Have We Thought Through the Limits of Apps?

It’s hard to believe it was only 10 years ago that Apple’s App Store first appeared. It seems like apps for everything have been around forever. Haven’t we been saying, “There’s an app for that” for much longer than only 10 years? Apps are what turned our cell phones into smartphones, allowing us to do so much more than just calling.

While it’s cool to be able to use your phone to do everything from leveling a picture on the wall to putting a dog nose on your face, let’s not forget how productive we can be with our smartphone or tablet. It’s now a ubiquitous technology.

Churches can thrive using apps for worship tech. In fact, technology has always been a critical part of worship. In the early days of church history, that “technology” may have only been limited to a pipe organ, but it was a technological marvel for its time. Churches have always been on the driving edge of sound amplification technologies. They were quick to move from overhead projectors to LCD projectors.

Churches are unique because we do what we do every week (often more than once a week). We have a gig every Sunday and we depend on volunteers for operations, so we are quick to embrace technology that helps us communicate more effectively and utilize volunteers more efficiently.

One widely used app is Planning Center Online (PCO). PCO has grown from a worship scheduling tool into a full-fledged church management system. The PCO app makes it easy for volunteers and staff alike to view orders of service, review and rehearse music, check out call and rehearsal times, keep track of service timing, and communicate with each other—all through the app. PCO is a great example of a powerful tool that can be quickly deployed to everyone who needs it. Everyone already has the hardware necessary to run it, right in his or her pocket. No need for an expensive laptop or specific desktop anymore. What a cool application of technology for the Kingdom, and we’re just beginning to scratch the surface.

Apps have also made it easier to manage sound, video and lighting. Most sound and lighting consoles today offer an app that allows the operator mobility in location and flexibility in operation. Now the front of house operator can roam around the room and stage with an app on a tablet making adjustments to in-ear mixes, front of house mixes, EQ, stage monitors, you name it.

Many video systems also have apps for switches and matrixes. Staff and volunteers can control equipment via their phones. Now, when someone asks (usually at the last minute) if a TV input can be changed, instead of having to go back to a control room, a tech can use a phone to control the matrix or change an output. Apps also provide switcher control, which in some cases can reduce costs when a second control surface is necessary. Instead of spending thousands of dollars, you can accomplish the same objective with a tablet and an app.

Lighting consoles also come with apps allowing lighting techs to troubleshoot and change cues without having to shout back to the lighting console operator or use radios or other communication to get a fixture turned off or on. Now a single person can change lights and cues using an app making a level tech or focus time much more productive and requiring fewer people.

There are even apps to control graphics and lyrics. Whether you use a PC or Mac, you can remotely change slides and advance words on the screen via an app, allowing for tremendous flexibility in volunteer placement and control room layouts.

Of course, there are some important considerations when using any of these apps. First, security is important. You want to make sure your network and security protocols are set up correctly so you don’t have someone in the audience taking over your switcher or changing your lighting cues. I’ve been to many churches where I can easily find their A/V equipment exposed on public networks. That’s a big no-no.

Second, apps may not always be the solution. Apps can fail—and most church A/V and tech ministries can’t afford to fail, especially not on Sunday morning! While some apps may be great tools, it is always wise to consider if doing it the old fashioned way is going to be more reliable. Just because you can control your lyrics from an app on your phone doesn’t mean you should. What happens when the app or network connection fail?

Finally, our dependence on apps means we must have a backup plan for when the app or service the app provides goes down. What is your backup plan if PCO is offline? What happens if your wireless network goes down and your worship team can’t access their music? Is your wireless network built with the requirements of these apps in mind (not to mention the upstream routers and firewalls)? Technology is great, but this side of heaven it is guaranteed that technology will fail: are you prepared?

There is no doubt that apps have changed the church world. Apps allow us to do so much from our phones and tablets. Apps for audio/visual applications are a just a small sampling of what’s out there. While it is cool that I can test DB levels with an app and view the EQ of a room with an app, it is always important to remember that apps don’t replace people in ministry. Apps allow us to do more with less, but it takes people to invest time in training others on how to use these apps effectively for greater ministry effectiveness.

This article originally appeared in the April 2017 issue of Ministry Tech Magazine.