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PODCAST 046: Matt Welty & Creating Community via Mobile App

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Can a mobile app create community? Most people would accuse the mobile app of tearing down community, at least physical community. But can the mobile app create community? Maybe the better question is how can the Church of 2020 leverage mobile to complement their already existing strategy?

Enter Matt Welty, Pastor of Technology at Crossroads Church based in Cincinnati. A large multi-state multisite church, Crossroads, spends a lot of energy is utilizing the mobile app to not just communicate to a person, but to leverage the tools to create community that COMPLEMENT their physical campuses and not COMPETE against them.

So jump in the podcast as Jeff, Rey, and Matt dig deep into the philosophy of creating community via mobile app.


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ON THE SHOW

Guest: Matt Welty
Crossroads Church
, Pastor of Technology
Facebook // Instagram

Host: Jeff Reed
THECHURCH.DIGITAL
Twitter // Facebook // Instagram // LinkedIn

Co-Host: Rey DeArmas
Christ Fellowship Miami Online
Twitter // Facebook // Instagram

SHOW NOTES

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Love you all! Praying for your Churches and your Ministry Online.
 
Jeff Reed
THECHURCH.DIGITAL
 

TRANSCRIPT

Jeff Reed: 00:00 Episode 46 of The Church Digital Podcast. Jeff here, once again, and I gotta tell you, I'm excited about this podcast. I do say that a lot. I think I say that about every episode. I'm excited, I'm happy, I'm something, but this is a really cool episode where we dig into mobile apps and whether or not it's effective and worthwhile and churches and for the conversation I'm bringing in Matt Welty who is Technology Pastor. Is that, not like the coolest title ever? Technology Pastor for Crossroads Church, a large multisite church in Cincinnati, Ohio, now Kentucky area and they're doing some great things not only within the church, not only with their church online but with their mobile app. And arguably some of the best things that I've heard in a church mobile app towards creating community that I've ever heard of is going to come up in this conversation.

Jeff Reed: 00:52 So right off the bat we're going to put the link to the show notes to the mobile app. You guys should take some time. Download the mobile app we'll include the iOS, the Google, all that. So grab that, download the app, look through it while you're listening to this podcast because this is an incredible app. They have some incredible functionality in here that's really moving beyond just the reach component, but developing engagement towards creating community, which is far more effective in the mobile scope. And we're going to have tons of conversations through this love where we're going here. We've got Rey Dearmas, once again, Cohost, Online Pastor with Christ Fellowship Miami in the conversation, Matt Welty, Tech Pastor, Pastor of Technology for Crossroads Church up in Cincinnati and myself, Jeff with The Church Digital in a conversation that I'm calling community via mobile app. Hey everybody, here you go. This is new. I'm not seeing these on you, Rey, what was the story?

Rey DeArmas: 01:52 Okay, so like, I had lost my headphones, a while back I had the Bose earphones and stuff and they were great. I still got my cuffs, but these were like my regular drivers on the regular. And so I was like, well, maybe it's time for a change. Let's take a look at. My brother-in-law got the AirPods pro. So I was like, well, let me ask him if I could borrow them because everybody I knew who had them was talking about the noise canceling was talking about how much, you know, they enjoyed it and transparency mode and a whole bunch of stuff. So I was like, well, let me ask Thomas if I could borrow them for a weekend, try online stuff and see if they work out well for me because 250 bucks, something, I mean, to me it's a ton of money to invest in a set of headphones.

Rey DeArmas: 02:33 There's a lot to splurge. But I had a bunch of like Christmas money and stuff that I was like, all right, well if I wanted to I could. So, I tried them out and one day, within one day I was convinced because I'm there at a Starbucks and I'm doing church online, people are coming up to me from the campus to talk to me. I turn on transparency mode in a full pack Starbucks and I'm able to have a full fledged conversation with them, with the things in the ear and it was just next level technology. I was like, this is probably the most innovative. And Jeff and I always talk about this all the time because we have a love hate relationship with Apple in terms of their lack of innovation lately. But this right here is probably the most innovative thing they've come out with since the phone. I'm going to go ahead and say that.

Jeff Reed: 03:16 You really think so?

Rey DeArmas: 03:22 I'm sorry. Yeah, I mean I'm told and Jeff would be proud of me. I'm totally nerding out. I got a little silicone case for it and everything.

Jeff Reed: 03:32 Yeah. So Matt, are those, are those version one or version two? What are you floating?

Matt Welty: 03:37 I've got version ones. Yes. So I've got version ones, I splurged for my wife and got her the wireless charging ones. And then the pros came out. And similarly though, Rey, everyone who has them has said they're worth it. And I've, this is the most I've ever spent on headphones in my life, so I, I'm not a music guy or an audio file where I had all this stuff before. But even hearing more stuff like what you just said, because man, this is how we work now.

Jeff Reed: 04:09 Okay. Matt, you've got version one. Awesome. I had version one too. Yeah, I lost version as well. I lost version one. I literally, I lost the AirPods for like six weeks and the day version two have arrived. I found the version one AirPods fun story it's on Facebook, you can find it, but at the end of the day I've got version two which is like this much different than version one. There's like no difference, maybe a better battery life and Siri, which I never really use on my earbuds. Shut up, siri is now like on my iPad. Why didn't they come out with the whole thing? The pros for version two, it would have made so much more sense but not more money. And that's the difference. Apple is screwing you around because they just want people to buy their crap. So if they're going to buy version one, they're going to buy version two and then they're going to upgrade to the pros. And at the end of the day, man, there's only so many checks I can write to Apple.

Rey DeArmas: 05:07 Yeah. I'm at the point now where I just firmly believe that they slap early adopters, you know what I'm saying? Like they come out with new products and if you're an early adopter, you know, you may as well just kind of hang around because you know, the best version of it is literally like a year away. Right? Hate to say it like that. But that's how I felt about the watch. You know, I bought Apple watch, I bought version two, I bought gen two and it was just so bad, you know, like I was like, this has none of the LTE capability and it wasn't even offered then. I was like, this is, it's so dependent on the phone itself that it didn't feel like it improved my life. It just made it worse. It just, all it did was bring more notifications in my life, which I also had a pebble, which if you know, if you're a fan of wearables, then you already knew about the pebble, which it was just a color version of that.

