5 Must-Know Facts About Church Apps

5 Must-Know Facts About Church Apps

This week on TV, Dean and Frank are joined by John Holtkamp, a senior engineer at, to talk about what you need to know about church apps.

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Modern Church leader
Publish date
January 30, 2019

This week on TV, Dean and Frank are joined by John Holtkamp, a senior engineer at, to talk about what you need to know about church apps.

During their conversation, they discuss:

  • 5 common church app myths
  • The difference between a website and an app
  • Simple ways you can promote your app
  • 2 effortless ways to boost engagement


Here’s a list of resources mentioned during the show:


This week on TV, Dean and Frank are joined by John Holtkamp, a senior engineer at, to talk about what you need to know about church apps.

During their conversation, they discuss:

  • 5 common church app myths
  • The difference between a website and an app
  • Simple ways you can promote your app
  • 2 effortless ways to boost engagement


Here’s a list of resources mentioned during the show:

podcast transcript

(Scroll for more)

This week on TV, Dean and Frank are joined by John Holtkamp, a senior engineer at, to talk about what you need to know about church apps.

During their conversation, they discuss:

  • 5 common church app myths
  • The difference between a website and an app
  • Simple ways you can promote your app
  • 2 effortless ways to boost engagement


Here’s a list of resources mentioned during the show:

VIDEO transcript

(Scroll for more)

Dean Sweetman:  We on? Hey everybody, Dean Sweetman here, welcome to the show, it's going to be a fantastic one. We have a great special guest that we get to. You can probably see him, but when he speaks he sounds like Jabba the Hutt so we're going to keep him in the cave. And he's like, "I'm the technical one, this shouldn't be happening." And of course I'm the technical one and have flawlessly, like always using the technology beautifully. So while Frank kind of gets things worked out, he may or not be, I mean two weeks ago I had to leave because my smoke alarm went of and my plumber was banging around.

Frank Barry:    Drama.

Dean Sweetman:  So it's all just part of the fun here. So welcome. Today we're in for a real treat, first of all we're going to be talking about like really key must know facts about church apps. And we've got a great friend, he's our senior engineer on the app side, and that is an incredible man called John Holtkamp who is in Cincinnati Ohio. John, how you doing?

John Holtkamp:  Hey doing well, glad to be here.

Dean Sweetman:  It's great to have you here men. You and I met at a, some other conference I'm pretty sure it was in Ohio, I don't know two and a half years maybe?

John Holtkamp:  It was a while ago, it seems forever ago.

Dean Sweetman:  Yeah, yeah. And then through a bunch of cool things that happened and we decided to get legit on our app platform. You basically swooped in and had brilliant build, I think is comparable to anything else on the market today.

John Holtkamp:  Yap, awesome.

Dean Sweetman:  And that's pretty much because of John so.

John Holtkamp:  No it's the team, I is the team-

Dean Sweetman:  It is the team-

John Holtkamp:  It all happened right there, I have an awesome team.

Dean Sweetman:  Yeah Nick Peterson is like an epic dude, and then we've got Carly, the app team is just a, it's a really great crew, so good to have you here men.

John Holtkamp:  It's great to be here.

Dean Sweetman:  So we're going to get straight into it and just ask some of the basics about perhaps, so we're talking about customized engagement apps that churches can have on app stores, either iOS or Android. And so I guess the first thing that we want to drill down to is why should a church have an app in the first place? Can there website not you know do the same thing? Or do they need both?

John Holtkamp:  And this is a great question, and whenever I talk to a bunch of people about church app, this is the first thing I have to hit on, because this is usually the biggest barrier when you're talking about church apps. Because nowadays a lot of churches have really good looking mobile websites. And a lot of churches feel like, "Hey, we're just fine because we've got a great looking mobile website."

John Holtkamp:  But there's a number of reasons why you really need to consider that that isn't the end goal when it comes to what you should be doing with an app. And you'll hear different angles that are taken with this. First of all, you can have really fast HTML5 websites now and that what is often kind of brought up when websites are mentioned. You can have something just as snappy as an app right now, so why shouldn't we just do that?

