Product

[Product Update] Setting The Bar For Church App Media Players

On 06/05/19 the Church App team pushed out our new media player. This walks through why a media player is so critical in a church app and why we take the time to ensure that ours is the best.

[Product Update] Setting The Bar For Church App Media Players
by

John Holtkamp

Any element in a church app can be absolutely critical for a church if the culture of the church needs it, but some elements are essential to almost every church.

These include things such as:

  • A Calendar (with functionality like registering for events, adding events to your device calendar, and getting directions).
  • Online Giving (built on a powerful platform like Tithe.ly which gives a streamlines giving experience and removes many of the hindrances like the need to log in every time you give).
  • Push Notifications (with the ability to send group notifications and with no strings attached like a limit on the number of notifications you can send).

One other element is the ability to listen to past sermons within a sermon archive.

This can help members of your church to listen in while traveling and it can also allow people to listen from anywhere in the world.

It’s not uncommon for a church app to have a media player for listening to sermons, but there are a few critical things to take into consideration when looking into a church app to make sure that people can actually use your app to listen to sermons the way they want to.

Instead of looking at what other church apps were doing, when developing the new Tithe.ly Church App media player, we wanted to look out at what other major apps were doing like Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music, Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music, and Google Podcasts so that we could give an experience on par with what your church members expect from an app rather than just giving an experience that is “good enough” like other church apps offer.

Here are the top 3 functions that we found were essential for an excellent, modern audio player experience:

1. You actually need to have a media player

We know it seems silly to include this as one of our top three essential things for a media player in a church app, but some of the biggest church app providers don’t actually offer a media player. They do offer media playback (meaning they will play audio), but they don’t give you any sort of controls. Instead, you select your audio and then wait for the audio to play. Once the audio starts, you have no way of interacting with the audio other than pausing it.

While the bar has been set very low with nearly all church apps, we wanted to go in the opposite direction and try to include all of the functionality you would expect because you see it in other mainstream apps like Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Podcasts. These include things like:

  • The ability to drag your finger on an audio slider to choose a point in the audio you want to jump to.
  • Options for fast forwarding by 30 seconds or rewinding by 15 seconds (which we find to be the most common modern ways for jumping around spoken audio).
  • A share button for sharing a sermon while listening to it.
  • Speed controls, so that you can listen to a sermon at ½ speed, 1x speed, 1.5x speed, and 2x speed.

Along with these options that we found to be modern staples in audio players, we also worked to present everything in the best possible way. This includes making sure every element is where it should be and that elements can even move around as you do things, to give satisfying feedback as you take actions (like graphics expanding and shrinking as audio plays and pauses and also moving time indicators around as you use the audio slide).

Here is a gif to show how the media player looks and animates:


2. Allow Audio To Be Downloaded

One huge advantage of audio sermons over video sermons is that they can be listened to while doing many other activities. Going for a run? Heading to the gym? Have a long day of driving ahead of you? You need to be able to easily download a sermon within your church app and listen on the go without worrying about data costs or losing your connection.

While many apps may include a basic media player, it is important to also offer the ability to download sermons for listening when away from home.

With the Tithe.ly Church App, you can download any sermon, and if you listen to it after downloading it, it will always play the downloaded version instead of streaming.

We have also built in an entire “Downloads” area of the app for accessing downloaded sermons. This allows people to easily see what content they can listen to without using data or to manage content (to delete sermons after listening to them).


3. Media Controls Outside Of The Main Media Player

Imagine this: You go into an app, you select some audio to listen to, and then you start playing it and back out of the audio player to navigate around the app. This is a normal behavior within an app, but in this scenario, there is no way to control the audio once you have backed out, or even worse, there is no way to even figure out how to get back to the audio that is playing within the app that you have open!

This scenario sounds crazy, but it is how the majority of church apps function!!!

In the case of things like Pandora and Spotify, it may not seem as critical to give you access to media player controls when you close the media player since the entire point of the app is to listen. But even with Pandora and Spotify, you have access to media playback controls in the form of a mini-player at the bottom of the screen.

In fact, if you look at any mainstream app that plays audio, they ALL offer the ability to access basic media player controls, like starting and stopping audio as well as an indicator of what you are listening to at the bottom of the screen if you back out of the main audio player. However, you’ll quickly find that in the church app space, basically no one offers this sort of control since it is a complicated layer for a development team to add on top of an existing app.

As we developed our media player, we made it an absolute must that we include a mini-player just like what you expect from an app like Apple Music, Pandora, Spotify, or Google Play. Our reasoning is that in your church app, people have more reason than in any of the aforementioned apps to back out of the audio while it is playing.