Rey DeArmas: 05:53 So it wasn't really like a big deal. So now I'm just not even an Apple watch fan. Now I'm just like, no, that's, that's a terrible idea. It's a terrible device. And mind you, it's been the same thing with Apple TV and Matt, I'm actually a former like Apple store employee. So like I was like in the religion, I worked for the temple. It was great. It was awesome. But there's so much of that that, you know, even for those of us who worked there, we were like, yeah man, they slap early adopters so hard. It's really bad.

Matt Welty: 06:19 To an outsider, it feels like it's changed. I'm curious what you would say, Rey, as someone who was in it at the beginning 10 years. I mean, I was a, I was a Mac fan boy, so I lined up for the first iPhone, the second one to the three, the 3g that like I and I still have them. There's a box in my basement. Yeah. The whole deal. Like, at some point in the last 10 years, I think you're right, the first versions, the headliner pieces that they released, the early adopters went and got them, but they were your paying early adapter tax. But that wasn't the case originally. You were, you were on the edge using really useful products back in, you know, probably a decade ago.

Rey DeArmas: 07:03 100%. Yeah, I couldn't agree more. That's kind of the something that Jeff and I have lamented on the pod even, just kind of discussing it as far as where Apple is and where they've gone. And it's tough because it's so easy to want to blame, just to shift from Steve to Tim to say it like that. Like it's just, you know, like that's the most visible change that you can kind of latch onto. But a perfect example of this is, for instance, the new Apple TV streaming service. Go by show. It's the most expensive streaming service out there. Yeah, you're only paying $5 a month, but for eight shows total, like that's it. And yes, you know, eventually it's going to get better. And whether or not, you know, there's all sorts of rumors like, Hey, they might make a play for Sony.

Rey DeArmas: 07:43 They might make a play for this company, you know, one of those eventually down the line is going to fall and they're going to go through on that and it's going to be a great streaming service. But in the meantime, for everybody who's early adopting, it stinks. It is terrible and it's a bad experience. And so Tim, I know you're listening right now and I know that there are different algorithms on this and so please don't crash my old MacBook air. But it's just one of those things where it's a bad experience early on.

Jeff Reed: 08:09 Did you ever watch see that, that, that show See arguably the worst television I've ever seen in my life. And I'm a radio TV film major that actually produced television like in college and I'm used to like the college projects. Like it w I, I'm watching this, I'm like, this is the worst writing, directing, acting top to bottom, starring. your Aqua man, whatever that guy's name is Mamoa and Alfred Woodward. Like there's this really rich cast and I'm like, they have no idea what they're doing.

Rey DeArmas: 08:43 Yeah, somebody got fired on that though.

Jeff Reed: 08:45 Oh my gosh. Yeah it was, it was horrible. There's too much at stake for Apple to, to tone it in like they are here at this beginning level. Yes.

Matt Welty: 08:54 As a guy, I want to empathize with people behind the scenes cause you, you know, I would, Apple is still, if you want to go make a product, right, to be in that environment, how incredible. You have to imagine, like you were saying Rey, to blame it on, you know, the Steve to Tim transition is the most visible one. There's gotta be crazy complex supply chain issues and regulatory like the last decade of change has probably made it harder to make hardware and software and streaming. So you know, and yet you have Amazon and Alexa or Amazon and Google who I think are acting way more competitively in that arena, but they're avoiding it on devices so they can pivot and change way quicker.

Jeff Reed: 09:36 With with all this being said, the day that Apple releases the AR, augmented reality glasses, every innovative crack I've ever said, I will be the bleeding edge tax guy buying that and I will be completely happy. It's going to cost you $1,000 I'll probably write the check. I'll find a way. I'm like, I am 100% in all of that. My family does not make, but you don't wear glasses. No. You don't understand what's happening here. Yes. I will wear glasses for that. Yeah. I'm good. Go Apple. Come on man. Bring it home. I forget to call it. Forget all this, this side crap. Like bring me the AR goggles. Google glass was ahead of its time. You know, right. Ride that way and do it right this time. Awesome. That was an incredible side track before he gets started. Really to that man, just tell us a little bit about yourself, who you are, Crossroads, the ministry of what you guys are doing. Give us the heart kind of of who you are.

Matt Welty: 10:38 Yeah, a little background. So we, I'm honored to be on here and just am among probably the hundreds and thousands of people are just co-learners along the way cause we're, I think we're all standing on the edge or feel like we're standing on the edge of something and figuring it out together. So excited that any of the small experiments or successes or failures and crossroads could be used and abused by other people is a really exciting thought to us. I've been at crossroads for eight years. Crossroads has been around since 1996 though. We are, we're based in Cincinnati, Ohio, so we're right in the heart of the Midwest. And, Brian Tome, Senior Pastor, he's guy from Pittsburgh. He has been founding pastors, still senior pastor. Really for us, the heartbeat of leading us as a long time kind of pioneering, adventurous church. So, you know, back at the very beginning, the descriptions of, you know, we want to do church for people who have given up on church but not on God.

Matt Welty: 11:40 We want to go after, seekers who, you know, are open to the idea of God but don't know the language of church, don't know the rules of church and really remove every barrier. In a way of someone hearing about Jesus and the language they understand. So, you know, early on in the 90s that that was great music for a coffee, casual and fire. You could bring the coffee into the auditorium. You know, those things are really common now. In Cincinnati in the 90s that was revolutionary, that was on the edge. And, you know, the same way with, you know, Brian's sermons, you know, you would come in and you wouldn't feel, you are learning about the Bible. You were hearing the gospel, but you weren't doing a Bible study. You were learning about how God applies to your nine to five, you know, and so that too at the time just seemed edgy and different from what people were experiencing.

