At ChurchWP.net, we have started a unique Designer Interview series.  It is a great way for our readers to learn about some of the great people behind some of the church website companies.  In the past, we have interview theme designers and Christian stock photo companies execs.  Today, we are expanding our sites again and happy to interview Gresham Hill (Twitter), the founder of the SmartChurch App.  If you sign up for the app, let them know that you found out about them via our site by using the sign up code “churchwp.”  Their premium version goes live on July 16!

How long have you been involved in SmartChurch?

The idea for SmartChurch came to me in 2010 and I’ve been working on it ever since. The name SmartChurch didn’t actually happen until March 2013. And Lockeland, LLC was not formed until January 6, 2014.

What drove you to create the company?

I was working for a ministry that helps churches reach their city for Christ through creative outreach events. We were brainstorming new ways to help churches grow and reach out to their community beyond just doing events and the idea of an app for a church was floated. At the time, we searched and could not find a single church app on our iPhones. So my original motivation was based on the idea that new technology would help people who were searching for a church to find one, get connected and begin donating through the app. But I also believed the app could help churches reach out to people who were not looking for a church.

How does your faith impact what you guys are trying to do with SmartChurch?

There’s nothing I deal with at SmartChurch that is not brought before Christ daily to pray through. I believe with a passion that the Church is the Body of Christ so we need to hold Her up and battle to bring glory to God through Her. Matthew 16:18 says “…on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.

” Because of this, it is a very serious matter how I conduct this business since my primary customers are local churches. Integrity, honesty, and fair pricing is essential. This is why we came out with a 100% free version of SmartChurch. I believe passionately that SmartChurch is the best product out there for churches to grow their church and so I want to make sure that every church, no matter how small or poor, can utilize this tool. And beyond cost, I’m also concerned with simplicity. I hear of other programs that are so complex, that you have to sit through hours of training to know how to use it and often, a part-time or full-time position is created just to handle the program. I don’t like that idea of drawing resources away from a church just for the sake of a cool communication program. So our team makes SmartChurch simple enough for a 70 year old secretary to handle with just a few minutes per day. I’m also concerned with the bait-and-switch where a software company lures you in with the promise of a low cost solution and by the time you get it set up, you learn that this part will be extra and this feature costs more. I don’t like that. I want our pricing to be simple and straightforward so that there are no surprises and I don’t cripple a church’s budget with “add-ons.”

Why should a church have its own app? What are some of the advantages of an app compared to just having a website?

There are a lot of reasons. I’ll share just a few but I’ll start with the obvious, this is how people will give in the future. So even if you don’t see it yet, pretty soon, the average person will not carry cash or checks with them. It’s coming and for people 25 and younger, it’s already here. Plus, most churches receive 90% or more of their donations at their weekly service which is a terrible limitation on the generosity of their people. Giving needs to be easy so that people can do it from their small group Bible study, during their morning quiet time, or even when on vacation. A recent study by a competitor
showed me how one church saw their giving increase by over $85 per person after introducing a giving app. All I could think was “Wow! That by itself is huge.” Second, people have their phone with them wherever they go. Now, more people check their email, social media, and websites from a phone than from a computer screen. The average person looks at their phone 150 times per day! And a church needs to realize that it’s vital that their information be at the fingertips of their members at all times or it simply won’t be seen. Third, we live in a world that is on the go.

Some of your members travel a ton and many simply do not live behind a computer desk. So when they need to call someone or connect to someone, often they don’t have their contact information. In fact, most of your church members do not have a phone number, email, or social media contact for even 50% of your church. They couldn’t call them if they wanted to! But how can a church truly build community if they make it hard for people to “connect?” Our app is unique in that we put every church member on your phone which is where you need them. This allows your members to “connect” and that is naturally the first step towards growing community. And this is why it’s important today to have an app as well as a website. I love websites and I think people should utilize a them, but churches in the near future will get more views on our app than on their website, even if they build a “responsive” website that works great on a phone. Sometimes the problem isn’t the website, but the people updating it. Your church members just don’t want to type in your website address and go look at a site that doesn’t change for weeks on end. All in all, a church just has to realize that portable devices are growing in popularity and use and they can’t just rely on their website for their communication needs.

