Holy Community
Review of the YouVersion Bible App™ by Lifechurch.tv

Lifechurch.tv is the Life Covenant Church originally of Edmond, Oklahoma[1] but now a multi-site congregation with campuses in five states and a weekly attendance in all locations estimated at 46,000 weekly. It was founded by Craig Groeschel and is a member of the Evangelical Covenant Church. As an outreach ministry, the church funds the development of the “Youversion Bible App”.  It was originally made available in 2008 and continuously updated since that time. The application has been installed on at least 50 million unique devices.[2]

Rev. Chuck Huckaby is the Minister of Congregational Life at First Protestant Church in New Braunfels, TX. http://www.FirstProtestant.com

YouVersionBibleAppWith the Youversion Bible App™ installed on 50 million unique devices, it’s safe to say this mobile device application is extremely popular. As of May 2011, it had already achieved 20 million downloads...so it has doubled its outreach in just one year. Ongoing statistics about the application are available on public display at http://now.youversion.com/. While anyone could download an app yet never use it, YouVersion users have used the application to read the Bible over 26 billion minutes.

While reading those 26 billion minutes, over 107 million verses were highlighted for sharing or personal reference (keep in mind not every YouVersion user is even aware of this option!). Over 3 million individual reading plans (as short as 2 days for a book like Colossians) were also completed. There’s no telling how many reading plans were started without being completed! So while many may download and then never use the application, many others are growing accustomed to using it. Some users may actually take over a year to “warm up” to its regular use in this reviewer’s experience.
This free application allows the user to read, hear (in some instances), or share up to 29 Bible translations in English, 8 versions in German, etc. Thanks to agreements with a variety of Bible publishers, many popular versions may be downloaded for offline reading at any time. Some versions, however, are only available as limited time offerings in accordance with the publisher’s wishes (such as the NIV and NLT).  Many translations also have an audio version allowing one to listen and follow along while reading which may aid retention.

These statistics highlight how many people choose to read the Bible on a mobile device whether a phone or tablet. It’s simply easier for many to carry a handy library of  versions and resources on one’s phone than to carry a printed Bible and bulky study resources. While this is a convenience in Western society, it is more a matter of strategic necessity in other societies where multiple Bible translations and study resources are not so easily afforded in print. One pilot project associated with the “Cru” Global Technology Office is, in fact, pioneering not only Bible reading by phone, but also theological training by mobile device with their M Learning Project that operates via an Android application.[3] In Africa, they note, people are more likely to have access to a cell phone than clean water. They are also more likely to be able to afford an Android smartphone than purchase the texts needed for theological education.

Based on YouVersion’s statistics, it’s likely that people unable to develop a habit of Bible reading “offline” may be able to acquire such a habit using their phone or tablet.  Some tips for those just starting may be in order:

1. Create an account with YouVersion to enable using their Bible reading plans. Creating an account allows them to track your progress for you and send you an email notification if a notification on your mobile device isn’t daily reminder enough.

2. Download an offline version of the Bible you wish to read so that an internet connection isn’t required to read (though it will be required to track your progress on your plan!). If you have constant internet access this, isn’t strictly necessary though YouVersion suggests it themselves.

3. Choose a short “Partial Bible” plan reading that just covers a few days if this is your first time using Youversion.  Follow that plan. Completing each day’s portion and finally completing a short plan can become something of a positive addiction!

4. As verses “stand out” one can share them with friends on social networks, which, in turn, helps the reader internalize key verses better.  Verses may also be shared by text and email making this a good tool for discipleship and encouragement.

5. Falling behind is no problem! When this happens, users can go to the settings for  the plan being used, scroll down, and click “catch me up”. It will take the last day of readings one missed and display it today. One simply starts back and starts plodding away again.

6. Complete many short plans and gradually increase the length of one’s reading plan as the habit of Bible reading is acquired. Even after that habit is well developed, one may choose to use a variety of “Partial Bible” plans to create a personalized reading schedule.