Matt Welty: 12:33 And I think it created room for people to invite their friends. So we've grown. We're a multisite church. We, we're an online church. We've taken on a lot of different forms of church. We have 14 different campuses now, physical locations in Ohio and Kentucky. We just recently, a few weeks ago launched in Columbus, Ohio. So that was sort of, our last sort of city push. We have three campuses down in Lexington, Kentucky. We merged with a church that was also called Crossroads down there a few years ago. The name, that aspect of the merge was very easy as a result of, other parts of it were really challenging. Yeah, the church was still called crossroads. So, and we in the last, you know, four or five years have really tried to step into what does it look like to be culturally current in a digital way. So that for sure includes the native app that we've developed and it's taken many forms online church, community building, starting to merge out on the edges. What does movement look like? What does church plant, how does church planning meet home church, meet watch party, you know, so we're, and we're trying to learn from as many people as possible, but that's good. Yeah, that's a bit of crossroads.

Jeff Reed: 13:50 Yeah. So let me ask and a lot of what I want to dig into with the podcast is a lot of the, kind of the mobile strategy of what you do. We do a lot of church online here in the podcast and so it'll, it'll kind of, I'm sure bleed into this, but why did you opt to go in house development with the mobile app, there's, there's lots of other developers that are out there. I'm just kinda curious your heart when digging in mobile, why did you decide to go in house?

Matt Welty: 14:18 We'd love and at different points in our history have partnered with almost all of those players. They're doing incredible things. When we decided to develop our own mobile app we wanted to have a unique purpose driven by the mission administrative crossroads. So you know, it's what is the compelling reason to be natively on someone's phone? And, and not just the gives us permission to win in that space, but most apps on people's phones, they'll get open. So what, what is inside of our that uniquely is worthwhile for someone to open a couple of days a week, you know, which is a lot in the mobile app space. And so for us it had to have a very particular utility and a lot of the more templated app services do a great job of making your weekend content, your group content. There's, it's a content management system wrapped up in a native app and it does that exceptionally well. That same content for us is available on mobile web and we do a great job of making it awesome on mobile. So we needed a reason beyond that, a real utility and to create that, and I can explain what that is for us, but to create that we had to go, we had to go it on our own.

Jeff Reed: 15:30 Yeah. So dig into it here. What are some of these features? Cause we hear, we hear this, we have this conversation all the time, you know, and, and I've heard it, church mobile app adoption is, is less than 10% usage of, of the church actually uses the mobile app that they're releasing. You know, stats that I've seen in my role as digital pastor and communication directors mirror that in real life where we get a lot of that traction on Sunday because people want to take sermon notes in it or they'll want to access the sermon audio or video on Monday, which you can also get on a podcast. You can also get through church online or the website. Like there's a lot of repetitive, so it's, it's not as, it doesn't have as strong of a strategy point. What have you done with the mobile app there at crossroads to kind of start to work through that monotonous stuff that they can get out of the places and really get to the core of making the mobile app unique?

Matt Welty: 16:26 Yeah. Well, our starting point was for the mobile app to be an engagement platform. So it wasn't meant for reach it while you could share it with someone, and that could be a way to introduce someone to crossroads to Jesus. For us it was an engagement platform. So for people who are already at crossroads, we zeroed in on this phrase of how do we help someone create a habit of connecting to God and other people. So we, many of us who've grown up in churches or had people disciple us, we have maybe a rhythm of a quiet time or morning scripture and prayer. We've learned that and sometimes so long ago that we forget how that was a habit that was established in us. And most people in our churches today, they're not reading their Bible. They don't know some of what, some of us professional staff, Christians, we sort of can take for advantage. And so we went let's create an app that is as habit forming as some of the things that happened in social media.

Matt Welty: 17:30 And it is as helpful as some of the things happening in the fitness world and is as user centered as some of those same industries. And let's do that around Bible reading, prayer, reflection and so are the core action inside of our app is just that. So you can read a new chapter of the Bible with the entire church together each day. You can journal on it publicly or privately. One of the key draws of that is that Brian Tome reads that same chapter as you get invited into his living room at 6:00 AM in the morning if you will, as he spends time with God. He's going to journal and his journal is public. And so you get to scan this chapter of scripture. Imagine that you've never done this in the Bible before. You scan this chapter of scripture, you read the senior pastors reflection and prayer based on that.

Matt Welty: 18:17 And suddenly the bar gets lowered for what spending time with God looks like you. You realize like, Oh, that's what he know this. You go back up to the chapter of scripture and you, you're getting reps at doing this kind of thing and you get, we have, Oh gosh, 30, 40, 50 or so many experiences we call them. Some of them are gratitude or prayer or thankfulness or worship. We're giving people these small reps in these spiritual disciplines and then allowing them to pray for each other and either anonymously or very directly. And so together, those three things, we alternate them. We build variety and streaks, all kinds of things to very intentionally help that become habit forming cause we, that's what we want. we do have the weekend in there. There's group materials in another section. There's, there is content in the app that's helpful to users, but the core action is really about connecting them with God and other people.

Rey DeArmas: 19:13 That's really good. And it's something unique. I'm looking at the app right now on my device and first of all, the user interface. It's very simple. So I applaud you guys for that because one of the hardest things I think to do is to keep the menus and some of the different things happening simple, especially for somebody who's coming in fresh but it seems very outsider friendly, which I think is awesome from a church perspective because somebody coming in new to your church or even, Hey, I like my mom or my friends sent me this app and told me to download it on my phone. If the first thing I'm seeing is a bunch of information or a bunch of stuff about why I should go to your church and probably automatically rejecting it. So talk through some of the strategy in that.

Matt Welty: 19:51 Oh man. Well, so we, is it encouraging to hear that it's, it seems easy, easy to use if I showed you, I mean, we've come a long way. We've been at this for four or five years. And so we've, we've been learning along the way just functionally in our church for, you know, we've, we feel this way about the weekend. You know, it's, it's not our phrase, but the, you know, you don't, you can belong before you believe you're fully welcome here and can engage before you fully grasp onto what it means to follow Jesus and figure all this stuff out and apply it to your life. Thankfully, or I would have been excluded. So we want the app to function in the same way. We do realize that just most people don't have the reps and the track record of following God this way.

