The 'church app scene' taking hold across Africa

How app developers and startups are using new technology to connect religious populations across Africa

While societies in western countries such as the US and UK are becoming increasingly secular, African countries are becoming spiritually-digital. Here, churches are reaping the benefits from increased app developer activities which make congregants, parishioners and pastoral servants more tech-savvy and responsive to changing religious and ministerial landscapes.

According to a report by Pew Research Center Christianity will grow by 35% in 2050 — resulting in 2.9 billion Christians worldwide. However, “Four out of every 10 Christians in the world will live in sub-Saharan Africa”. The same report showed in United States, Christians will decline from more than three-quarters of the population in 2010 to two-thirds in 2050.

In Africa, developers have already seen the trend and have heightened their focus on religious tech application tools to move with the increasing demand. Learning from the already fast growing mobile phone technology penetration across cultures and faiths in Africa, developers are now keen on internet and smartphone technologies and their use in congregations. The mobile phone and consequent mobile money technologies have been used in churches, mosques and in witch doctor dens in Africa for years now with the BBC reporting that “Africa goes to church, the mosque and the witch doctor” interchangeably.

On a global scale, although churches have benefited from improved hardware such as PA systems, televangelism, telecasting and traditional studio-like technologies many important modern technologies have been largely absent. Electronic donation systems (as a result of banking security rules) are largely absent as well as cloud-based church management systems with mainstream churches yet to own their own web servers.

“SAAS is becoming rather commonplace in corporate America, but has only recently started to enter our world [church]. The idea that your church’s software and data is housed ‘somewhere’ in the internet cloud may leave some uneasy, but I’d like to make the case that it’s actually a better place for it to be”, said Joe Luedtke, the Chief Operating Officer for Liturgical Publications.

A recent attempt at installing the churches with wi-fi has been made in Eastern Germany as reported by the BBC. Berlin's French Cathedral and Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church will be among the first 220 of the 300 churches to benefit. These “Godspots” (as the BBC calls them) will be secure and free, accessible both in and outside the church building.

“With Godspot, we at the Evangelical Church want to create a safe and familiar home in the digital world,” Fabian Kraetschmer, the church's IT manager, says on the RBB service's website.


How church tech is emerging in Africa

Now a number of African developers are bringing out apps specifically for churches. For example, Asoriba is a one-stop shop for spirituality in Ghana, connecting pastors and congregants.  

Big church events in Africa such as those held at New Year's Eve are ‘comparable’ to the Super Bowl in the United States and therefore offer a perfect context for an app that helps the faithful to make their donations, tithes, offerings and contributions.

“The house of worship is the heart of people's lives in Ghana,” Nana Prempeh, co-founder of Asoriba says.

With the app, the worshipper can also receive sermons, morning glory, devotions and bible verses, church announcements, events and other important church-related information. A pastor can configure the app to reflect his pastoral preferences and members’ spiritual needs. Asoriba appeals to many partly because of its ability to connect them with the church without a need for physical presence.

Phoster Solutions with its Arppy app, designed as a response to the rising challenge of emotional disconnect between church management and members, and Churchplus, are other Nigerian church technology products to recently hit the church market. The software services are designed for pastors and administrators to manage their church operations, determine performance through KPIs, and improve church relationships with followers. The Churchplus app was developed to tackle the challenges that churches face in the area of data management. It also empowers the followers to connect with the church and other fellow followers, sharing personal testimonies, announcements and events on the go.

“I envisioned an app that could auto-remind my unit members about church services, which can auto-send birthday wishes to those having their birthdays in the unit and so forth. These are little ways a leader can show he cares for his followers,” says Tunde Owoeye-Phoster the Arppy developer.

Peter Kirwa, the founder of a similar church product in Kenya called Christian Church App by @iLabAfrica has noted that: “Churches are becoming conscious that more followers are going the digital way, and they note that if they [churches] want to correspond more, especially with the youth, then technology is the way.” The app is therefore useful for keeping tabs on church proceedings, downloading sermons and viewing personal contributions to church activities.

These are all unique ideas. However, it is contentious whether these technologies, especially in Africa, are simply devised as smart ways to make good money while reaching out to poverty-stricken souls. Some wealthy preachers like Bishop David Oyedepo of Nigeria are, according to Forbes, estimated to be worth $150 million with four private jets, while the majority of the population is left in poverty, hunger, disease and illiteracy.