Part of the Plan

 

Written by Lindsay Whelchel in the March 2013 Issue

Bobby GruenewaldWhat if today’s age of information technology could mirror a time in history like that of the Gutenberg press, but instead of disseminating messages on paper, this time it’s done through applications [apps] on your smart phone?

That’s the question that Edmond resident and pastor at LifeChurch.tv, Bobby Gruenewald, asked himself in a Chicago airport in 2006. By the time he had made it through the security line, Gruenewald had a name for his idea­—YouVersion.

Launched in 2007, YouVersion was initially a website for associating pieces of media with the Bible. It didn’t become the popular smart phone app until 2008. Today it allows people to choose reading plans for the digital Bible and access passages from anywhere straight off of their phones or tablets.

The app is now registered on more than 81.5 million devices with users having spent 2 billion minutes reading. The name for the app came from the original idea of representing how you were inspired by the Bible through media. The idea of using technology to benefit the church was what brought Gruenewald to LifeChurch.tv to begin with.

In 1996, while Gruenewald was in college, he developed a web-hosting company with friends. Surprised by its success, he sold the company and went on to a venture with a pro-wrestling website. During this time, Gruenewald began attending and volunteering at LifeChurch.tv. With the successful sale of his second business, he came on staff as a pastor with the church and leader in the technology department.

YouVersion“In my years of business, I had never made a connection that what I was learning in business and through these technology-based companies would have any application in the church,” Gruenewald says. “I had always viewed the church as a place where I went and learned about what it meant to be a better follower of Christ and I would take those principals and apply them in terms of how I led our companies, but I would never think the other way—like this stuff I learned in technology could actually help the church. It seems kind of obvious in retrospect.”

Gruenewald explains that he knew he was in his rightful place in his new role at the church. “It became real clear that the passion God put inside of me for the church had just eclipsed my passion for business.”

The church moved its headquarters farther into Edmond and Gruenewald followed suit around ten years ago. He says they are proud of their home base as well as their implementation of technological advances in their work. “Because of my background in technology, and some others on our team, we really feel like what we’re supposed to do as a church is take technology and invest in it to where we can make it available to help people engage in the Bible, to help people further their walk with Christ.” In doing so, they have extended their connection to places around the world.

With the mobile version, Gruenewald reports that more and more people began to connect with YouVersion. When 83,000 people installed the completely free app during the first three days of its launch, that’s when Gruenewald knew it had exploded. Now he hears countless stories where people are even able to access the content in countries where possessing a Bible is prohibited.

YouVersionIn addition to this, the number of people who are able to complete their goals of reading the Bible for the first time is high. Gruenewald tells the story of one man who tried that very task for 47 years. He was finally able to do it by having the YouVersion app. That man is not alone. Gruenewald calls the reading plans a key feature to the user-friendly software. With over 300 different plans or devotional options—some chronological, seasonal or by topics such as marriage—people can choose how they want to approach reading the Bible.

Edmond resident and LifeChurch.tv member, Tiffany Hockenbarger started using the app around eight months ago and refers to the plans as her daily encouragement. “I really like the plans that I’m able to engage in and then it’s really great when I go to my life group to have talking points right there,” she says.

Fellow member Jimmy Bullock reads from his plans every morning with his coffee. He can tell his mood is a bit down if he misses a day. “It definitely helps me every day, just being able to read a little bit,” he says. “I think the importance of it is that it’s always available wherever you are. It’s great that people who wouldn’t carry a Bible around have the option to go to YouVersion and maybe dive into God’s word in places where maybe they wouldn’t have before.” 

For Gruenewald, Easter is a busy time of the year as the YouVersion team implements more plans to aid in deepening the understanding of the season. “It’s really been a tremendous thing to be a part of. It’s exceeded our expectations for certain,” he says. Gruenewald also comments that he hopes to create more community features for the app in the future.

Sounds like a plan.

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