Matt Welty: 20:32 And so it's gotta, it's gotta be a layup. It can't be too simple. It act because it has to, meaning it has to believably, I have to believe that it's going to meaningfully help me. So if I open up my Nike club fitness app or my Fitbit app or what, it has to be simple enough that I can grasp it and not so hard that I immediately believe that I'm probably, I'm probably not disciplined enough to do this. And so we want to help people build momentum and we think there's a funnel. I mean, when you, even old school church had one, you know, you get invited by your friend that you'd probably get invited by your friend again and again and again, eventually come. And then you might get in a group and you growth and giving and all those kinds of things.

Matt Welty: 21:13 Well, the, all the things we're doing on digital now, I've just expanded that and, changed it from being a straight line. If it ever was, went to a really squiggly line. But in the app, I don't, I don't need you to sign up for the 10 things right away. I need you to have one great moment with God that leads to the next one that becomes more transformative. And we, early on, we would use the phrase, you know, if you don't, if you don't count, if you don't count it, you can't grow it. So in old school church metrics obviously, and they're still critically important because there's such a big part of the movement, you know, butts in seats and you know, giving and groups, those are key metrics and they are still, I think, really good indicators of the health of the church, but they're incomplete, they're becoming more incomplete.

Matt Welty: 21:57 There's other ones to have in there. And so when we started down the digital route, it's really uncomfortable, but you start talking about minutes of engagement or session lengths and they're usually shorter than an hour church service and or daily active users or monthly active users. And so, retention rates, all these things are foreign to us, but as we get to know them, we would just always say, if you don't count it, you can't grow it. So if I don't count your very minimal first experience as being valuable to you, and I can't grow it into more deeper engagement. And so even if you just open the app and you just read scripture and close the app and your quiet time, so to speak, was a minute and a half long today, I want to count it so that I can partner with you to grow it and that's what we try to do inside the app and make it repetitive in that way.

Rey DeArmas: 22:44 You know, there's a lot of questions right now because there was like the app craze, right? Like Apple releases in the app store, Google play could becomes a thing. And then every church has the capability of getting an app and getting on your phone. Now I kinda hear the pendulum swinging in the other direction. One of my biggest concerns always is creating separate databases. How have you guys made sure that both the app and your church database have played in the same ballpark?

Matt Welty: 23:13 Oh, man. I mean, so we get to get a little technical. Well it's challenging. So we, that becomes a challenge because most churches, us included, want to build and move fast. And so when you do that to deliver value to people, like it's just, it's not immaturity, it's just we want to have as most impact as quickly as possible. So your database is usually diverged instead of coming together. So, we have done a little bit of that over the years. We are actually just starting as a church where, there's a thing called master data management. So we've just found ourselves, like many churches, we've got our, what happens in the app, what happens in our church database. We use HubSpot for marketing communications. We've got, you know, there's maybe three or five other places where data can both be created and stored.

Matt Welty: 24:01 And so there's a complex process to figure out where the source of truth is and how to keep that data really clean. We were learning how to do that. We have mostly kept the data from the app and the church management system up to this point as separate. And part of the why behind that is it's been two different types of data. So because we've limited what happens inside of the native app, that's mostly what's called click stream. Or behavior data, the activity that someone is doing, but it's not collecting a whole lot of like form responses or demographic data, things that would typically be stored in a church management system signing up to serve, joining a group. And so we've been able to live with the separation but we have along the way whenever we want, we can sync that data up because users have unique identifiers and we've set ourselves up so we're not too far behind when the time comes, but we're actually about to switch over shared authentication so that both systems are sharing the same authentication that'll help us connect the data in the background.

Matt Welty: 25:07 We're going to get lots of value out of that. So really, and the point is not so much to make that easy on us though. That's great cause we can use church resources really efficiently. It's so we can know you as a person no matter where you show up and the church and honor you.

Jeff Reed: 25:23 Yeah. So I want to follow a rabbit trail. I don't want to go too deep here. What are you specifically using HubSpot for? I love HubSpot and I'm trying, I've, I hear occasionally churches using it. And so I'm just curious practicalities. What's HubSpot look like?

Matt Welty: 25:38 Yeah, HubSpot is, are predominantly, it's our email to him. So all of our church email communication goes through HubSpot. Okay. So that includes, you know, think marketing emails, but also just here's your, here's your quarterly statement. All of that flows through HubSpot. It is, you used a little bit for lead generation as well. So subscribe to the weekly digest, the content digest, fill out this form to download a resource or something. And so then we can put you on, a drip campaign for lack of a better description. And so we've used it for that. We just recently did the 90 day tithe challenge test. Lots of this is, lots of churches have done this and it's, it's really, we just did this as a church and so we used, HubSpot was a key part of after someone signs up in the 90 day tithe test, they were in an email campaign that helps engage them with resources and encouragement. And so it's, it's a tool that helps us stay engaged with people for sure. it talks great with other systems too. So we use a system called Intercom for our, we would call community care. So if you go to our website and you want to chat, you want to pray, you want to know something about crossroads or how to get connected. But people using that system using Intercom that flows with HubSpot, like the whole goal being how can we know and care for you better? And these are, these are systems that they take time to set up, but they help you do that. Especially at scale in churches. Time to do this when I can't see everybody.

Jeff Reed: 27:07 Yeah. And so that, that Intercom, that's Intercom.io, It's the thing that's the literal like help thing down at the bottom of the website. Bottom right. I love that. Like I'm, I'm, I'm curious towards this, what is this cell, not mobile app, but this is just such a good conversation with like do who responds on Intercom.io? Is it your, your staff? Is it front desk? Like what's the interaction point?

