Summer Bible Challenge: There’s an App for That

Date Posted: 6/22/2017

St. Luke’s Houston launched a Scripture+Shared app that is engaging families, small groups and individuals of all ages in summer Bible reading, study, videos and more. Members and others are joining the 2017 summer challenge. Get started.  

Glance around any public space – the grocery store, the doctor’s office waiting room and even in most restaurants – and you will notice many of the people looking at their phones. For better or worse, smartphones have become permanent fixtures in our lives. With that in mind, St. Luke’s UMC in Houston decided to develop a smartphone app to deliver its flagship Bible study curriculum.
Unlike most church apps that offer sermon videos, Sunday morning check in, a pastor’s blog, or donation options, St. Luke’s wanted its app to have an interactive Bible study format that would allow users to study scripture in community. “Studying the Bible is one of our five ‘Inside-Out Habits,’” explains Suzi Pitts, SLUMC communication director, “because reading the Bible and discussing it with others is life-changing.” Currently over 2,218 have downloaded the app and almost 1,500 within the church have joined the summer challenge – even people from out of state.
St. Luke’s used the platform, Subsplash, for the Bible study app. It was selected for its attractive pricing and easy-to-use interface that allows customized content. One of the advantages of using an app instead of printed material is that the authors do not have to prepare 12 weeks of material in advance of the study’s launch. New materials were added a week at a time, which also gave time for high-quality video production. Small group leaders had everything they needed and many watched the weekly video together from their phones to a TV via a lightning adapter. “People are also excited that the app offers a way to ask questions,” adds Group Life Coordinator, Katie Montgomery Mears.
The church launched this multi-level campaign to encourage members, attenders and the public to download the app and study the Bible with a friend – to share in community.  “I think some of the genius of this app is the conversational aspect of this technology,” adds Suzi. “You can do this with your toes in the sand, during a lunch break, or in a waiting room. I’m also personally using the app to interact with one of my god-daughters, age 19, who loves it because it’s fresh and fun.”

An app captures the imagination of a broad spectrum of ages, especially in the younger demographic, late teens through 40s. For that reason, St. Luke’s did a broad push on their two social media handles, Facebook (@stlukeshouston) and Instagram (@slumc), since the easiest adapters were likely already active on their smart phones and accustomed to downloading new apps. “We did a few boosts on some of our Facebook posts, increasing views and engagement, and more visits to our website,” adds Suzi. “In addition to the church’s in-house publications, a Google AdWords Pay Per Click campaign advertising “Free Online Bible App Scripture+Shared” resulted in a 4% click-through rate and brought many people to our website to download the app and learn more about St. Luke’s.”

The inaugural study, Journey to Jerusalem, took a look at the arc of Jesus' life, and how Matthew, Mark, and Luke have specific themes and agendas as they tell the story. The 11-week study was comprised of weekly written materials and questions for groups to use in a small-group format, and was enhanced by videos of St. Luke’s senior pastor, Dr. Tom Pace, teaching the material. Daily readings and reflections also reinforced the weekly topic. Dr. Pace, Rev. Thomas Harper, Rev. David Horton, and Katie Montgomery Mears were the key authors. Additionally, the study featured family materials, written by Children’s Director Julie Ellerbrock, which offered activities and memory verses.
Find a ‘Bible Buddy’
This summer, daily Bible readings are available and include Scripture, a brief commentary and a question for conversation with a friend. Users can type into the answer bubble and e-mail their thoughts with their ‘Bible Buddy’ or small group. The next major study, on Paul’s letter to the Galatians, will premier in the fall. “We are taking 20 weeks this summer to read Paul’s letters – not in a piece meal fashion but as a narrative, to better see how the gospel fits together,” explains Katie.

Bringing the entire church together through the Scripture+Shared study is about more than marketing and the coordination of GroupLife lessons. St. Luke’s leaders know that language accessibility is a challenge. To address this, the app has a Spanish portal, as many of the members of St. Luke’s Gethsemane campus are Spanish speakers. The spring study was translated into Spanish, and plans call for Swahili translation to include members who are African refugees.

“As someone who has spent years trying to find software or an app that allows me to use my devices to access scripture, I have been mightily frustrated until Scripture+Shared was recommended to me,” Ken McKay, one of the app’s many users, says. “Its interface is incredibly user-friendly and its capacity to provide access to content, reference materials and specific studies could not suit my needs better. What an amazing experience following that study on a daily and weekly basis, bringing a familiar story to life in ways that reading the scripture or other studies have never done for me before. I will continue to use this app and follow all the new studies on the go. With Scripture+Shared, I am only a ‘power on’ away.”

The ease of access to quality Bible study materials brings a new and unique experience to users, and other churches not affiliated with St. Luke’s have picked up on this. St. Luke’s invites anyone to join them as they study the Bible in community by going to the app store and downloading the Scripture+Shared app. “This has brought a new piece of technology to the church and created some buzz,” adds Katie, “and if that gets people cracking open God’s Word, then yeah!”