When we talk about communicating with the various social media tools at our disposal, we have to make mobile access a consistent part of the conversation. According to the Pew Research Internet Project, as of January 2014, 58% of Americans have a smartphone and 42% own a tablet. Sixty-three percent of cell phone owners use their phones to go online, and for 34% of them, the phone is the primary device they use to go online. As these numbers continue to climb, spiritual leaders need to be aware how mobile-accessible their ministry’s online presence is and how mobile-friendly it really should be.
Let’s start with your church’s website. Is it mobile-friendly, mobile-optimized, or a responsive design that adjusts “magically” as the device size changes? A mobile-friendly site will display the same regardless of device (phone, tablet, desktop/laptop computer), but is laid out in a way that allows mobile users to do most tasks. It will work ok, but probably not very well on mobile devices because of drop-down menus or hover-over menus (which rarely work on touch screens), large photo sizes (which take a long time to load), and—worst of all—Flash Videos (which aren’t visible on any iOS/Apple devices and an increasing number of Android devices).
A mobile-optimized site is one that will automatically switch to a mobile version of your site when opened on a smartphone. It features simplified navigation, larger “thumb-friendly” navigation buttons, as well as reduced image sizes for faster page load times. Generally, mobile sites offer an option to view the page in “desktop mode” if the reader’s device can manage (especially if there are features that are only available on your full/desktop site).
Responsive design websites are the newest development. Rather than detect the device or browser to indicate if a visitor is on a phone, the website content automatically adjusts according to the user’s screen size. Responsive design is something you’d have your web design team execute. Mobile-friendly and mobile-optimized sites may be options you can select “out of the box,” depending on where you created your website. If your site is not yet at least mobile-optimized, now is the time to think about it.
For some spiritual communities, you may even want to delve into creating your own app. Apps tend to be easier to use on mobile devices, but can start to get expensive to create your own. With minimal data usage, an app could allow users to submit prayer requests, tithe and make donations to specific projects, check in at service to help track attendance, keep up with news, get reminders right on their phone screen about events, and easily share their favorite highlights via social media. Services like MyChurch or Roar provide app-building options that range from DIY to full-service app construction. Whether on your mobile app or a standard livestreaming app like Ustream, your community can also watch livestreaming from mobile devices.
But does your church really need an app? Ask yourself the following: Do you have the quantity of engaging content to support a dedicated app? (After all, content is king regardless of how it is delivered.) Are you ready to make the financial commitment? Is your communications team organized in a way to ensure content is always up-to-date and planned well in advance? If so, an app may be worth trying.
For a more cost-effective way to supplement a mobile website with rich media like video, you can use existing apps that many of your audience members likely already use. YouTube and Vimeo are great sites for hosting and streaming video, and both have apps for mobile devices (both phones and tablets). An inexpensive digital camera or even a smartphone are all you need to get started uploading videos in just a few minutes. Want to capture high-quality audio, without having to figure out the lighting and staging for video? SoundCloud is like an audio version of YouTube and is very user-friendly to learn. If your audience is there, you might give it a try.
Be aware that you want to have content wherever your audience already is. As you expand your mobile footprint, be sure to educate your members along the way so they don’t become frustrated with the new technology. Think about creating workshops to introduce new ways for your congregation to connect.