The iPad: A Review for Ministry Leaders

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Should you purchase an iPad for your ministry? John Chandler gives us the scoop.

Let’s get the “make fun of the geek” part out of the way right now, shall we? I’m an Apple fan boy. I’m an early adopter. My friends sometimes call me the digital pastor. I. Am. A. Geek. While refreshing my web browser during the announcement of the Apple iPad, my mood could best have been described as giddy. Go ahead and mock … I’ll wait.

But I know you want an iPad too.

I split my professional life as the part-time pastor of a church start-up and as a freelance web designer/developer. My love for the church and technology fueled my curiosity about how the iPad might change the way my church, and your church, does ministry. A handful of emails and conversations on the subject proved that I’m not the only one. And since we’re already making fun of me, I’ll go ahead and tell you that I’m giddy again. Not only because I have an iPad, but because of the ways others are dreaming forward when it comes to the iPad and church ministry. 

The iPad for Pastors
There is a notable trend of pastors valuing the times they can be out of the office, working in coffee shops or other third spaces. With the proliferation of laptops, pastors became less tied to the computers at our desks or books on our shelves. We can be out and about for sermon prep, connecting with members of the church, or meeting new people. For the day-to-day work of a pastor, could an iPad be as effective, or perhaps more effective, than a laptop? From my experience so far, I think we can say it’s effective, but a different kind of effective.

For the first week I had an iPad, I left my laptop on my desk, using it only as a desktop machine for design work. I was able to function well with the iPad, and didn’t feel hampered in the majority of my tasks. I should add that I carried a Bluetooth keyboard with me as well, and I’m certain my iPad experiment wouldn’t have gone as well without it.

Most of the features I use on my laptop are available to me on the iPad either out of the box or via third party applications. Of course, email and web browsing are built into the iPad and work fantastically. I found that Pages works well for basic word processing—capturing words and formatting text—just don’t try to get too fancy with a document.

Mike Goldsworthy is the lead pastor of Parkcrest Christian Church in Long Beach, California. Since getting his iPad, he’s formed the habit of only bringing his laptop to the office two days a week. On other days, he uses his iPad. One of the critiques of the iPad has been the lack of multitasking, but for Goldsworthy that’s a benefit. “The lack of multitasking on the iPad has enabled me to focus on what I’m working on in that moment.” With less potential for distraction, he feels more focused on tasks such as sermon prep and even relational connections with his staff. (And judging by the 900-word response Goldsworthy sent to my inquiry, he’s also more focused on thoughtful email responses!)

Mike and I also share an enthusiasm for the iPad when it comes to meetings. A laptop in a meeting can be a barrier, as one party wonders what the other is looking at on the screen. An iPad laying flat on a table or your lap is less obtrusive. It provides access to your notes or information you want to share, while removing the glowing wall that stands between you and others in the meeting.

One place the iPad falls short of my hopes, at least for now, is as a portable reference library. Every week, I rely on the resources in Logos Bible Software (www.logos.com). Many of these works are also available in Logos’ iPad app, and that library is expanding as the makers of the software secure more licenses. Unfortunately, there is no way to copy notes, quotes, or verses from the app and paste them into Pages or another application. OliveTree Reader (www.olivetree.com) for iPad is also in the works, but their iPhone Bible study app doesn’t allow cut and paste, so it’s unlikely the iPad version will either. If you’re in a pinch, the free ESV Bible app (mobile.esv.org) allows copy and paste, and it looks great.

Along the same lines, I had hopes of loading my iPad with my Kindle library and referring back to favorite books for quotes or illustrations. Sadly, the Kindle app doesn’t allow me to search in the active book, let alone my whole library. At best, it allows me to scan excerpts of my notes and highlights within a book, but that’s not quite the same.

In spite of a few workflow speed bumps, the iPad is useful in the office and on the go. In the near future, I can envision churches buying fewer desktops, equipping them with multiple login accounts to be shared by several staff members for bigger projects, and providing staff with iPads as their primary computers. It’d save money while freeing up pastors to spend more time on the go.

The iPad in the Pews
Your church might not have pews, but there probably aren’t many laptops in your services either. While I haven’t been to a conference in five years where the majority of the participants didn’t have a laptop, church services don’t reflect that. Your congregation may be different, but in most churches, it’s still a rare sight to see someone with a laptop open during the service.

