Congregational life goes digital

Although the app is still under development, the idea has really taken off. The web and app project “my digital congregation” is entering the second stage.

It was worth the two sleepless weekends: Maximilian and Raphael Mayer, Simon Zebrowski, Julian Zechko, and Florian Winkler-Rösler were successful with their project (see our report ) (“my digital congregation”) and beat 1,500 other projects during a digital competition, a hackathon, by the Federal German Government. The group’s idea of digitalising congregational life was one of twenty winning ideas in a competition launched by the government in the hope of yielding suggestions in solving problems to do with the corona crisis. The project is entering its next phase.

A grant from the German government

For the project that means that there will be a grant and help from experts. The boys are very happy about receiving competent help especially when it comes to the legal aspects of the project. For then they can also think about offering a worldwide app and in many different languages.

A grant from the government does not, however, mean that their load will become lighter. Through the competition the idea received such wide visibility that the five young men are being inundated with all kinds of enquiries: “We actually thought that it would be hard to sell the idea,” Maximilian says. “But it turns out that the idea sold itself. The people who contacted us wanted it by all means.” Many New Apostolic congregations who read about the project on or on other pages, but also other denominations and self-help groups, have contacted the developers. The concept of the app has been in place for merely a few weeks, and already there are more than 140 individuals and groups who have voiced an interest in it.

Because of the amazing feedback, the five Christian programmers decided to keep going—and this on top of full-time studies and jobs.

Supplementing congregational life online

The idea for the app was born when the developers were trying to solve the problem of bringing people together in their congregation despite social distancing on account of coronavirus. In the process they noticed that this was a problem that all churches were facing. The boys do not only want to improve the current situation with their web-based app, but also permanently augment the range of digital communication. Since the online platform is user-friendly, also older and less tech-savvy members can use the online meeting place. “The idea is not to replace existing platforms,” Maximilian clarifies. “We simply want to supplement the existing offers. Our intention is not to digitalise the Church or the divine services, but to make the offers more diverse and complement what is already there.”

A look ahead

Since April 1st, the five tech geeks have been working together with four New Apostolic test congregations in Germany. They were selected from a surprisingly large number of applicants, and chosen in such a way as to reflect as many different structures as possible. The feedback from the test users is being implemented on an ongoing basis, and more congregations will soon be added. The test congregations pointed out, for example, that a greater contrast of font and background colour would improve readability. This suggestion was picked up and implemented in the next update. Soon there will also be an encrypted chat function for pastoral care conversations. The five developers are certainly not short of ideas.

Individual possibilities

What was first conceived of as a kind of exchange of information was quickly used and individually adapted by the test congregations to suit their own requirements. The app is designed in such a way that everyone can be as creative as needed and wanted, and rectors can come up with their own ideas. Some of the suggestions even surprised the techies: “One congregation just launched a contest for its children, asking them to draw pictures on a certain topic,” Florian says, bubbling with enthusiasm. “The pictures will then be uploaded on the platform, on the page of the congregation. That is quite an incentive of course.”

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Katrin Löwen
Media, Congregational life