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God goes mobile ... will Lutherans follow?

Denominations offer resources as smart-phone applications

Cell-phone apps are everywhere, even in the realm of faith. Want to find a nearby church, synagogue, mosque or temple? There's an app for it — software for smart phones that not only can find the closest house of worship but also its schedule, according to an article from Reuters news agency ("Faith and smart phones commune in religion apps").

Man uses smartphone outside of a churchOne app lets smart-phone users read and search the Bible in a variety of translations and languages, while the BibleReader app adds study tools to the Scripture text.

While many apps provide general information such as full texts of the Bible and the Koran, others get specific: there's an app for the sound of church bells ringing, another for allowing Muslims to schedule their five daily prayers, and yet another offering virtual incense and coconut for Hindus to present to one of their deities, Ganesh, according to Reuters.

Apps lead Roman Catholics through the rosary, light menorah candles for Jews at Hanukkah, and let Buddhists shake the phone to spin a prayer wheel.

Websites offer ideas for apps that churches can use, including Causes by Project Agape to find or start causes; Chipin, which enables fundraisers via Facebook; DivShare, a file-sharing app that stores MP3s, videos and photos online; and Poll, which creates polls for Facebook pages.

The United Church of Christ, an ELCA full communion partner, offers a version of its website as an app, allowing users to find a congregation, get news or daily devotions, donate, connect to social media and more. Mars Hill Church in Seattle, known for being tech-savvy, offers an iPhone app that lets people donate money, access news and announcements, and listen to sermons, prayers and songs. Odyssey Networks, an ELCA partner, offers a "Call on Faith" app that is a fresh source of ecumenical and interfaith prayers, stories of compassionate acts, wise words and other spiritual encouragement. 

Lutherans use apps too. There are apps for the New Revised Standard Version Bible and German-language Bibles, as well as Augsburg Fortress' "Little Red Book" appointment calendar. In June, Concordia Publishing House, the publishing arm of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, released a "PrayNow" daily prayer app for the iPhone.

As far as ELCA-related apps, there's a growing demand, said Kristin Koskinen, ELCA Web manager. From March to September 2010, there were more than 28,000 smart-phone visits to the ELCA website, with visits increasing from about 1,000 to more than 4,000 during that period. "We're not far from releasing an ELCA news app for iPhone," Koskinen said. "We're just waiting on approval from Apple to be an iPhones app developer."

Further out on the horizon, the ELCA Web team hopes to release an app for the Revised Common Lectionary and "the most popular feature on the ELCA website, the ‘find a congregation,' " she said.

In January 2011, Women of the ELCA plans to release an app with "some kind of daily message ... a tip or reflection ... that fits the secular or religious calendar," said Linda Post Bushkofsky, the organization's executive director. "It will be a free app, modeled on something that Harvard Business Review does. It draws from content that we own and are repurposing from [Lutheran Woman Today] and other resources. For those in our audience who don't have smart phones, we'll offer the messages as a daily e-mail feed."

While they haven't yet settled on a name for it, Post Bushkofsky allowed that the app-to be pitched to an ecumenical audience-will clearly say "that it's powered by the Women of the ELCA. It's our gift to the Christian community."

Women of the ELCA staff members are also in the planning stages to create an app for Café, its e-zine for young women, she said.

It's difficult to say just how many religious-affiliated apps exist, given that new ones appear every day. Smart phones running Google's Android operating system claim 80,000 apps, while the iPhone has more than 250,000 available for download. Indeed, Apple customers are expected to have downloaded more apps than iTunes by the end of 2010, according to Asymco, an app production studio and an industry analysis firm based in Helsinki, Finland.

Elizabeth Hunter contributed to this article.

Comments

Shane Anderson

Shane Anderson

Posted at 8:23 am (U.S. Eastern) 10/5/2010

There are a lot of wonderful apps out there for ELCA pastors, but the ones I am waiting for are nowhere to be seen? What about an ELW Lectionary app? Or Sundays and Seasons App, Here We Stand App, Book of Faith App, The Lutheran App, Or even a Spark App? While print media will still be important, it is clear that publishing houses like Augsburg need to be riding the wave of technology to maintain and grow it's market share into the future or end up in the "ash heap of history."

Michael Watson

Michael Watson

Posted at 8:55 am (U.S. Eastern) 10/5/2010

Thanks for your comment, Shane. What features or content would you like to see in an application from "The Lutheran"? / Amber Leberman, Web Manager

Beth Lewis

Beth Lewis

Posted at 11:05 am (U.S. Eastern) 10/5/2010

Thanks for the question, Shane.  At Augsburg Fortress, we have been quite aggressive over the past 5 years in terms of creation of digital resources including having 1200+ titles on Kindle and other eReaders, several web-based resources for congregations including www.sundaysandseasons.com www.herewestandconfirmation.org www.sparksundayschool.org and www.newproclamation.org

We haven't yet created mobile apps other than for the free Little Red Book www.augsburgfortress.org/redbook

As you might expect, investment in both traditional "ink on paper" resources and ereader resources and web-based resources and now mobile apps adds significantly to our costs while at the same time we are trying very hard to keep prices reasonable for our various constituents.  So, we are moving deliberately with this investment.  It is VERY helpful to hear from you (and others) re: which resources you are most interested in having as mobile apps.  Thank you!  Please feel free to send more detailed information to me at ceo@augsburgfortress.org

Blessings,

Beth Lewis, President & CEO

Augsburg Fortress

http://twitter.com/bethalewis

Kevin Weiler

Kevin Weiler

Posted at 1:35 pm (U.S. Eastern) 10/5/2010

Don't forget those of us on Android based platforms, either.  :-)

Shane Anderson

Shane Anderson

Posted at 5:10 pm (U.S. Eastern) 10/5/2010

The Lutheran has great content (some issues better than others), but I think that The Lutheran App would allow me to "update" and download content for when I am on the go with our having to be tethered to your website. As far as features, just look at the Time Mobile App or New York Times to see how a good e publication is put together.

Beth Lewis

Beth Lewis

Posted at 3:06 pm (U.S. Eastern) 10/6/2010

I'm with you, Kevin!  I'm a Droid user, too.  But, this helps explain one of our challenges...so many different formats in which we need to invest.  Anyone know of a beneficiary who would like to underwrite some of this conversion from ink-on-paper and web-based resources to mobile apps for ministry resources?  Smile  We'd be happy to work with them!   Blessings, Beth Lewis, President & CEO, Augsburg Fortress   http://twitter.com/bethalewis



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