One could subscribe to multiple plans daily. One might choose to have an Old Testament Plan, Psalms and Proverbs plan and New Testament plan and cover the “whole bible” by means of reading the separate parts in shorter snippets. This tends to increase the odds of completing reading plans in this reviewer’s experience.

Some have also found that reading on a mobile device is less intimidating and report the reading time seems to pass more quickly. Reading plans may also be able to help the inexperienced Bible reader move more quickly between books of the Bible … this allows for the reader to avoid “getting stuck” in those particularly difficult sections  of the Bible like Leviticus and Numbers.

There are annoying things about YouVersion to be sure. Perhaps the most galling for this reviewer is the fact that certain bible reading plans - even when implemented by Youversion - are done poorly. Those seeking to follow the “Church Year” with a Bible reading plan may choose to use the YouVersion plan derived from the Book of Common Prayer. Unfortunately such plans’ readings are tied to specific days. The way YouVersion implements plans, makes it virtually useless for praying with the broader church.  Call it a severe problem of Bible Reading individualism! Here’s why: no matter what one’s start date or high point in the church year, YouVersion starts with the first reading in sequence. So if one starts reading a whole bible plan on July 5th, one begins with Genesis 1:1. That’s no problem usually. However with the Book of Common Prayer lectionary, a user starting on July 5th would see readings from Psalms, Amos, 1 Thessalonians and Luke. Unfortunately the readings for that day in the year 2012 are from Psalms, Numbers, Romans and Matthew. YouVersion has the reader immediately out of sync with the purpose of a lectionary. It would be nice to have reading plans that let one start in the middle to keep up with other readers using a particular lectionary. To date, that is beyond YouVersion’s capacity.

Another annoying anomaly is that this reviewer can check reading plans online, on a mobile phone, and on a mobile tablet and never seem to see all the same plans twice! For instance, the YouVersion blog recently announced this plan that would help many during their daily prayer times:

A.C.T.S. Prayer Bible Reading. Each day presents 4 short readings, each one addressing one of these: A – Adoration, C – Confession, T – Thanksgiving, and S – Supplication — each one selected to help you draw closer to God through prayer. 52 days

Finding it on the mobile phone proved impossible at first. It wasn’t a “whole bible plan” obviously.  Seeking it in “Partial Bible” plans and “Devotional Plans” was also fruitless. It finally was to be found under “Topical” plans! Such scavenger hunts can prove frequent indeed it seems! This reviewer suggests perseverance and exploring a variety of plans to round out one’s daily devotions!

As a caveat, many topical and devotional Bible Plans are incorporated that seem only minimally valuable. This is the price one pays for not having to pay for a free application. Despite the fluff at times, many solid reading plans are available. Find some short ones reading through parts of the Bible you can tackle quickly per the advice above and ignore the silliness!

Despite these minor annoyances, this Bible app - and many others - are valuable tools. There is no question that the Bible is being read by people who otherwise would be less likely to engage the scriptures for one reason or another.

The key to real fruitfulness will be found not only in our ability to engage the scriptures ourselves using these apps, but to also find ways to use them in evangelism and discipleship. Perhaps more people need to explore opportunities to use such apps to simply read the Bible together with those who are willing. Then use some shared reading plan to mentor those so won. That’s possible both in person, through creating a “Live Event” at Youversion.com or through the use of outside tools like Skype of course.

The Youversion Bible App™ is available on the following platforms as well as online at Youversion.com: iPhone/iPad, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone, Windows 8, HP/Palm, Java, Symbian, and Kindle Fire. Versions are available to serve 144 languages with major ones being English, Arabic, Chinese, Czech, Dutch, French, German, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Slovak, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish, Ukrainian, and Vietnamese.

[1] Source: Wikipedia, accessed 7/5/2012 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LifeChurch.tv

[2] Source: YouVersion, accessed 7/5/2012 http://blog.youversion.com/2012/05/the-bible-app-by-youversion-now-installed-on-50-million-mobile-devices/

[3] Source: http://technology.ccci.org/projects/the-mlearning-project/