The slim profile makes the iPad a natural device for use in church services and Bible studies. Mobile access to Bible software means listeners can quickly navigate to cross-references, linked maps, and commentaries alongside their own notes. One example of this is YouVersion Live, a service connected to YouVersion.com. YouVersion Live functions like a digital, interactive church bulletin with integrated Scripture references and links to other resources. According to Bobby Gruenewald, Pastor and Innovation Leader at LifeChurch.tv, more that 2,500 live events are created on YouVersion Live every week. iPad users can access YouVersion Live events through the mobile site (m.youversion.com/live), and Live should be integrated into the Bible HD iPad app by the time you read this (or soon after).

The iPad opens the door for new means of interaction during sermons or Bible studies using Twitter or Facebook. Churchgoers can change from listeners to contributors, offering comments or asking questions via hashtags for interaction during the teaching or post-service follow-up. We already see this happening in learning environments such as conferences and classrooms, so it seems to make sense for churches, too.

The iPad in Your Ministries
The unique strength of the iPad is that it gives full access to data and workflows while maintaining personal mobility. And if you’ll pardon the recurring theme, once again we see ways where the iPad can be less obtrusive in engaging with others. Beyond the pulpit and the pews, the iPad is useful for ministry purposes around a church campus on Sundays and throughout the week.

Children’s check-in kiosks and other database-connected activities can be built around more personal interactions using iPads. Mark Kitts, the founder of People Driven Software, has already used iPads for children’s check-in at his church, and he is dreaming about other possibilities:

“We are imagining some pretty cool applications where trained volunteers can walk around the church lobby with iPads and check-in kids. We are also thinking about how teachers could use iPads in the classroom to access real-time information on the kids and their families.”

Planning Center (www.planningcenteronline.com) was launched in 2006 as a tool to help churches plan their worship services on the Web and manage their worship teams and other volunteers. The Planning Center team has already made their service smartphone-friendly, and now they are rolling out new products for the iPad.

In April, Planning Center introduced Planning Center Music Stand. Planning Center users can access the order of service and view chord charts and lyric sheets for the worship set from within the app! A musician or vocalist can flip through the pages with a swipe of the screen or a foot pedal attachment.

While both People Driven Software and Planning Center, and many others, will be producing great apps in the months to come, the robust browser on the iPad means there are few limits to how the iPad can be used. Fellowship One (www.fellowshiptechnologies.com) has an iPhone app for connecting to your church database on the go, but with the full web browsing capabilities of the iPad, they don’t have immediate plans to develop an iPad app. “Since we’re native web- and Safari- compliant, much of our system works seamlessly on [the iPad].” says Curtis Simmons, a Vice President at Fellowship Technologies.

The iPad presents new possibilities for your church . If you have a unique idea for how to use the iPad in your ministry, there is probably a web developer in your congregation who can build it for you. Or maybe you’ll meet a developer working at the table next to you in a coffee shop while you’re plugging away on your iPad.  

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  • http://twitter.com/dpastordan Daniel Moore

    I’m not an earlhy adopter.  I want to compare this with other tablets first.  I liked to see the iPad compared to the Toshiba Torch.  The Kindles are too small for me.  And I need by Bible software to be accessible. 

  • Kristiine

    I use my iPad for reading th Bible and teaching my children. One app I can deffinetly recommend is Littel Ace and Ten Commandments. It really helps me to teach to my children basics of the life in a funny and attractive way. And it is also very beautiful:)

  • http://scottkantner.com Scott Kantner

    I used my iPad at the keyboards each Sunday playing in our praise band.  It has freed me to focus on worship instead of the hassles of paper music!

    • Joeltaylor

      Hello Scott, what app do you run during worship leading?

  • http://www.myvideotalkusa.com/212667 Dr. Troutman, S. D.

    I earned an IPAD2 from the parent company of my business.  I will receive it soon.  Please continue to share with me ideas of how you use your IPAD for church.  My email address is strout31006@yahoo.com  Dr. T

  • Bill Stewart

    I didn’t have to read much of this article to realize that it was written quite some time ago. The key was the statement that the iPad falls short as a reference library. I have been using my iPad for teaching Sunday school for over a year now and I am continually adding to my Olive Tree library. There are other good resource providers and I have tried a number of them. I found that I like Olive Tree best and decided that it was easier for me to become totally familiar with the way one reader works and stick with it. I have several Bible translations, commentaries, dictionaries and Bible atlases that all work very well together. I can highlight, make notes and copy and paste references with so much ease, that it makes studying and planning my class time both fun and productive. I walk in to my classroom with nothing but my iPad and, although it is a class of older man, no one seems to mind. We refer to it as my teaching machine and joke about what I will do if I ever push the power button and it fails to come on. It hasn’t failed me yet.