For some time now we have been exploring the history of Christianity through a collection of objects. Each of these objects helpfully signifies or encompasses a person, an event, or a period of history crucial to the growth and development of the Christian church. These are objects, historical relics, you can see and touch and experience. You can stand in The Braccio Nuovo at the Vatican Museum and see Augustus of Prima Porta, standing today as he has for nearly 2,000 years. You can visit the Basilica of Bom in Goa, India, and see Francis Xavier’s forearm, enshrined there. You can visit the Angus Library of Regent’s Park College in Oxford, England, and sit upon William Carey’s couch. As we come to the twenty-fifth and final object, it is fitting, I think, that it is not an object at all. It is a virtual object that exists only in bits and bytes, and one that can be infinitely duplicated and freely distributed. As we complete this series on the history of Christianity, we turn to LifeChurch.tv’s YouVersion Bible App.
Craig Groeschel founded LifeChurch.tv in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma in 1996. He and a handful of congregants began to meet in a small double-car garage lit with nothing more than a pair of $20 construction lights. Very quickly, though, the little church experienced explosive growth and was forced to move to a larger location. Today, eighteen years later, LifeChurch.tv is a multi-site church that reaches tens of thousands of people every weekend through their eighteen physical locations and their online church. Collectively they are considered the second largest church in America.
In 2006, Groeschel and his team developed the idea for YouVersion, an online Bible for a new, digital world. At this time YouTube was becoming a household name, Twitter was in its early days, and Facebook had just opened its doors to the public, having previously been reserved for college students. The people at LifeChurch.tv realized that the world was rapidly changing and that the church would be forced to adapt. They found themselves thinking back to the days of the printing press when, for the first time in history, the Bible suddenly became widely available. They understood that another revolution was underway and they began to consider how they could take advantage of this digital explosion to carry the distribution of the world’s most popular book.
They dreamed big. They dreamed of more than merely distributing the Bible in digital form. They dreamed of allowing readers to have access to the Bible in every possible language, to interact with it, to annotate it, to share it, to form a global community of Bible-readers and Bible-lovers. Though such interactivity is common and expected today, this was still a new idea in 2006.
The team at LifeChurch.tv developed YouVersion.com and, having secured relationships with various Bible publishers, launched the site in September of 2007. They waited in anticipation, but were surprised to see that the response was muted. There was little interest. Though Groeschel and his team were tempted to give up, they first wanted to attempt one more thing: to create a mobile version of the site. They saw that people were migrating from desktop computers to mobile devices—iPods and smartphones—and wondered about the possibilities. Apple’s new iTunes app store provided the perfect means of distribution, so LifeChurch.tv rapidly developed a Bible App and chose to give it away for free. They anticipated they might see 100,000 downloads in the first year, but achieved 80,000 in the first three days alone. Even better, they found that people were not only downloading and installing the app, but actually using it. They were reading the Bible, looking up passages, and sharing what they learned with their friends.
Very quickly the developers began to add new languages, new translations, and new features. And the rest, as they say, is history.