Iterative Development in Church Technology

2020 and COVID forever changed the way that churches engage with members and attendees. For some, this is a scary reality and the response has been to view technology as a necessary evil and the thing keeping church members at arm’s length. I would argue the opposite, for the first time in history, we have an open door to meet people in their homes.

Where door-knocking evangelism and handing out tracks used to exist, now we get to meet people where they are through technology. Specifically, through software applications.

“15% of those attending church online during 2020, did not attend church prior…

Lifeway

This means that people who wouldn’t walk into the doors of our churches prior to COVID are now testing the water with online experiences. What an incredible opportunity!

With every opportunity comes challenges…

Weekly Sunday services at 10 am now have to compete with the enormous amount of online content available 24/7. Reaching those who call your church home via technology becomes a fight for their attention against the hundreds of other notifications pulling them in various directions.

So, how do we leverage technology to reach both those who have called your church home for years and those testing the waters for the first time?

I believe the foundation must be built on a commitment to iteration. A commitment to be flexible and choose to make course corrections often. In the software development world, we refer to this as an agile mindset. Agile is a set of guiding principles. You can read more about Agile in our blog post.

The key values that define agile are:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation.
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation.
  • Responding to change over following a plan.

Overall, an iterative approach lets us stay light on our feet and make decisions quickly and often to best serve those in our communities.

Maybe you are tracking with me so far, maybe this seems like an easy pivot. But it is a necessity that we also define what can keep us from embracing this mindset. What small decisions or perspectives can cause us to focus on processes and forget the individuals.

A few specific examples I have seen that require attention in order to embrace an iterative mindset:

  • Recognizing that we have non-technical founders
  • Embracing the differences in our teams
  • Tradition can be the enemy of creativity

Non-technical founders

Most often, Senior Pastors do not have a technical background. They are visionaries who dream of impacting lives and use their experience and training to identify the best ways to do that. Setting expectations with your leadership team is key. An iterative cycle means that we will fail, and there will be iterations. New tools won’t come out looking like the “uber app”, but they will build a foundation for us to get there one day. And, it is important to educate leadership on not only what an iterative process looks like but to also help them understand the concept of a minimally viable product, i.e. the version or versions that are created before you reach “uber app” status. You can read more about MVP here.

Team Challenges

Staffing is hard across the board, and churches face challenges in finding the right people with the right skillsets like everyone else. Additionally, with the advancement of digital due to COVID, everyone has more projects and ideas than resources to develop. Focus on what your team can do, and find partners to fill in the gaps. There are tons of great firms, like Airship, who can help you with development. Hire for the things your team can’t do easily or for projects that need to get done but you just don’t have the time or resources to allocate.

Creatively Incorporate Traditions Online

Church history is filled with beautiful traditions that should remain as they represent so much of what makes up the church as we know it. However, defining and focusing on the “why” rather than the “how” is essential in helping us think outside the box.

For instance, our Director of Marketing is an Episcopalian, a denomination steeped in tradition and liturgical ceremony. During the pandemic, her priest realized that just streaming services online was not a great way to engage. Because as she put it, “who wants to say the Nicene Creed out loud in their living room while watching a priest in an empty church do the same.” The beautiful meaning and sense of community she got when saying pieces of the liturgy out loud in the church wasn’t quite the same when she was in her pajamas.

The team at her church began to think out of the box and came up with a variety of ways that members and nonmembers alike could relate and interact online. Incorporating pieces of the liturgy just using them in different ways.

A few of their experiments along the way:

  • Facebook Live noonday scripture lesson. A way to keep in touch during the week using the lectionary.
  • A podcast which is an in-depth bible study (which replaced Sunday School during the pandemic)
  • Facebook Live as well as recorded church services on Sunday encouraged interaction with comments and emojis – everyone checks in says Hi and then says hi to their friends as they check-in. The chat is a busy place and even the priest chimes in during their time together. And, saying the Nicene Creed knowing others are doing the same because you’re watching emojis float across the screen brings everyone together.

So what is next…

Take your “why” and set goals. Once those goals are set embrace iteration and begin experimenting. Remind yourself perfection is the enemy of good, and that small iterative steps will lead to great success.

Technology is a tool to support ministry vision not set it…therefore every church and ministry is going to have unique needs.

As you begin to assess your unique needs and establish your technology goals. Here is how we view the lifecycle process at Airship.

We begin by determining objectives. Then ascertain if you have the abilities with in-house technical skills and/or feasibility, meaning what you have in place will work with what you want to develop and you have the people who can build it.

The fun part is the discovery or strategy piece where you determine priorities and confirm objectives. Moving into delivery you begin to build. We do this in a twelve-week cycle based on two-week sprints. Every two weeks, we gather and discuss and view what has been built to determine if the product is on the right track. Does anything need to change based on what has been created? Adjustments are made and the next two-week sprint begins. At the end of the cycle, a release occurs. Now, users can test and determine what needs to be built next. These iterations are repeated. Software is alive and upkeep and enhancements are what make applications successful.

Moving forward with custom software applications is a way to keep your congregation engaged and develop community. If you have questions, or ideas you’d like to discuss reach out, let’s talk and if we can’t help you we can point you to someone who can.

Ready to get started?