Matt Welty: 27:33 Yeah, so some folks that used to be on what would have been called the front desk team are now on the community care team. And so staff respond and some volunteers. So we have some, some trained, vetted volunteers. And it's really when you think about online church or distributed church when you can, when you can train and trust volunteers, no matter where they are, what time of day it is, it's an incredible serving opportunity where they're meaningfully, they're needed and known and they're there. They're doing some incredible work. So it is staff and volunteers. But then sometimes the great thing about the systems is will we can help someone best through a bot so we can predict. I mean, so we set these up every week here. T. Wade who runs this team is brilliant and so the announcements that happened on the weekend are built into that chat modular on web.

Matt Welty: 28:22 And so when someone starts a chat, we can assume that a lot of those people are coming with questions about baptisms cause we just talked about it on Sunday. So instead of having to make someone engage with someone where some people love to do, but a lot of people don't. We meet them right there with the, do you have a question about baptism? Oh yeah, I do. And so we're very quickly getting people to the information they need through those. I mean, you say it's different than mobile and it is, but it's all one user experience is all right. You can't silo them for the people who we're trying to serve because we, we're one crossroads to them. So there's an expectation for all of this to kind of work seamlessly together to the person in the seat.

Jeff Reed: 29:04 So let's dig into that because it all, it is all one experience, but you want to, what you want to, I assume what you want to try to do is separate it. And so some platforms have some responsibilities, some platforms have the others, and, and yes, you want them to try to align towards the common goal and campaigns. There's overlap towards that. But in context of, of website and context of mobile app, and even in social media, as you're looking at some of the digital communication pieces, there's different components and different parts towards that. How do you separate like, what's, what's a mobile app functionality versus you know, mobile web or website in general? Like how does that kind of intermix and play together?

Matt Welty: 29:46 Yeah, I don't, I think there's more than one right answer to this question, but for us, I think about it is every platform or tool has to have a primary purpose and then it can have secondary benefits. So the primary purpose of the app is to help someone create a habit of connecting with God. The secondary benefits are they can also catch the weekend and they can read an article and they can follow some people like there are many secondary benefits on the, on the web, the mobile web, which is how most people are experiencing the website. I guess that's why I qualify it to mobile web. It's great for setting things up. So I personally think about signing up to serve, especially for the first time registering for camp, volunteering. There's all kinds of giving event. And if I'm setting those things up, web is great at guiding people through those experiences.

Matt Welty: 30:36 And managing myself in a sense happens really nicely in the web. Well many of the secondary benefits overlap between platforms. For me, you then start to look at what, what can uniquely happen in one platform better or worse than another. And so for sure in a native app, you can create way more tightly controlled, immersive experiences and on the web, it is a coded box where you control everything that happens in it. On the web. You're dealing with lots of moving standards. Depending on the browser, someone's in the phone, they're on the font package, they have whatever it might be. So you have to be really flexible and resilient on the web and the app. I can build an exceptionally tight morning, quiet time with God experience that includes a song and then form completion around thing, thankfulness and walk someone through the Lord's prayer and teach them how to pray in an immersive way.

Matt Welty: 31:40 But on the web you compromise, you can do it there on a percent, but you have to make some compromises in the experience of it. It's not different from why many of us now build our auditoriums in large black boxes. They're not, they're not standard church sanctuaries anymore that are static and hard to change. We want control over the whole experience. When we switched to the next weekend series, people walk in and the entire thing might look different. Where there's that moment in service that you want the music and the lights and the teaching and the whole thing to come together that I sort of equate that to there's something similar that you can do in a native app, but you can't do it just for fun. You have to have a very expressed purpose for it. Just like in a weekend service, you gotta be doing something on purpose to move someone forward. And if you do then then those platforms work really well for it.

Jeff Reed: 32:32 Yeah. So having that level of, of control probably in that immersive experience, that takes resourcing, that takes content, that takes buy in from leadership. I mean you, you just, some of the things you mentioned, having articles that there would be included in that. Was I understanding that your pastor literally journals in the app daily and it makes it public. So people like, so you have a lot of buy in towards this. What, what does that, what does that, how'd you get there? I can give you names of people who have been down this road and not have that success. So, dude, what's the secret?

Matt Welty: 33:12 Oh man. Brian Tome. I mean, so our senior pastor Brian, like we're just an aggressive church. Like the, it's in his DNA and he's reproduced it in us. And so whatever it looks like to introduce people to Jesus in a language they understand. What it looked like 20 years ago was one thing, what it looks like today is you're in their pocket and you're with them in the moments where they want to engage with you. And he's incredibly permissioning. So even before he got it and understood it, I think this is how he would explain it to you. He was very trusting to a group of us to go, okay, there's, there's something here. There's a way that we can get in front of people and not just talk at them, but actually engage them. And so it for sure took time.

Matt Welty: 34:01 But over time, as the even app reviews, the app reviews read more like testimonials just to how like you can, you can ready the horse for battle and the victory belongs to the Lord. You can build that mobile app, but you can't make it change anybody's life. And so there's a God factor here, thank goodness, where he comes in and he uses it and the exact moments that people need it. But we started seeing life change and we started seeing deeper engagement. And so that gets buy in and it takes time. And it often feels like two steps forward, one step back for all of us because you're in, you're up on the edge like we talked about, and you're not always sure if what you're doing is the right thing to do. It especially because so many of us have just been so steeped in a particular way of engaging in church, in growing spiritually, that trying some of these new things can feel like, wait, is this healthy for people?

Matt Welty: 34:59 Is this nutritious for people? Is this good for them? I grew up so totally differently. How would we do this? And so it takes trial and error, but he does, he's in there every morning. And it's also though what an incredible opportunity. If you could, if you could help disciple thousands of people at once. I had a guy who brought me in to his morning routine, show me how he read the Bible, I got to do it with him for awhile. Brian can't do that with 10,000 people, but now he can. And so there's the modeling that can happen that, that we want to lead to real relationship too. But you're, you're, you're leveling people into that experience to go like, I feel like I belong at this church. I'm given a level of access and transparency to the senior pastor guy.

