National Edition

Seeking God? There's an app for that

Published: Friday, May 30 2014 4:20 a.m. MDT

Such apps include the Lulav Wizard, which "creates a digital replica of a palm tree’s frond, teaching the users how to swing it during the Jewish festival of Sukkot, and The Lord’s Prayer app that offers users simple text guides through a recitation of the well-known Christian prayer," researchers explained.

An "Islamic Free Quiz app uses a game show format to teach users about basic tenets of Islam," the researchers indicated, while a program such as the Hebrew Calendar Converter can help users track dates and times for religious observances.

"What this means is that developers tend to concentrate their app design around reminding users when to practice their religion, or helping users practice their religion whenever, wherever they are," Texas A&M's Bellar said.

Jim Baird, who is director of WordSearch Bible Software in Austin, Texas, said that while his firm's products are "still predominately desktop customer based," the balance is shifting to handheld platforms.

Today, he said, that's mostly for reading content such as Bible versions, commentaries and the like, but soon it will shift more towards "content creation," using Bible texts, commentaries and other reference works to create a Sunday School lesson or a sermon on the fly.

"The mobile device is where everyone's going," Baird added. "Our goal is to stay just ahead of the curve — not too far ahead, but not too far behind."

A onetime youth pastor, Baird now says his entire Bible study effort is paperless: "Years ago, I had a little over 3,000 print books. Over the span of seven years, I gave away my print library, and now, everything I have is digital."

Matt Morris, who holds the title of "transmedia leader" at LifeWay Publishers in Nashville, Tennessee, said congregations are adapting their operations to mobile use as well.

"We build a lot of mobile apps for churches that truly want to have a mobile presence," Morris said. "We do everything from online streaming of sermons to podcasts … to photo uploads, prayer request walls, blog integration, mobile giving."

Driven by members

Morris said member demand is a key factor in how quickly a congregation moves to a mobile platform. "Quite honestly, whenever a church member squeaks, you're going to see more churches develop mobile apps and make them available to their members."

Indeed, if it isn't a "little child," it might be a teenager who leads the advance. Researchers at the University of Eastern Finland say that many of the 85 percent of Finnish youths preparing for confirmation in the country's Evangelical Lutheran Church are targets for two mobile games aimed at teaching both doctrine and the meanings of various Christian symbols.

"Up until recently, the attitudes toward the use of mobile phones and tablet computers in confirmation work have been reserved, as they were seen as a distraction," Eveliina Ojala, an early stage researcher at the school's Congregational Mobile Technologies project, said in a statement. "Nowadays, however, almost every young person has a smartphone, and the games (we've) developed … are a way of acknowledging the world young people live in also in confirmation work."

In Washington, D.C., the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops said on Wednesday that its online myUSCCB resource — which is designed for handheld and tablet viewing — would be available free to church leaders, including staff and educators, until July. In a statement, Salt Lake Catholic Bishop John Wester said, "myUSCCB allows you to download, print and share important resources for your ministry and learn from experts through live Web events and podcasts. We hope people find it a useful tool for their good work."

Mobile applications produced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints apparently are popular among the membership, with top favorites being the Gospel Library, LDS Tools and the Mormon Channel apps, the latter for media streaming.

According to Clint Bishop, the church's senior mobile adviser, how the apps are used is key.

"Collectively, the church’s apps have been downloaded millions of times," he said. "But primarily we are interested in how frequently the apps are used, how much or little time is spent using them, and how they positively impact the lives of members."

Email: mkellner@deseretnews.com

Twitter: Mark_Kellner

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