John Holtkamp:  And I think in that discussion, a lot of times they're forward thinking, like maybe in five years this will be possible. And I know that for instance the Church on the Move website, they have a special HTML5 website that they feature, but it's just like a solid color and there's no imagery, and in order to do that to have it so snappy, it has to be so bland that ... It isn't really something pushing people to it, it's more like a demo than anything.

John Holtkamp:  Next up, it is, I mean if you're not doing something like that, then you're going to be having slow load time, it's just going to be sluggish, and now you're having to talk through the process of creating bookmarks on their phone, and how to open it and it creates a whole set of problems. And you can't even do a lot of the things you want to do with an app. Like sermon notes, I've seen WordPress themes in companies that offer to have sermon notes, but they're usually very forced, they feel like, they use their caching and stuff, so if you clear your cache, you just lost everything you had like downloading audio.

John Holtkamp:  If you want to listen offline, a lot of times, you're just required to listen over LTE because there's no ability to download, of if you download, there's no easy way to figure out where that download's at. It just creates a lot of confusion. But ignoring those facts, the real reason I would say that you don't want to do this, is that really the two should be two different things. The website is the front door to your church for visitors to really get information about your church for the first time.

John Holtkamp:  And because of that, your website should probably include just about everything. And that doesn't mean like when you go to the front page of the website, it should scroll forever, but you really want to have all the content there anybody could ever want. And a lot of that content is stuff that you're going to view just one time. So this is stuff people will just look at once and they'll probably never come back to again, because there's no reason for them to come back to it.

John Holtkamp:  But I have a rule of thumb I've made up for how I think, when someone comes up to me and says, "Hey what should we put in our app? Here's our website, we've got all this stuff, here's stuff we have on these third party websites, what should go in?" And my rule of thumb is, the 20% rule. And I say would 20% of your church, not everyone but just 20% of your church be able to use what you're adding to your app every single week? So everyone's probably not going to use it every week but could 20% of your church use it every week?

John Holtkamp:  Because you want reusable content in the app, because you want people coming back over and over again using it. And your website, you're probably not going to be able to answer, yes and you shouldn't be able to answer yes because that's not what your website's for. But if your app is full of content that nobody's going to come back to, well it's going to get real bad, real fast and that's where the difference is.

John Holtkamp:  If your website makes a really good app, your website probably doesn't have the content it needs to have and if your app makes a really good website, well your app is not functioning the way it should. So that's where, while there's all these things that are brought up out there about, like HTML5, this, this, this, in the end they're really not even supposed to be one and the same anyway.

Dean Sweetman:  Right, yeah that's very helpful. I think the distinction between a website that is for visitors largely. Because I think it's like, it's definitely high, 70 plus percent of people that are going to visit your church, are going to go to your website first. And they're going to check everything out, they might listen to a sermon, they want to see what kind of small groups you have, they want to see what you believe.

Dean Sweetman:  You know my number one pet peeve about church websites is that, two things you've got to tell me without me scrolling, clicking or doing anything, is where it is and what time do I have to turn up. It's amazing how many websites look so cool, but as a visitor, that's what it's for, I'm clicking around forever. But then the distinction that you're making is there's content that's constantly being uploaded in the app side of thing that can be consumed by members on a regular basis and you just don't want those two things mixing.

John Holtkamp:  Yes, exactly, exactly.

Dean Sweetman:  Love it.

Frank Barry:    Can I ask a quick question, how's my audio.

Dean Sweetman:  Sorry Frank, you're still jabbering. So I got this kind of cool little list here of objections that I want to go through, and i know you're going to bat them all down. One is that the stat out there where most people spend time on only just five apps. Our phones are loaded, I have pages and pages of apps, and then I have stacked apps inside the apps, I'm not one of those people that just does five apps, I use a lot of apps. But what would you say to pastors that might think, "People aren't going to open this thing, people only look at five apps and that's it."

