The world's most popular Bible program for mobile phones was developed by an Oklahoma church.
Since its introduction in 2008, 12.5 million people have downloaded the YouVersion Bible application and have spent 4 billion minutes reading the Bible with it.
In an 11-day period in late December, a million people downloaded the app, which is available on iPhone, Blackberry, Android and other mobile phone platforms.
Every 2.8 seconds, a new user installs the program and 12 people run it.
It ranked No. 7 in popularity last week among all 300,000 iPhone apps.
"It's an amazing thing," said Bobby Gruenewald, who developed the app for Lifechurch.tv, an Edmond church with 13 campuses - including one each in Tulsa, Bixby and Owasso - linked by live video feeds.
Gruenewald, the church's innovation leader, continued: "In July 2008, right before we launched on the iPhone, we said we would be thrilled to see 60,000 downloads in the first year. We saw that in three days. It's been pretty crazy.
"We'd never have imagined that we'd see this many people installing it, and not just that, but also using it."
Lifechurch.tv has invested about $1 million in the project, which it offers without charge.
The app identifies the church as its producer but otherwise does not promote the church.
"We see it as a missional use of resources," Gruenewald said.
The app has the complete searchable Bible, available in numerous versions and 22 languages, along with reading plans and study guides. Eighty percent of the downloads take place in North America.
Gruenewald said he thought the program was popular because it makes the Bible accessible at any time. "We read the Bible more when it's available on our phone," he said.
And, he said, the app makes it easy for people to share verses with their social networks.
"People talk about what they're reading, and share what they're reading. Those are the things that increase engagement," he said.
"We see about 10,000 verses a day from our app shared on Facebook and Twitter.
"It's a sign of what's happening in our social network age. It spreads in a viral way. It's remarkable.
"As a church, we feel like we're alive in a unique time of history to share the gospel using these technology tools."
Although YouVersion is the largest among hundreds of Bible apps, Gruenewald said Lifechurch.tv is not in competition with others. The YouVersion website promotes other Bible apps.
"We don't look at other apps as competition; we celebrate their work," he said.
"Our goal is to get people engaged in the Bible. We're happy to see others do it."
Studies indicate that today's Americans are biblically less literate than past generations, and few hold a biblical world view, Gruenewald said.
"That's what we hope will change," he said.
"And if it does, layers of things in society will change: divorce rates, adultery, crime, deception in corporate America. ... Parenting would change. We have a whole generation of people who haven't had parents that demonstrated a biblical worldview."
"Also, research indicates that if people read the Bible more than four times a week, it improves a lot of things about their life."
Gruenewald said the explosion of the app has caused his team to think bigger.
"Our goal is to see 1 billion minutes of Bible reading in January," he said.
The team also will add eight new languages this year, including Arabic and Chinese.
"We feel we could see 100 million, 200 million, 500 million people install it. There's been no slowdown," Gruenewald said.
Gruenewald grew up in central Illinois and graduated from Southern Nazarene University in Bethany in 1997 with a degree in finance.
He started several technology companies during the 1990s. He had sold them all by 1999.
He began working at Lifechurch.tv as a volunteer and joined its staff in 2001.
As the church's innovation leader, he oversees media, technology and the Web. He is part of the church's five-member leadership team.
By BILL SHERMAN World Religion Writer
Reprinted with permission from the Tulsa World.
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