Matt Welty: 35:47 Like what he does on the weekend, I'm getting his morning routine. These people I haven't even met yet are praying for me. I get to pray for them. I've already contributed to the community maybe before I've ever joined a group or identifiable study or given a dollar so I. People can belong and increasingly because we count it, we can grow it and we can, we can walk with them and guide them towards deeper levels of engagement in a church. Then that look like now I'm attending on the weekend and a group. I started to tithe, although all of those kinds of things. But it begins, we just recognize now it's not church specific. It's everywhere in our culture. It begins in these very small micro moments where people are, they're testing, they're trusting you. They're gonna trust you. Is this going to work for me? I tried things like this before. Is this one different enough that I believe it might actually help me?

Rey DeArmas: 36:39 Tell me about the content creation side on that. Is your senior pastor legitimately is Brian like every day writing into the CMS and it's direct out to the people? Is there like I see it like a week ahead and then it's like, Hey, we're going back and I'm not trying to, you know, duck behind and, and like reveal the wizard behind the curtain or anything like that. It's just it's really powerful. It's really powerful to see that somebody would share this much of their own personal relationship with the Lord, with their congregation. And you know, honestly, even if we were like, cause there's the, I'm not even perfectionist, but there's the part of me that's like, man, I'd rather be a week ahead so I could review it, you know, take a look at like the grammar structure, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. There's that part of me. But then there's the other part of me of, Oh man, but this is vulnerable and transparent and authentic and powerful. So yeah.

Matt Welty: 37:28 Mmm. I love that question. The so Brian, so it's, if we play this out, Brian is a user in the app like everyone else. So I had that same ability to make my journal public and every community pastor and every community member has that. And so Brian's not going into a CMS. Brian's going into the app the same way someone what you guys, you just downloaded it this today. You could go do a public journal reflection. Now we have set it up so that Brian in particular, and then our community pastors, if they journal publicly, they'll always sort to the top because these are the shepherds and leaders of our community. And so we want people to catch the event first. It's entirely unscripted and it's in the morning. So Brian was just on a bike trip. He was out West and he couldn't do it.

Matt Welty: 38:16 He didn't have cell service. No problem. He's gone for a week, which is also awesome because it's him authentically doing it. It's not a content stream. It's the guy doing spending his time with God. and I think that's what makes it real. And it's, it's not like a quote that comes across Twitter. It's actually him participating what I think is powerfully in the same exact way that you would, so you can actually, you can, you can model it, which is great. It means though that the grammar is bad and words are spelled wrong. And what is great about that is, is it him. Like it's right for the, it's right for the platform. Like you, you know, so we w w he has an editor for his books, but this isn't a book. This is, you know, him spending time with God.

Jeff Reed: 39:07 Some communications director somewhere is freaking out, I'm sure.

Rey DeArmas: 39:10 His name is Ben Stapley and he's pulling the rip cord on the airplane right now.

Matt Welty: 39:16 This is where you are like, okay, so you get some of this buy-in. Go download crossroads anywhere. Read it, screenshot. Hear Brian's journals. Cause I think it is, it's a powerful example. Oh, the leader not being in a black box, not being inaccessible. And we desperately need that. Hey, when you say, if you could just rewind in your minds what it was like when you first met Jesus and we're trying to figure this stuff out. You need someone who's able to just pull the curtain back. So often in our, just the way the system is kind of stacked against us in terms of communities and people who are trying to leave lots of people. There's so much expectation for Polish and there's so little room for mistake.

Matt Welty: 40:01 And I think we get into the spot where we start performing more than we start giving access and really helping people grow. It's good. The app again is this, it's not private by any means, but it allows that kind of intimacy, which is great. One of the coolest things that I've ever heard in context of a church mobile app you guys are doing. And then it was, it was this context of close the loop thing where you were talking about the, how you guys handled prayer requests. Can you, can you just detail for the podcasts, like how prayer requests work in context of the app there at crossroads? Again, probably the best experience would be to jump in and try it. But what we did, and it's happened in stages, we created a way for people to share anonymous prayer requests and then anyone, well actually stage one was we created a digital payslips.

Matt Welty: 40:52 There's what we call it, Brian is talks about payslips a long time ago. It's good posted note of people you're praying for that you put by your toothpaste mirror. So when you brush your teeth, you're praying for people, which is great. It's an easy way to daily pray for the things you want to see God move in. So we just took that same concept and we said, let's give people the ability to create a prayer list based list inside the app. The next phase was let's let people send those prayer requests out to the community. They can do that anonymously. And we started to have people pray for each other and when you would, when your prayer was prayed for, you would get a push notification that said someone just prayed for your prayer request, which is this incredibly simple on the surface but incredibly meaningful moment, to suddenly realize that you have access to thousands of people who could pray for your thing.

Matt Welty: 41:49 And even if you don't know them, it's a connective experience that can lead to belonging and real relationship. So then we, we just up to the game from there and there. So then you were able to share it publicly with your name and face and you know, your profile picture. We added the ability to friend and follow people. So I have prayer requests that are sent directly to people in my guy's group. They're private, the things I'm asking for God, but I send them directly to those people. I have prayer requests that I shared the whole community because I want as many people as possible to pray for these things and sometimes I have prayer requests, they're anonymous, they're not connected to my name or face, but I want to take the risk of praying for those things perhaps. And those same push notifications were happening and we were seeing more and more people pray, but the moment that we started hockey stick growth is an exaggeration, but we saw a jump in a number of people engaging in prayer was when Jeff, we close the loop. That was just the name we gave to it. We created another push notification. So now I have the ability to Mark a prayer request as being answered. When I do that, every person who has ever prayed for that prayer request, whether it was a day ago or a year ago, gets a push notification in that moment saying a prayer you prayed for has been marked as answered, closing that loop skyrocketed prayer requests. And so there's a 115,000 or so prayers prayed each month now inside the app.

Jeff Reed: 43:16 Wow. Wait, wait, wait, wait 115,000. How big is Crossroads?

Matt Welty: 43:22 Right now we're probably at 24,000 people physically inside of our buildings and other 7,000 online.

Jeff Reed: 43:30 Yeah. So let's assume all of them on average three prayer requests per, that's still, it is substantial. And I know it's not everybody, but that's awesome.