John Holtkamp:  So I think I know the stat you're talking about. There's a stat that 90% of the time spent within mobile apps is spent in just five apps and that's going to be your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, I'm actually not sure what the last two are. But just like five major apps is where almost all of time is spent. So the first consideration there is usually when you look at the nay sayer of apps, they will first of all be willing to admit that at least 50% of time spent on digital content, is actually in mobile apps, and that's a lot of time.

John Holtkamp:  So I say that because we're saying the last 10%, perhaps the last 10% is all that your app's getting, right? But, if you consider how much time is being spent, like how much of that digital time is being spent, that 10% is you know a few hours, maybe five hours a week. And if your church app is getting a lot of that alongside those other five apps, that's probably all you actually want to have spent within your app`.

John Holtkamp:  And I say that because you're both iPhone users, is that correct?

Dean Sweetman:  Yap.

John Holtkamp:  All right so, I know. I work in the media department in my church, I lead the group there on Sunday mornings. And Sunday mornings, during first or second service, I forget, we all pull out our iPhones at the same time because we get a message from Apple. It's the screen time ones, how often have I been looking at my phone? And last year was the big year where Google and Apple came out and said, "Hey there's a serious problem, there's maybe an epidemic right now where people cannot stop looking at their phones because a new piece of technology was introduced a few years ago and now our minds, like we don't know how to deal with it.

John Holtkamp:  Society hasn't figured out how to deal with it and it's created a huge problem for us. And-

Dean Sweetman:  True. And it's addictive, especially among teenagers, millennials.

John Holtkamp:  Yeah. And I would actually argue, in some cases especially Facebook, even people in their 50s and 60s it can be a huge problem. And that's why the millennials don't want to get on there because they're all there.

Dean Sweetman:  Exactly.

John Holtkamp:  But what I'm saying here is, you don't want to be one of those five apps, you're part of the problem if you're those five apps. So while, yeah we definitely want people engaging in church, and we want people looking at that content, I mean what we're looking for is for them to be engaging with church for that hour or two a week, outside of Sunday morning. So honestly that stat puts us right where we want to be when you consider how much people are using mobile apps and then what percent of the time is spent there.

John Holtkamp:  So I can see how that stat can be presented in a negative way, but honestly like in the times we're in now, it's right where I would want to be.

Dean Sweetman:  So we'll get to this in a little bit but the content is going to drive things very much so. And what you have and reasons for getting that app open, you know two, three, four times a week is pretty key, we'll get to that. We have this other little push back here about all the noise that is on the app stores. And there's I guess millions now of apps, 60% have never been downloaded, I kind of know the answer to this question, but I'm interested, to get your feedback. But why should a church bother with an app if most people don't even download it?

John Holtkamp:  Okay. That's a great question. And that 60% stat is a terrifying stat to look at if you have no context. Now the thing about that 60% stat is that if you came, if Frank came to me and said, "Hey John, I want to start developing apps. I see that Apple just announced that they paid out like $120 billion to app developers since they started the app store, there's got to be at least a million there for me." I would immediately say, "Hey you have a big, don't dive into this, it's not that easy."

John Holtkamp:  You could have an excellent idea, you could sell it to me, you could tell me the idea and I can be like, that is a fantastic idea Frank. The problem is, even once you make that app, it's so hard to get noticed, because you don't have a platform to be able to talk about that app on. So that amazing app that Frank releases that he spent years making on his own, it'll probably get downloaded by a few people, and maybe he'll get on maybe the local news and people in the area are going to download it, but it's never going to take off and make him that million dollar app developer.

John Holtkamp:  But, the difference between that and church is, at church you have a platform, every Sunday morning, you can mention the app. In your church newsletter if you have one, you can mention the app.

Dean Sweetman:  So it builds you an audience right?