For instance, with a Tithe.ly Church app, someone can back out of the media player while media is playing and view the sermon notes for the sermon they are listening to and take notes while listening. Or, someone might listen and hear about an event and want to go register in the app.

With our mini-player, when someone backs out of the main media player while listening, they will have a mini-player at the bottom of the screen, and the bar will show what sermon is playing, a sermon graphic, the ability to play or pause the audio, and the ability to stop the audio player altogether.

Why Write Church Donation Letters?

In a previous blog post, I shared the different ways your church can thank donors—from automated emails to year-end giving reports. Printed donation letters also play an essential role in your church’s stewardship efforts.

Donation letters are the Swiss Army knife of your church’s gratitude arsenal. It may not be the most powerful—but it’s versatile, handy, and gets used often.

Your basic church donation letter can serve many different purposes, including:

  • Acknowledging that you received a donation
  • Thanking the giver for being generous with their finances
  • Sharing other ways the person can support your church
  • Allowing the donor to write the gift off on their taxes
  • Encouraging supporters to make recurring donations
  • Requesting future donations from church members

A single, well-crafted donation letter can pull together several of these things simultaneously. Better donation letters lead to more giving, which leads to more donation letters—thus creating a cycle of on-going church generosity.

Church Donation Letter Samples

Here’s the good news—you don’t have to write an individualized letter for every person who gives to your church. That would be tough to do for even smaller churches. And most donors don’t expect you to. They’d rather you be putting their gift to better use in the community, instead of ceaselessly writing thank you notes.

With the possible exception of some unique circumstances, your church can use template language for the majority of your church donation letters. You’ll have to add in custom details like the donor’s name and gift amount, but you can write everything else in advance.  

To make this even easier on you, here are a few basic church donation letter templates you can copy and paste. Keep in mind that not all of these have to be in print—you could just as easily turn some of these samples into email appeals.

1. Donation Acknowledgment Letter

The Donation Acknowledgement Letter is a basic way you can confirm and affirm a monetary gift to your church. Sending these is standard practice in church and nonprofit culture.

Dear [first name],
I want to personally thank you for your donation of [gift amount] to [church name]. We’re honored you would bless us with your generosity. Donations like yours make a big difference in the work our church is doing in the community.
Without givers like you, our church can’t have an impact or influence in our community. With your support, we’re partnering with local nonprofits, sending out global mission trips, and hosting small groups on topics that help real people like you. Together, we can make a difference.
Because we’re a tax-exempt nonprofit, you also get to write this donation off on your taxes. This letter serves as official proof of your donation, so keep it in your records come tax season. At the end of the year, we’ll also send you an annual recap with how much you’ve given to the church.
Thank you for supporting [church name]!
Sincerely,
[your name]

2. Donation Request Letter

Not every church member realizes the importance of giving, or understand Bible verses about tithing and giving.  So a Donation Request Letter helps to spread that awareness and encourage a spirit of generosity.

Dear [first name],
How are the finances in your household? That was a rhetorical question, so you don’t have to answer—besides, this is a letter so we wouldn’t hear you anyway. But we still want you to think about that question.
Money is a uniquely human issue, one we all struggle with to one degree or another. Even if you’re financially blessed, you still have the burden of stewarding your money wisely. And we believe that one of the best ways to invest your money is into the local church.
Tithing (giving 10% of your income) on a regular basis not only supports the work we do at [church name]. It doesn’t just support local missions and community growth. It also shows an obedience to God by making his work a financial priority in your life.
So if you find yourself ready to put God first in both your heart and your wallet, we encourage you to make a one-time gift or sign up to make recurring donations. That way, you won’t have to ever wonder again about the financial status of your household.
Sincerely,
[your name]

3. Monthly Giving Letter

Many church donations aren’t just one-time gifts. Plenty of givers contribute monthly—and that should be acknowledged.

Use this template to correspond with recurring givers.  

Dear [first name],
Thank you for being an active and faithful member of our church community. By giving to our church on a monthly basis, you’re showing that our church has a meaningful place in your heart. We just wanted to write this to let you know that you’re in our heart, too.
Donating to the church monthly allows us to preach the gospel, make disciples, and support others in our community who need help. Others like the local food bank and the nearby homeless shelter. We’re answering the cry of the needy, and it’s all thanks to contributors like you.
We earnestly appreciate your ongoing support and want to let you know we’re here for you. If there’s ever anything we can do for you and your family, don’t hesitate to reach out. You are a valued member of our church family. And you’re financial support is making a difference.
Sincerely,
[your name]

4. Year-End Giving Letter

At the end of each year, it’s customary to give your church supporters a summary of their gifts. The primary reason is for tax purposes, but it’s also a way to recap everything your church has done over the past year with their support.