Matt Welty: 43:39 It's not everybody it, it, but that even knowing that it's not everybody, because it's true, not everyone's active in the app. It means that for the people who are active in the app, prayer is one of the most used, most connected, and one of the most, the biggest reasons people come back in and continue to engage. It's, you then start to hear stories of people getting that notification. You, you feel like God used you. And you know, that's true when you pray. And it's crazy to think that we would ever need validation from a push notification on your phone. But it is incredibly powerful to do that. And, we get funds, I mean, incredible stories. God stories of I, you know, I send my prayer requests. I'm sitting in the office of the doctors waiting for the diagnosis and I start getting push notifications saying my prayers being prayed for and my prayers being prayed for.

Matt Welty: 44:29 People are with you even though you might be an entirely different state or place. It is. We've found one of the main reasons when people download the app, if they start doing prayer, they stay in the app and we're, we're using really God is at work and you can see how we're mirroring all of the same reasons other apps bring people back in. It's not for, it's not just for content cause I can go back in the app whenever I want to see the content. The content will always be there. I go back in the app because my friend Jeff just sent a prayer request or because Rey's prayer request is marked as answered. Do I want to go back in and pray for more prayer requests? You bet I do. Let's hold on. I'm going to jump back in. So it's, it's users, people creating value for each other, not just the church pushing content out to people and people come back for people. That's what I mean. That's why the church is the community and to have that happening inside of a digital platform, even in this very infant stage that it's in, is really promising for how the church can continue to live in, to this technology future in a way that doesn't sacrifice but might actually enhance and make more accessible. So many of the great parts of being in the church.

Jeff Reed: 46:03 Yeah, there's definitely, I mean, we used the term high tech, high touch. The more technology that we use, the more that we need to respond with a tangible, personal non-automated response. This idea of the notifications can, within prayer, quest driving, continue to driving, Hey, our prayers matter and they're being effective whether it's, you know, one to two weeks or a year or whatever down the road. That's phenomenal. One of the things that I love. Seriously, I think that's the coolest thing I've ever heard in context of a church mobile app because it does continue that, that engagement in an area where we don't, you know, we can pray for a prayer requests a year ago and not and forget about it. It's almost like out of sight, out of mind. and to know that there's a conclusion to that story, to close the loop on it. It's just phenomenal.

Matt Welty: 46:58 Well, I just think as a community pastor of one of our sites where there's thousands of people, like to your point with the best of intentions, someone comes up to me with a prayer request. I would, I'm not a community pastor, but if I put myself in that spot, I'm going to pray for him right now moment. Cause if I don't, I'm going to forget. And even having done that, which is exceptionally caring, meaningful, I'm likely to forget about that a week later or a month later, what, what the app allows us to do is do that high tech high touch. I can grab that prayer request and put it on my payslips. I can even ask that guy, can I put this in here and then send it out anonymously? Can we get some other people praying for you? Now as I get those push notifications, the next time I see that person in the atrium, I get to walk up to them and my memory is jog. I haven't done, I haven't spent all the calories trying to keep it top of mind. The app has brought it back and allowed me to very meaningful and thoughtfully care for somebody in the moment and that's what we want. But technology should reduce the friction to the people on people. The real connective part of part of the church.

Jeff Reed: 48:03 But what's really interesting in this is you actually told the story in context of going all the way back to your toothpaste lists and how there is a process of growth. So somewhere out there, someone in the audience right now is thanking, cause this would totally be me if I was on church staff. I want this, this feature in my app as soon as possible. So I'm going to go now walk into my leadership and say, Hey, we want a scratch XYZ templated app. Instead we're going to do this thing completely in house. We're going to hire developers and you know, let's get this in place by Easter because you know, you have to have it in place by Easter. Yeah. I mean obviously you might as well wait till next Easter and there's like 52 weeks in between. Then there's cause. And then honestly like that, that's who I am. And there's a reason why I don't work on church staffs anymore. It's related to that. So, but here's, here's, here's my thing, how long was it from the toothpaste list to today? So when that rolled out, like what's the span of time? Because an idea grows, it's, it's not like curled?

Matt Welty: 49:12 Oh well it has to, if we tried to build what we have today, the first time we would have built it wrong, we wouldn't have, we would have solved the wrong problem. So we taking it in steps also greatly minimizes the risk of solving the wrong problem or not doing anything, a user wants anyway. So starting with the pace list validated that people wanted to pray and there was friction in the process of remembering to pray for people, giving people the ability to send an anonymous prayer request validated the fact that people would, would do that. And so we built on that. So my team's going to listen to this and probably correct me. It was probably at least two years, and in part because that wasn't the only thing we were working on, but also intentionally because if you get ahead of your skis and spend money before you've really learned, let what the user needs you're likely to spend a lot of money unnecessarily. It would be unwise to go try to build this before Easter.

Rey DeArmas: 50:28 That's good. That's real good. And it's important too because you know, you guys have done such a good job in taking in, you know, when most of us think of an app, we're thinking just about content distribution. That's this legitimately it. We're thinking, okay, how could we get our sermons in people's pockets? You guys have taken it a step further. I don't want to say one step further. I mean you guys have charged on the field in terms of creating community, with this app. So much so that, I mean I'm looking at these prayers. I mean it's just so compelling to see how people are being so vulnerable and sharing their stuff and the fact that you can instantly get feedback that people are praying for you. That's just powerful in a, in a whole other way that I've not seen from any other church in terms of what we're doing with church online. That Matt, I'm challenged. I'm challenged. I'm just looking at this in a way of, not that I need the system tomorrow, but just all right, what am I doing to push the envelope in terms of community building with my church and making sure that people are taking a step beyond just engaging with the platform and engaging with each other.

Jeff Reed: 51:24 I mean it's this humanistic approach in engagements that that two way communication, the app is the thing that facilitates the communication and something as simple as praying for the prayer requests and allowing the person with the prayer request to be ministered to, but then turn around and minister to others once the prayer request is completed or are answered. I mean that is such a beautiful idea of, of closing the loop of making both sides be ministered of engaging in this prayer request. It's awesome.