John Holtkamp:  Yes, exactly. I mean and you have, not only do you have the ability to talk about the app, you can let people know why they should want to use the app. So that 60% stat, I imagine so much of that, and I know the 60% stat is actually Google play. So the difference between Apple and Google is that Google doesn't really have a review process, so there's no quality control there other than making sure that, hopefully there aren't like viruses coming through the app, they try to have bots check that.

John Holtkamp:  But on iOS, you have a human checking the app.

Dean Sweetman:  It's rigorous, yeah.

John Holtkamp:  So on Android you have no quality control. So I mean when Frank releases Flappy Birds 21, there's no one stopping him from doing that and there's no way, anybody's ever downloading it because they have 20 iterations of a game that was bad when it came out originally. And that's, I think that's where the biggest problem is. You have, it's so easy to get an app on Google Play, there's so much stuff that's just copying other stuff that wasn't good, and then once you make Flappy Bird 21, who are you going to tell?

John Holtkamp:  Like if you post it on a forum, everyone's just going to make fun of you, so of course it's not getting downloaded.

Dean Sweetman:  Yeah. I think the other key thing is communication and we have a very kind of dedicated you know way in which we help our customers, our churches roll out their app and how we can communicate. You know we coach them all the way through that, it's like a five to six week period where we're not just building the app, we're planning the roll out and how this is going to be done objectively.

Dean Sweetman:  And so I think a definite kind of communication strategy around the launch is pretty key to get more than one or two people in the church getting the app. We got churches getting 50, 60, 70% of their congregation downloading the app because they launch it correctly.

John Holtkamp:  Yes, oh yeah, definitely.

Dean Sweetman:  So how can churches, and this kind of leads into that, what are the best practices for churches encouraging their members to download the app? And we can get, and this is kind of cool, though we can segue into this a little bit deeper. But, you signed up, we built you an app, you love it, it looks fantastic, you got the pastor's podcast in there, maybe the video podcast, the sermon notes. You can make your own notes within the sermon notes with our app.

Dean Sweetman:  You've got the bulletin, maybe you've got an event coming up, you put the event, you wanted to pay for the event in the app. Let's say we built this like beautiful Rolls Royce app which we do everyday, one of the best factors is for actually getting the congregation to listen and download.

John Holtkamp:  So I'm going to go into a little bit of story time here. I started making apps for churches back in 2012. I thought I was inventing something, but I wasn't. A bunch of people had kind of come up with the idea at the same time, I just reinvented the wheel accidentally. But, so we had an app at my church in 2012, and then come 2015, we probably had around a 10% adoption rate in a church of around 400.

John Holtkamp:  And I didn't really have anything to compare even then. But I was working with a bunch of churches at the time and I noticed this church up in Columbus that, I noticed they had over 1,000 people install the app on a single Sunday. So I'm like, I've got to contact this church and figure out what they did. And he just walked me through the process of what they did, and this was actually not even an app launch, this was an update.

John Holtkamp:  And what they did, was they stopped service, so they said, "Hey we have this new update, it adds this, this, this, and this. So what I want you to do right now and then just stop." Now the problem is I think a lot of churches would do that, "I want you to pull out your phones and dah, dah, dah, dah," and you give no one time to catch up. Like what, if you're already diving in, how many of those people even know what the app store is or how to get to Google Play?

John Holtkamp:  And you can't assume people know how to do steps, you really got to stop and walk them through that. And if you do that, they will feel so good about the fact that they downloaded the app and that they can use the app. So for launching and getting those initial installs, I think the very best way is coming up with a strategy like that where on Sunday morning, you're willing for just one Sunday, or maybe for that first month, to actually dedicate some time in service to coaching people through it, realizing everybody might not be there the first week.

John Holtkamp:  So realizing you may need to take three minutes out of service. And we're not talking about 10 minutes, 15 minutes or anything like that, it's a small bit there. But at first the way to get those initial installs is really to give people to get it and realize people don't know how to use the app stor or Google Play as well as you do.

