App or Website? The Question That Haunts Us All

I was in a meeting with an incredible organization recently. They train missionaries all over the world; hundreds and thousands of them.

I was there to discuss a partnership between their training team and TrainedUp, but once they found out that I have a background in mobile app development, the conversation shifted to one big question:

Should we build an app or just a website?

I’ve heard that question dozens of times. It’s a reasonable one. There are hundreds of millions of people with smartphones that can download apps. Apps are generally better at engaging someone on their mobile device than a website.

However, the benefits of an app are only worth the extra expense (apps usually cost many multiples more than a website with similar functionality) if you meet the following criteria.

1. The interaction you need to facilitate is only possible with an app; like, it literally can’t happen with a website. For example, if you need to allow people to take photos and upload them to somewhere, that’s something only an app can do reasonably.

2. You need realtime push notifications. I want to emphasize the realtime aspect of this need. If your notification isn’t time-sensitive, then there’s no reason to make it a push notification instead of an email.

3. Your functionality leads to or requires daily interaction with features, not content. For example, if your idea requires that users login and perform actions on a daily basis, make it an app.

4. Your desired user experience is far better with native interactions rather than web-based interactions. For example, if your idea requires animation or gameplay, build an app.

That’s it. Most churches don’t need an app for the features they want to build. Things that don’t require an app would be online giving, reading a blog, watching a sermon, submitting a prayer request, finding information about the church, or receiving a message from the church leaders.

These are all things that websites do. In fact, free/cheap websites on Squarespace or Weebly can do all these things for you and they generally come with mobile friendly layouts, too. Get a short url and tell people to bookmark your website and signup for email updates from the church. That’ll give you 99% of the functionality your church or organization probably needs to target mobile users…and it’ll save you a ton of money.

Finally, when it comes to on-boarding new users, it’s far easier to get someone to visit a website than it is to get them to download and use an app. Far, far easier.

If you can avoid the app route, please do so. Apps are expensive, hard to update, and hard to get people to adopt. Websites are free/cheap, easy to update, and simple to get people to visit.


Scott Magdalein is the founder of TrainedUp, the learning platform built for ministry. Formerly, He was the Digerati Coxswain at Life.Church where he was responsible for leading the team behind YouVersion, Church Online, Church Metrics, Open, Church Online Platform. He writes on Medium about leadership, discipleship, and technology. Follow Scott on Twitter @ScottMagdalein