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What if the Apostles Developed an iPhone App?

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After more than two years worth of apps for the iPhone (s aapl), not to mention other handsets like the Android, few applications come as a complete surprise. But one app I looked at recently definitely fell into that category — if only because it has been installed close to 10 million times, and has millions of regular and devoted users, but hardly anyone in the tech press ever writes about it. It’s called YouVersion, but it’s better known as “the Bible app.”

Yes, the Bible has an app. No, it was not delivered to anyone on a mountain, and there were no burning bushes involved. And yes, it’s had close to 10 million installs, according to Bobby Gruenewald — a pastor at, a high-tech church based in Oklahoma (with branches in seven other states) and the brains behind the Bible app. Gruenewald was involved in the tech industry before he joined the church (he had a web-hosting company in the 1990s he eventually sold) so the idea of using the web and mobile to help people connect with the Bible seemed like a natural, he says.

The app provides an easy-to-read interface to the Bible (obviously) in more than 40 different versions and 22 different languages, but has social features and other interesting functions built-in as well: Users can share their favorite passages by posting them to their Facebook wall or sharing them on Twitter, and Gruenewald says there have been half a million such tweets over the past year. Users can also choose from a number of pre-set reading plans (read the New Testament in six weeks, etc.) then track and share their progress much like runners do with Runkeeper.

It started with a website in 2007, where anyone who was interested could find Bible passages and reading plans, and then was followed by a mobile version of the site in 2008 that looked better on smartphones. When Apple launched the app store for the iPhone, the church had a simple version of its app available the first day, and since then, there have been repeated iterations. Interest in the app continues to increase at a fairly rapid rate; Gruenewald says YouVersion is seeing about a million installs a month (many of which, not surprisingly, happen on Sunday).

The app also allows pastors and priests to put together passages with their notes, links to content, and even polls that users can take on various issues — as well as an interactive feature that allows them to solicit names of parishioners that should be prayed for. The app uses geo-location to show users if a nearby church has a lesson plan or other content available so they can download it. Upcoming features include support for text, audio and video notes associated with specific passages, Gruenewald says — and possibly even Foursquare-style badges.

It’s fascinating to see the traditional technology approach of a mainstream app used for something like YouVersion, and how quickly it seems to be taking off — not surprising, perhaps, given the viral effect that seeing another church-goer using the app would have. In terms of the breakdown of users, the pastor says that iOS devices (iPhone and iPad) account for about 5.6 million of the installations, while Android (s goog) and BlackBerry (s rimm) are more or less evenly matched at about 2.4 million — although the number of Android users is growing quickly, he says.

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8 Responses to “What if the Apostles Developed an iPhone App?”

  1. I have it installed on both my android device and my Iphone. The way I use it is to lookup the bible verses provided by the pastors sermon being preached so I no longer need to bring my physical bible me.

    With all the versions supported, I would have to bring 22 bibles to church on sundays if I wanted to go back to life before the app and maintain the same level of variety of versions available.

  2. No offence to the religious, but apps like this just make me see how silly some of the “social” features are that are being added to apps in general. If a multi-thousand year old storybook can have “interactive and social features” pasted onto it, it means almost anything can. It highlights how ridiculous the rush to paste the “social” onto the side of everything in creation is.

    I eagerly await the “Grimm’s Fairy Tales – Social Edition” app that is sure to follow.

    • Not sure I agree, actually — I am not religious, but I do know that the Bible is different than a lot of other books, in that there is already a fairly huge social element to it for many people. This app takes advantage of that in a smart way I think.

  3. Definitely my favorite Bible app, and it just keeps getting better with each version. The only problem I ever have with it is that between about 11 am and noon on Sunday, the server is often so busy that I can’t load the desired passage! 10M fellow users. I guess that explains it. :/ So I have a couple others to fall back on. The Reformation Study Bible is my usual second choice. It has only the ESV, and it’s expensive, but the notes are terrific.

    I’ve been using electronic Bibles exclusively for over a decade. I have yet to find an iPhone one that is as good as what I had on my Palm devices, believe it or not. Even the iPhone app by the same company that made the Palm one just doesn’t even come close. Don’t know why. Should be better, if anything. On the Palm, I could switch versions instantly. Absolutely instantly at the touch of a virtual button. Why can’t the far more powerful iPhone do the same?

  4. YouVersion is by far the most used app on my Dell Streak. I love it and use it daily! I also use quite often, and it is so cool how the app and the website sync. I love YouVersion!