Dean Sweetman:  And walk them through it. So that's something we have to communicate to pastors all the time, they're so time poor in that you know 60 to 90 minutes that they've got people and think, "Oh men I can't give up three minutes on a stupid app." But it's like, no, no, no you wanted this thing, we built the right product for you, it's incredibly important that you take those three minutes maybe three times in a month and give people that space.

Dean Sweetman:  That's literally take out your phone and you know this happens on the giving side too. It's like, oh we've got the giving up, but like, well you didn't take time to get people to get out their phones, download the app, put their credit card in, set it up and make a first time gift. If you do that, people giving digitally which we know always increases what they give because there's more consistency, giving goes up.

Dean Sweetman:  If you take the time to say, "Okay church we've got this great app," and it's a celebration because you're doing something that, sure some other churches are doing it, but there's that aren't, there's companies that don't have this technology available to them. And so you really kind of putting in a great foot forward as far as your church and how technologically savvy you are and it feels great to be, for a member to say, "Hey check out my church app to a friend or if you're evangelizing or whatever."

John Holtkamp:  Yeah real fact-

Dean Sweetman:  So it's, take that time, take the time to do it.

John Holtkamp:  And the huge thing with you saying pulling out the phone, another great thing about an app is, when people come in as first time visitors into the church, for you to be able to say, "Hey pull out your phone," that's huge. Because churches often will focus on their greeting team, like so many people talking to the same person over and over and over again, and being able to make them feel welcome.

John Holtkamp:  But I really think that only goes so far. That can actually be a little awkward once you have enough people greet you. I mean it's great I'm definitely not discouraging it but to be able to have someone have the familiarity, as dumb as it is, this friend of yours your phone that you're so used to using, to be able to give them access to that and tell them, you have permission to use it, we actually want you to use.

John Holtkamp:  I actually think that subconsciously is making them feel at home at your church and it's something you really can't give them any other way. So I absolutely love the fact that that's just kind of one of the many, many reasons that makes a church app so great to be able to have in a church.

Dean Sweetman:  So one little quick story, I had a customer here in LA and I went and visited them because they were local and this was a couple years ago. And I came into their office, and there was as tack of color printed bulletins. And I asked the lady at the desk I said, how many of these do you print a week? And she's "Yeah about 1,000." And I said what's that about 1,500 bucks? She's like, "Yeah give or take." And so when I went upstairs to meet director and the other team of guys, I took one with me.

Dean Sweetman:  And I said, we're chatting on giving and apps and I said, you know guys are spending 1,500 bucks a week for $59 we can put all this and make it better into an app and you're going to save a ton of money. And they all looked, every single one of them looked at me like, the pennies dropped because I showed them some other apps. And it's like you know a few months later, I'm there just became friends with the admin guys there and you know we had lunch and I said, how many bulletins you printing these days?

Dean Sweetman:  He says, "Oh we just do a few dozen and keep them in the back." Because everyone, all that bulletin content is like right inside the app that you can easily produce, apart from all the other things that happen as well. It's a money saver.

John Holtkamp:  Yeah, definitely.

Dean Sweetman:  So, I want to just push to, and we kind of touched on this, how getting users encouraged to use the app. So let's maybe go through a little bit of some of the content that we put in the app and how sticky that gets, right. Because, and we've talked about some of it, let's go a little deeper. Having content in the application that is updated, that is current, that is very user friendly, in and of itself is going to automatically get people used to opening the app.

Dean Sweetman:  One of the biggest things for me, is that if I miss a Sunday I can, I still find it a challenge on podcast, I got to go and find the podcast and save it, and do I switch it to automated download? I love the fact that I can just open the church app and there it is, and I play it. What are some other cool, and I'm talking a little bit about sermon notes, because if churches use sermon notes, that's an incredible sticky thing that brings people back into the app.

John Holtkamp:  So if a church comes to me and asks, what should they put in their app, I actually start at sermon notes. And it's because sermon notes are good in so many ways. First of all, if you ask me for like the top three things to do to get people to use the app regularly, one is promote, promote, promote, you got to promote. Because we talked about the first three or four weeks taking that like you know three minutes maybe, like a decent chunk of service just to get people to download the app.

