EDMOND, OK -- When pastor Dennis Newkirk stands before his congregation at Henderson Hills Baptist Church in Edmond, Okla., to begin a sermon, he gives a nod to technology. While "open your Bibles" may have been sufficient a decade ago, Newkirk also encourages members to "open" their iPhones, iPads, smartphones and tablet computers.
When it comes to the Bible, there's plenty of "apps for that."
"At first when the iPhones and iPads came out, people were hesitant to bring those into church because people kind of looked at them like they were text messaging during the service," Jeff Wilson, communication and innovation pastor at Henderson Hills, told Baptist Press. "What [Newkirk] has done is he has legitimized what we're trying to do. It's given the people the freedom to be able to go through and open that and do that without having any type of negative connotations."
It's an acknowledgement that as technology changes, Christians also are changing the way they study the Bible. There are Christian apps on every smartphone platform, but among the two most popular platforms -- Android and iPhone's iOS -- there are literally hundreds of Bible and Christian-themed apps, helping believers with everything from Scripture memorization to lesson preparation to Bible study to witnessing. Many churches and Christian ministries have their own "apps." Some of the apps allow users to listen to or watch sermons. ("App" is short for "application" and is another word for a software program.)
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The most popular Christian app, by far, is the YouVersion Bible app, developed by a multiple-site-campus church known as LifeChurch.tv. The free app -- downloaded more than 13 million times -- offers several translations and allows users easily to post verses directly onto Facebook and Twitter. Users can search for keywords or follow a suggested Bible reading plan. The app also allows churches to upload a pastor's sermon notes -- something that Henderson Hills Baptist is doing. That means Henderson Hills members who have the app can read the biblical text and the sermon notes, all on their smartphone or tablet computer. Users also can write their own notes on the app.
"We're encouraging that," Wilson said. "We are seeing more and more people who are doing it."
Ed Litton, pastor of First Baptist North Mobile (Ala.), has several Christian apps on his iPhone. A C.S. Lewis app gives him a daily quote from the famous author. A Scripture memorization app helps him commit verses to memory. Litton uses Olive Tree's free Bible app to read Scripture. He teaches a men's discipleship group by using either his iPad or iPhone.
Apps, Litton said, are helpful because they are handy, quick and easy to use.
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"In between those moments of in-depth studying, if I am thinking about a text, one of my apps will help me while it's on my mind," Litton told BP. "That's been practically day to day how I have used them the most."
Litton also has downloaded apps from other churches.
"It helps me keep up with what they're doing," he said. "A lot of guys put their podcasts or their services on apps."
Thomas White, vice president for student services and communications at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, has a smartphone and tablet computer and said he uses the free Logos Bible Software app, a popular app that contains not only the Bible but also allows users to sync their previously purchased Logos commentaries and reference books. He uses the Southwestern Seminary app for witnessing.
Denny Burk, dean of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary's Boyce College in Louisville, Ky., has a smartphone and also uses Logos, which he said is a "handy little resource" when he's away from his library and needs specific information. He uses the Olive Tree Bible app "all the time."
"It's an easy way to carry multiple Bible translations and versions right in my pocket when I am on the go," Burk said. "It allows me to consult not only my favorite English translations, but also the Greek and Hebrew texts of Scripture as well. It can parse every word in the original language texts, and it has a powerful search engine."
Of course, Burk also uses Southern Seminary's app.
Wilson, the Oklahoma church staff member, said apps help him stay connected wherever he is. As the church's communications and technology pastor, he is constantly updating "the church members with what's going on" via Facebook and Twitter.
"Apps give me information and resources at my fingertips," Wilson said. "I am always going to have my phone with me."