Part of the Plan
What 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.
“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.
In 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.