John Holtkamp:  But so many churches assume after that, this thing is just going to run itself, everyone is just going to keep using the app. You need a way to promote the app. And I have stories of how, just by not mentioning the app one Sunday, app usage would drop to half. And then they'd mention it and it would go back up. And then they wouldn't mention it and it would go back down. Like it's consistently drops just because it wasn't mentioned a single time on Sunday.

John Holtkamp:  But having sermon notes gives you the ability to naturally mention that you have an app on Sunday morning. You can say, "Hey if you want to pull out your phone, you can follow along in our app." How long did that take me? That didn't take me five seconds. So we're no longer asking for three minutes, we're saying in five seconds.

Dean Sweetman:  So just pause on that point. There's a cultural shift that I think pastors need to make the jump, it's okay for people to pull out their phone in church. So obviously we do giving and like that happens on a phone and like if you're around the offering, you're like, hey guys get out your phone we're about to give. Sermon notes is a great way for people. But some pastor is like, "I don't want them, they'll be distracted and they'll be doing like Instagram."

Dean Sweetman:  Well maybe in reality if they're engaging in the sermon and they can see the sermon, see the scriptures and then fill in blanks, like you can do with us, that's a phenomenal way to be able to get involved sitting with your phone out in the moment.

John Holtkamp:  Yeah and I engage with the sermon so much better when I have notes. And the advantage of having something with digital notes your app is, you don't have margins you're writing in, or you won't only have that blank, you can write as many notes as you want. And you can go back up and just keep writing. And then once you want to send those notes to yourself, we have the ability to email them, you can even have a PDF that sent to you of those notes, and now that's stored in your email, [inaudible 00:23:27] or whatever you want, and it makes it so easy to access those notes again instead of trying to keep a pile of papers that just stacks up.

John Holtkamp:  I mean it's unsustainable, eventually you're going to have a problem with storing years of sermon notes that you hand wrote versus having something like this where they're stored digitally in your email or however you want to do it. But I mean that is-

Dean Sweetman:  And so they store in the app, like once people create a note and you save it, it's there forever.

John Holtkamp:  Yeah that's something we do that's cool is you can either save it to the app or you can email it and like I said that email will have the actual email body will be the notes you took but also there's an attached PDF, that's just formatted, exactly like what you see in the app, that you also have. So I mean it's really up to you how you want to handle it at that point. But it saves those notes too, the notes app on your phone, so yeah, it just saves right there to your phone ready.

Dean Sweetman:  Yes. So I think all this, sermon notes, podcast, audio or video, if you're not recording, it's so easy to setup and record the sermon. Run it through the desk, create an mp3 file through the desk that you've got great audio built in, 100% every church should be able to do that.

John Holtkamp:  And then being able to download that sermon, I listen to so many churches while I run, and I honestly can't tell you how I fit into the mold of what most people are like, but I probably listen to six different churches every week and only one of those is mine. So, there's got to be more people like that and being able to download that sermon, go out the door and not be listening over LTE but have downloaded over WiFi and go running, it's just huge to me to be able to do that.

John Holtkamp:  So yeah having audio sermons on there, I love video sermons but I am very biased towards audio just because of the ease of listening wherever, driving or whatever I want to do.

Dean Sweetman:  Right, wherever you are. And then with events, one of the cool things that you can do is create an event, if you've got a conference coming up, you can put it in the events tab. But you can also send a push notification right? Saying, hey, don't forget the men's conference is coming up, register here, swipe, boom, out comes the registration page and now you've got people signing up for an event and paying for it, like no more people walking around with pen and paper and maybe like a clunky iPad where you're trying to punch stuff in.

Dean Sweetman:  It's just pushing it onto the church member where they can do the whole thing for you, and having those kind of things built in the app I think it just becomes very sticky.