Dear [first name],
You’re getting this letter because you gave to [church name] at some point during the past year. That might have been a one-time gift, or recurring donations. Either way, we want to thank you for your generous support. Every contribution helps.
One of the official reasons for this letter is for tax purposes. That’s right—you get to write these donations off on your taxes. Which is why we’ve included a summary of all the contributions you’ve made to our church this year.
But the other reason for this letter is to let you know what we’ve done with the money you gave. We take stewardship very seriously, which means we value spending our time and resources wisely.
During the year, our church supported local nonprofits, sent global missions teams, and baptised quite a few people. It was a great year for us—thanks in large part to donors like you.
So thank you for your support of our church, and we hope you’ll consider continuing to contribute to our mission in the coming year.
Sincerely,
[your name]  

5. Church Fundraising Letter

Sometimes you need to make a more significant financial push using tried and true church fundraising ideas. Some churches call this a Stewardship Campaign or a Church Capital Campaign. Either way, the goal is to raise a certain amount of money for a big project. And typically, a solid letter of appeal is an integral part of that.

Dear [first name],
God has a plan for everyone and everything. That includes you, and it includes [church name]. None of us can fully know God’s plan—the best we can do is pray and listen for clarity. Our church leadership has been doing just that and are excited to announce our latest church project.
[Detail the outline of the major church project—this could include a building campaign, or raising support for a global mission trip. Anything specific to your church that requires a fundraising letter. Be sure to include a fundraising goal so everyone knows what you’re shooting for.]
But we can’t pull this off without your support. Whether you give to the church on a regular basis, or just attend on occasion, we’re asking you to consider contributing to this massive undertaking prayerfully. It’s something we need our entire church community’s help with.
Even if you can’t make a large gift, know that every little bit helps. It’s more about coming together as a community united behind a common cause. We hope that you’ll consider making a donation towards this great step forward that we’re making together.
Sincerely,
[your name]

Tips when writing church donation letters

It’s not enough to just copy and paste this content and send away. The key to an effective church donation letter is a touch of personalization. Follow these tips to take your donation letters to the next level:

  • Examples: Add specific examples of how your church will use the donation. Tell a story about the work your church is doing in the community and connect that with giving.
  • Personalization: For regular donors, don’t be afraid to add a short, handwritten personal note. This shows that you’ve singled them out with praise.
  • Timeliness: Sending donation letters quickly reminds people you’re thankful for them. But this also takes organization and efficiency. All the more reason to use pre-written templates.
  • Storytelling: Everything is better with stories—including donation letters. Weave in a specific narrative of how your church is making a difference and how the money will be used.

There’s no one right or wrong way to write a donation letter or request contributions. You’ve got to do what is right for your church and congregation. But if you stick to these general tips, you’ll probably start to see some traction when it comes to giving.

What’s next?

Most people don’t love talking about money in church. But it’s a necessary and vital part of your church. And maximizing your efforts when it comes to donation letters will help make those conversations more comfortable. So what do you do next to put this into effect?

  • Customize these letters: Take the samples above and make them work for your church. Personalize the content. Remove the stuff that doesn’t sound genuine and add in stuff that does. Remember that these are just a starting point.
  • Create some systems: Develop processes that make it easy for you to replicate sending donation letters. Use a letter template that allows you to drop in names and details. Then develop guidelines for when these letters will be sent out.
  • Empower a champion: Find out who is going to be responsible for making these letters happen. Rather than thinking of this as adding more work to their plate, think about how you can elevate their work. This could be a staff member, or a volunteer.
  • Start sending: All of this will be for nothing if you don’t actually send out the letters. Take the time to get it right and get them into the hands of your church donors.

And if you’re looking for ways to grow your church’s giving capacity, Tithely can help.

We provide several different ways your church members can support your church financially—from online giving, text to give solutions, and giving kiosks.

Tithely’s systems make it as easy as possible for people to give to your church. Now all you need to start doing is generating a culture of gratitude. There’s nothing standing in your way. Go unleash generosity in your church.

How does your church use donation letters to spread generosity? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Editor's Note: This is a guest post from Robert Carnes. Robert is a writer and storyteller. He's the author of The Original Storyteller: Become a Better Storyteller in 30 Days. A former church communicator and nonprofit marketer, Robert works as a managing editor for Orange in Atlanta.

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[Product Update] Setting The Bar For Church App Media Players