s working, doesn’t mean another solution wouldn’t work better. And this is why I rely on sound data and big sample sizes.

      It’s like working at McDonalds and saying, “Look! I made money! $10/hour.” This is of course true. But you wouldn’t then use that to neglect a better job that would offer you $20/hour. Obviously a higher hourly wage would be better.

      Of course, that’s just a hypothetical, but when we look the large data and sample sizes and see what we see, we have to assume that the hypothetical is true in most cases for apps. Sure, they might work alright, but other options should outperform them in most contexts.

      And truly, this is what makes apps so enticing. You can build data around their “success” and neglect other options that would actually serve you and your church much better. I’m all for giving up the GOOD for GREAT.

      That being said, Josh, if you’re pushing hard on social, everyday on Facebook and Instagram, plus solid email and text strategy, then by all means push that app! It’s totally your call once you’ve got those other things figured out. This data is meant to help with that decision, but at the end of the day, it’s your decision to make.

  • Steve McKenzie

    Is there any idea on the price of this resource. We are exploring different options. Also, why would you say this is better than focusing on your web presence, especially if your site is responsive? Thanks!

    • Steve,

      Great question. The first distinction is that Nucleus is NOT meant to replace your existing website. We think churches should have two websites and follow the Church on the Move mobdel (churchonthemove.com and cotm.info). Instead of trying to serve two unique audiences – potential new visitors & existing congregation – with one web platform, we think you should have two unique platforms for each.

      Nowadays, most church websites are built for new visitors. On a church homepage you’ll find times of service, locations, beliefs, messages…but what if you’re part of the existing congregation? What if you want to take a next step? Sadly, that gets buried in the back pages somewhere.

      Moreover, what makes this different from something like a responsive website is that it’s built like a mobile app, but doesn’t come with the barriers of downloading an app. It’s built mobile first, will integrate popular ChMS systems, built-in forms and submission tracking. It’s a hybrid of a mobile app, website, and bulletin.

      Hope that makes sense. If you want to hear the full story of Nucleus, I did a podcast called ‘What Is Nucleus?’ that explains it all at prochurchpodcast.com!

      • Steve McKenzie

        Thanks for taking the time to respond. When you say it will integrate with popular ChMS systems does this mean that Nucleus will (at some point) integrate with Planning Center Online apps? This would be an AMAZING feature.

        • Yep! We’ll connect APIs so if someone fills out a Connect Card for instance on Nucleus, that will automatically create a new person in Planning Center People.

          • Steve McKenzie

            AWESOME!

  • Collins Chukwumaobi-Chisom

    THANKS A GREAT DEAL, I REALLY APPRECIATE IT. EVEN THOUGH OUR CHURCH IS DOESN’T HAVE AN APP YET, I THINK THIS ARTICLE WOULD BE VERY HELPFUL IN OUR DECISION MAKING. GOD BLESS YOU.

    http://www.harmoniousjoy.com/shows/

    (angel)(angel)(angel)(angel)(angel)