John Holtkamp:  And I think the calendar is something that's often overlooked, whatever. But the calendar is huge and I think that often times for churches that are using the calendar correctly and like having the registration, that is the most important part of the whole app. And something that I learned was at our church, along the path of trying different things was, one thing we did was I spoke to the staff as well as the key leaders in the church and just told them what the app could do.

John Holtkamp:  And I walked through this stuff, sermon notes, this is what we're going to do, events, this is what we're going to do, audio, this is what we're going to do. And just taught that like if we can create a culture of this app, like the people using this app, whenever any question comes up, the answer can be, hey have you checked the app. And it's not to make them feel dumb, or to make it seem oversimple, but it is that easy.

John Holtkamp:  And that way you're not like, hey if you go home and you click, and look on your computer, and click up there and click here and you follow this menu to here, nobody's going to go and do that, and then you definitely don't want to do it on your phone on website. But in the app you're just going to be like, hey open it and you press this tab, boom and there's event, you can sign up right there. It just makes it so things can start to shift and at my church actually after having that talk with leadership, within about three to four months, I had this couple in their 70s, come up to me and start telling me how to use the app.

John Holtkamp:  They had no idea that I made the app. And that was where I was like, oh my gosh this changes everything. And that's not the only time that's happened to me, I've probably, maybe 10 to 15 times in the last three or four years, have people come and start teaching me how to use the app. And oh I love it, I was like, okay that's really cool you can do that.

Dean Sweetman:  No, no that's great. I think just having people engaged in the app is going to make them better church members. And if you've got like a weather affected Sunday, like we got crazy weather right now. So there's a good chance in parts of the world, we happen to be in the US, where the Sunday is going to shut down. And so, like that's a lost opportunity to both communicate the message, the series that you're in, receive an offering that churches need most weeks.

Dean Sweetman:  So if you've got a great engagement you can send out a push notification and say, "Hey it's icy outside, stay home, but I'm going to be recording a podcast and swipe here to listen and don't forget to give." So you can really, and the other fact is that, if you're doing great, 60 to 65% of your church are turning up on a Sunday, and it's like when we talked about announcing, announcing anything from church should be done three times, I'm convinced of it.

Dean Sweetman:  And so when you have got, you know people are doing kids sport, and there's soccer and there's weather, and there's the vacation, and Uncle Joe's coming into town, what better thing do people have in their hands than a connection to the church to stay engaged, stay connected and be involved.

John Holtkamp:  Mm-hmm (affirmative). I love what you said about bad weather. I mean in Cincinnati where I'm at right now, it's -2 out right now, snow is everywhere, everything was closed today. And over the last three weeks, two of the last three weeks, church was canceled all around. And I listened to a church up in Columbus and I got to listen to their message even though church was canceled. And it was one of the best messages I've heard in the last two months.

John Holtkamp:  So this church, I mean he just planned out his message and he just gave it, and it was fantastic. So I was running just thinking, I mean he mentioned at the start like there was no church, I just couldn't believe like I'm getting this content and church didn't even happen but I get to get this content. So it is huge.

Dean Sweetman:  Very smart. Okay last question, and this goes to people's fears about Google and Apple, can they just shut down your app? Can they shut down a church app at any moment? Church leaders worry about that.

John Holtkamp:  So this is a huge question because at the end, well in July of 2017 things started shifting with Apple. And to give a little background of what was going on, and this isn't just with church apps, I think in the church app world, people assume it was just church apps and sometimes people like to point the finger at Apple and be like, "How dare you come after churches?" It had nothing to do with the churches.

John Holtkamp:  The problem is in the church app world, so many companies that were releasing church apps were just using white labels or websites to build the apps and they had no control over the actual code that went into that app. They were just using a website that was made to build a very generic app, and they kind of shoe horned a church app in there. Where often times you couldn't download messages, if notes were in there, it was very funky and didn't work well at all, and you had all kinds of bugs, and it really created and experience that felt very generic, very low quality.

