Photo: CRCNA
Photo by CRCNA

The Christian Reformed Church in North America will be launching a social media tool this fall that will help churches and church members connect and build relationships with one another and their neighbors.

Called The Bridge, this is an application or “app” for cell phones and tablets that is now being used in Classis Niagara and plans are for it to be launched for all churches in Canada in a couple months and made available to U.S. congregations after that.

“We want churches to be healthy and much more missional — reaching out to others with the message of Christ in various ways — and to know we are supporting them,” said Darren Roorda, Canadian Ministries Director of the CRC.

“This is not an off-the-shelf app and it is not a denominational app,” said Roorda. “It has been created specifically for CRC congregations and it is designed for change and constant improvement as time goes on.”

The CRCNA developed this app in partnership with Extreme Technology Corporation over the last two years. Its aim is to support local churches by delivering content, Internet feeds and other communications to church members. It is being piloted in the CRCNA and could possibly be offered for use in other denominations in the future.

“We are first asking classes to be on board with this and then for individual congregations to sign up for and download the Bridge app,” said Roorda.

“I think our denomination is in a phase of its history when the emphasis is on local congregations, and these congregations expect the denomination to support and serve their communities. I think this app is an answer to prayer.”

Above all, Roorda said, “this is a relationship and connector tool.”

The app was first piloted at three churches in Classis Niagara — the Village Church in Thorold, Ont., Providence CRC in Beamsville, Ont., and Mountainview CRC in Grimsby, Ont. — to gauge interest in the app and to work out any of the issues that the technology presented.

“Pastor Darren visited Mountainview several months ago and introduced the app during a morning worship service,” said Annette Klingenberg, an elder at the church.

“I would hazard a guess that anyone over the age of 60 probably tuned him out after the word ‘app’, but it did seem to resonate with the congregation,” she said.

Intrigued by Roorda’s introduction to the technology and the history behind it,  Klingenberg followed the directions, downloaded the app onto her phone, and began using it.

“Convincing my elderly parents to participate was a bit of a tough sell, but my 23-year-old daughter had installed it for them right after church.”

Klingenberg said she especially appreciates the prayer component of the app.

“It is a great way to announce, update, and inform the congregation about prayer needs. I love the function that allows me to ‘tell’ them that I prayed for them,” she said.

As a pastoral elder, she added, the app allows her to be aware of goings-on in her community. And then with the directory function, she can look up church members and connect with them by phone or email immediately.

She also appreciates the Friday announcement from the church office that keeps her informed about the upcoming services.

Another feature: When she was sick a few weeks ago, she could watch the service from the app, although she said she did switch the app to her computer for a bigger screen.

Another “nugget,” she said, is that she has the Today devotional on her app, which means she “will never again lose my Today booklet.” Today is published by Back to God Ministries International.

Already,  the app has proven to be “such an amazing and contemporary way to build unity in the body of Christ. My hope is that everyone will get on board,” said Klingenberg.

Overall, said Roorda, the Bridge app is a “for bridging the distance between God and the church and the community.”

Generally, it will be office administrators at local churches who will serve as the outlet for much of the content made available to users, said Roorda.

“This should not be a heavy workload for office managers and may, in fact, make their jobs easier,” he said.

Roorda said the app will allow the user access to the Bible in multiple versions. It also offers content for church members and those seeking to find solid Reformed resources such as the Heidelberg Catechism to share and discuss, and it provides immediate linkage to key leaders in the local church.

“The Bridge app is not meant to be a money maker. It is meant to be a grace giver,” said Roorda. “Although there is the intention that the entire classis will decide to do this together, there are individual sign-up options as well.”

In doing the research before undertaking development of the app with Extreme Technology Corporation, located in Beamsville, Ont., the CRCNA found no ready-made church apps that it could use and from which to build its social media tool,  said Roorda.

Now that it is finished and in use, with plans for expansion across Canada and beyond, they are very pleased with what they have developed and especially how this app can further the mission of local churches.

For instance, he said, Providence CRC reports that it has doubled the viewers who watch its Sunday services via the Internet

“We exist to empower local churches, local believers, and ministry for Christ by offering tailored content for disciples of Christ,” said Roorda.

“Our content is continuously developed through a joint effort between the best ministry resources and the local church. And, our goal is to provide both new believers, as well leaders in the church, with content for effective growth accessible at their fingertips.”

To learn more about the app, including costs to connect with it, visit The Bridge.