Matt Welty: 52:02 When you think about spiritual growth, especially for adults. I'm, I'm no expert at either spiritual growth or adult learning. So all I'm doing is connecting dots and parroting what people way smarter than me have told me adults only grow or learn something new when they need to use it. So we don't do well as adults. Just learning facts are facts sake. And we typically, in the terms of betterment, when we want to make ourselves better, we grow best and fastest when we're actually contributing to someone else's growth. So does that old adage of like, you know the best way to learn something is to try to teach it. The prayer in the app, it's simplified example but I'm contributing to someone else, praying for them doing something that is maybe a simple act but maybe it's the person that I've ever done it. It's happening for me, you're learning something along the way and the same thing is true in the Bible portion. Very intentionally you're able to contribute something and get something at the same time and so you're doing, ideally we're tapping into learning and growth at the moment the user wants it. Not the moment that is scheduled by the church or determined by the church with the learning should be, the user has some choice and these platforms are good for that.

Matt Welty: 53:26 And also we need some of the other church platforms like a weekend service where the church is actually following through and it's biblical duties to teach the whole canon of the Bible and we want it, you might not know you need this, but we want to teach this to you. And that's critically important to my development as well. But having both together are two pieces of the same puzzle. And when they fit together, you get the bigger picture.

Jeff Reed: 53:50 That's so important. The one hour on Sunday is necessary. I don't want to paint the picture. I never want to paint the picture that it's not, it's a great opportunity to gather together in a physical community, and drive forward. But when, when that one hour is the only thing that's where it becomes problematic. Yeah, there, I mean there's 168 hours a week and great, we took care of one, bad news is that attendance is going down and we're missing some of these other tentpole opportunities to help disciple someone and get them to another level. And that rich level of discipleship's not happening in a larger, you know, experienced light like that. Something that is one way driven communication as opposed to a conversation or interaction even via, a mobile app where you've got multiple people communicating, you know, back and forth with each other.

Jeff Reed: 54:45 So Matt, man, this is, this has been beautiful. By the way, I just totally want to acknowledge that the whole Apple podcast or the earbuds totally tied back in. I didn't mean that way at all, but this idea of it took versions of it to get to it and a problem that we needed to get to. Like it's all so, you know, Tim, if you're out there, I apologize for yelling at you towards the airpods.

Rey DeArmas: 55:11 I don't, I love my airpod pros. Good job Tim. I'm going to keep yelling if it keeps making good things, I apologize for nothing.

Jeff Reed: 55:20 Awesome. So, Hey, let's land the plane and wrap up, Rey just any thoughts as we're landing here?

Rey DeArmas: 55:26 This is so powerful and Matt, I want to applaud what you and Crossroads and what your leadership have done. This is phenomenal. And really this is just even coming from somebody as simple as not just the pastor, but as a member of a small group. So often in groups, somebody gives a prayer request, man, and I've been convicted of this, of doing a better job of this lately. There's no followup. You know what I'm saying? There's no like, Hey, so how did that go? Or, or was it answered? What Matt and Crossroads Church, what they've done is they've created this wonderful act where not only are people giving prayer requests and when people are in community, but they're getting followed up with in a practical way so that people can rejoice or mourn together and carry all the commands of scriptures in a digital environment. And this goes beyond just creating content that drives towards what church online is supposed to be about, which is about building the community, not just building compelling content, but building a community that's, you know, that's enveloped in the gospel that's going out there and it's changing. It's practically changing people's lives and so grateful to have seen this. Matt, thanks for introducing this into our lives and I hope much more, more and more churches and even church app developers continue to think towards this direction as we move forward.

Jeff Reed: 56:37 Awesome. Matt, any thoughts on your end?

Matt Welty: 56:39 I'm so thankful for you guys, the way that you're helping all of us connect with each other. Learn at the same time. There's no way to do this on your own. You can't be a lone wolf, person out on the pioneer trying to create the future. And so we need each other to do this and it's just exciting to be a part of it.

Jeff Reed: 57:00 Awesome. Hey man, Matt, thank you for that by the way. But it's been a really good podcast. There are vendors out there that need to build this, this prayer functionality into their prayer, into their mobile apps. There are churches that need to start to request features in drive some stuff towards the vendors just to get more, feature sets and more engaging features in place. Let's get beyond that one hour on Sunday and realize that the mobile app has far more features 168 hours a week. The thing that nailed this entire podcast for me was your phrase, Matt of engagement versus reach. And that with the mobile app we are pushing for engagement, as opposed to reaching. It's not let the website reach and that's easy. But with engagement with the mobile app, getting people to interact, getting them to talk to, getting them to, engagement is such a bad word.

Rey DeArmas: 58:04 We're after a conversation, not just a one way conversation with our people, but a two way conversation with them. And, and that's what you guys have. So you've done such a great job in creating is you have a way to not just talk at your people but to receive stuff back from them and to interact with them in such a great way. So job well done man. Awesome guys.

Jeff Reed: 58:24 So we're going to wrap. Thank you for kind of setting the tone with that. And I hope and pray you guys continue to do so. We're going to have to bring it back down the road and hear what else you guys are working on with that. Crossroads is a great church, so we're excited to see everything that you guys are doing in the Cincinnati, Ohio, and now Kentucky. You slipped that one into your now multi-state multisite church, which is a whole other thing too. But for Matt, for Ray, this is Jeff. Thanks for jumping here on The Church Digital Podcast, and we'll see you next time. Y'all have a good day.

Storybrand for Small Church Pastors
PODCAST 047: Jon Crabtree & Why Churches (Big and Small) need a Mobile App

About Author

Jeff Reed
Jeff Reed

With about 20 years experience serving the church in the digital/technological realm, Jeff loves working with churches. As passionate about Discipleship as he is Technology, Jeff uses his passion to help Churches develop technology systems to bring people far from God closer to him. Oh, and he loves Digital Church & Church Online.

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