John Holtkamp:  And I come here saying that, and it's easier to say, "Well yeah you just want to promote yourself." But honestly, Apple is the one that banned all those apps, not me, right? So that's, but that's exactly what happened. Apple said, "Hey there's all this low quality stuff, we got to quit allowing it in here," and they didn't actually remove those apps, they just said you can't update. And which in a general sense over the years is going to kind of get rid of them or force them to update.

John Holtkamp:  But I would wager that before that happened, probably around 75% of the church app developers were doing that. And that's why we still feel ripples now, we still see articles written now about that sort of thing. But when that happens, Apple is always, and Google is always sending out emails and information to the developer saying, "Hey this is coming, you really need to prep for it or you're going to have problems."

John Holtkamp:  But when someone doesn't know anything about programming and is just using a website, they have no way to do anything about it. So in my opinion, and once again I'm obviously biased towards having a development team, if you have a team that can actually code the apps, we can just roll with it. I mean that's what you want, Apple honestly made church apps better.

Dean Sweetman:  So yeah, I love that. What is seen is a negative broadly, in your opinion actually made apps better.

John Holtkamp:  Oh yeah.

Dean Sweetman:  So, but what did you and the team do specifically that now makes it an even better experience as far as the apps and how safe they are on the app store?

John Holtkamp:  So what I'd love that the team does is both on the Android front and the iOS front, we do both of those separate. So it feels very custom to the platform you're on, we're not just doing some middleware that posts to both, or publishes to both of those. But we make sure that as new updates come out, we're always staying on top of it. And I mean I'm excited to say, we were the first major church app company to support iPhone 10, iPhone 10s, iPhone 10R, iPad pro which just came out, we were months ahead of anybody with that.

John Holtkamp:  And, I mean we're just staying on top of that stuff because we understand it's easy to forget. So if your leadership is just using iPhones 8 and the iPhone 10S comes out, well you're two generations behind now. It's easy to not realize, hey there's this black bars for everyone. But I see huge ministries, huge churches, I mean we're talking some of the biggest ones in the world, and they still don't support iPhone 10, just iPhone 10.

John Holtkamp:  So just being able to stay on top of that and know that, hey we're supporting the churches we work with so that on day one, when someone opens Facebook at your church, it's not updated but when they open your church app, it's ready to go. And that's got to mean something to these people to be able to see, wow my church app is really on top of things. And I realize, that's not as important as the content like your sermon notes, like your podcasts, that's way more important.

John Holtkamp:  But you also have people in their 20s and 30s that are looking at your app, and if it is really crummy, it's, whether or not it should, it's really damaging your reputation and in the end, if you have a crummy app, it's actually probably working against you. Like the same goes if you're not posting content to your app, it's working against you. You got to do the stuff right or it actually ends up pushing you backwards.

Dean Sweetman:  Love it, so good. Man we could go on, it's a fascinating subject. Thanks John, really appreciate your-

John Holtkamp:  Yeah this was fun.

Dean Sweetman:  Your time and I know we're so busy getting I don't know how many asks a month, probably maybe even 100 this month that we're getting out the door. So I know you and your team are busy and appreciate the time that you talk.

John Holtkamp:  Yeah this was great.

Dean Sweetman:  Awesome buddy, we'll see you soon.

John Holtkamp:  Yeah, I'll see you.

Dean Sweetman:  Hey so everyone, massive amount of information and we're really, really excited to be able to bring our app platform too, it's always getting better. We feel it's just best in class no matter what. So it's a bum we didn't have Frank today but we will soldier on. We've got Phil Bowdle the author of Rethink Communication so that's going to be fun, and we'll sign off and say, hey thanks for joining, God bless and we'll see you next time, see you.

This week on TV, Dean and Frank are joined by John Holtkamp, a senior engineer at, to talk about what you need to know about church apps.

During their conversation, they discuss:

  • 5 common church app myths
  • The difference between a website and an app
  • Simple ways you can promote your app
  • 2 effortless ways to boost engagement


Here’s a list of resources mentioned during the show:

Publish date
January 30, 2019

5 Must-Know Facts About Church Apps

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