What makes the Smart Church App unique? How is it different than the other church apps out there?

There are a lot of great church apps out there but SmartChurch has quite a few unique qualities that are helping us grow faster than others.

  1. First, we’re the only one out there offering a truly free, quality church app experience and no one else offers the features we offer in our Premium software at a lower price.
  2. Second, we’re the only ones with a simple pricing model that gives you everything at one low price (or even free).
  3. Third, we offer Web Access for any member of your church that does not own a smart device. This ensures that 99% of your church can access and use SmartChurch.
  4. Fourth, we’re the only church app that I’m aware of that provides a truly Facebook-like experience. Like Facebook, we make it very easy to “love” (i.e. “like”) a post, comment on one, “broadcast” (i.e. “share”) a post to social media, and more. Not to mention, your church members are more familiar with Facebook than any other app which makes our user interface easy to use and understand from the beginning.
  5. Fifth, our Giving page is incredible. I’m not just saying that. It really is a huge leap forward from other giving apps. We’re the only app I’m aware of that allows your church to use photos to inspire giving. And believe me, it will! We also allow your church to set up specific funds with budgets so that the “Need” will disappear automatically once the funds have been raised. You can also set a timeline so that a “Need” expires on a certain date regardless of whether it was fully funded. I love these features because beyond a shadow of a doubt, they will inspire greater generosity from your members & visitors and I’m confident that your church’s giving will grow faster with SmartChurch than with any other app.
  6. Sixth, we provide free customer service, free support, free printed materials, and free videos to help you launch SmartChurch to your church. We want to give away things more than we want to charge for them so you’ll find that almost everything is free.
  7. And last but certainly not least, no one else offers a free church member directory with privacy controls for each member. The member directory is amazing and people still can’t believe that we included it in the free version of SmartChurch. Sometimes I’m surprised I did that too.

Since ChurchWP is a site about church websites, many of our readers love to learn what others think is important when it comes to their sites.  I have a few questions about churches websites too!

Anything churches should try to avoid?

There are a lot of bad websites out there. I would avoid having a website that is 90% text because it won’t look good. I would also make sure you think of your visitors when you post to your website. What do they need to know? Do they know where the front door of your church is? Also, update your church’s website weekly at the very least. People will stop visiting your site if it is outdated or simply has no new content to read. That’s one reason why I love WordPress because they have a ton of great features that will help you keep your church’s website updated and fresh every week.

Are there any mistakes you see churches make with their website photos?

Wow. Yes but I’m by no means an expert here. I would say that if a photo is small like your profile photo on Facebook, it needs to be your face and not a body shot and not you with other people. In fact, this is how you’re identified so it needs to just be you. This goes for the profile picture that each church member gets on SmartChurch as well. Also, I think your photos should speak for themselves so I always challenge our churches to post photos that would make sense to the viewer even if they did not read the text about it. And finally, people love photos… so post more, not less.

Any other mistakes you see people making on their websites?

Try and avoid having more than 7 major buttons on your website. Sometimes I visit church websites that have a list of 20 buttons to choose from. When really, their information could have been better summed up in just 4 or 5.

What are the some of the key things churches should consider when choosing images?

Good question. I’m not an expert here but I would encourage photos that make a visitor want to come to your church. Post photos of kids having fun. Show people not just in the four walls of the church but also serving in their community. Show visitors that your church is doing something. And if your church is not doing anything, that’s an entirely different issue that pictures won’t fix. Try and avoid stock photos if you can. Real photos will always help. You can even invite
your church members to submit photos of an event or of the church or of a special project. Sometimes you’ll discover that someone in the church has a great camera or just a great eye for capturing images that will look great on your site.

What do you like to do when you are not developing church apps?

It’s hard to say these days since I’m working quite a bit. I love spending time with my family. My three year old is discovering new things and nothing makes me happier than to see her at the zoo or in the swimming pool having a great time. Outside of that, I love serving with my church, playing tennis, going to sporting events, watching my Alabama Crimson Tide, and discovering good restaurants.