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God on the go: Bible apps offer mobile inspiration

God on the go: Bible apps offer mobile inspiration

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Bethel University students in Prof. Mike Holmes’ Introduction to Bible Studies class use their cell phone Bible apps to follow him while he uses a Bible during a class, on May 3 in Arden Hills.

It’s the latest twist on the world’s oldest book: Bible apps, with names such as PocketSword and Our Daily Bread, are exploding in popularity, injecting a new digital dimension to church life, classrooms and private prayer.

More than 40 percent of Christians surveyed last year by California-based Barna Group reported downloading the apps. The most popular, YouVersion, reports a whopping 271 million global downloads this month, up from 10 million when launched in 2010.

No one is predicting the demise of the Good Book. But the Greatest Story Ever Told is increasingly being spiced up with photos, video, 3-D graphics, maps and social media shares.

“They are simple, straightforward, and provide whatever version of the Bible you want, whenever you want it,” said the Rev. John Sommerville, of City Church in Minneapolis.

There are about 1,500 versions of the Bible in more than 1,000 languages, from Arapaho to Korean and Zaiwa. The apps, say their supporters, are doing for the Bible today what the printing press did for it in the 16th century — making it available to more people than ever.

“The Bible is one of the most sought-after content in the world,” said David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group, a Christian polling firm. “I think it’s exciting to see the proliferation of Bible resources in the digital age.”

Calling Jesus

Whitney Suhadolnik, 21, belongs to the key demographic targeted by app-makers. Young adult Christians have the lowest level of Bible readership, with about one in four checking out the Scriptures on a weekly basis, Barna surveys show.

The Bethel University junior has two apps on her smartphone, Our Daily Bread and BibleGateway. She swipes them open for personal inspiration, Bible studies at church and classroom discussions in her Introduction to the Bible course at Bethel.

A couple times a day, her text message alert pings with a prayer.

“I like it because it reminds you to do your devotionals,” Suhadolnik said. “And it has pretty pictures, so it gets your attention.”

The apps also help in class. On a recent morning, she sat at her desk while Bethel professor Mike Holmes lectured about early Christianity. He told the students, “Let’s go to John, Chapter 1. How does John begin?”

While many students paged through the open Bibles on their desks, Suhadolnik and others reached for their phones. That’s fine with Holmes, though he admits he looks to make sure it’s Matthew, Mark, Luke or John on the students’ screens rather than texts from Emily or Ethan.

Holmes’ own use of the apps is a bit more esoteric. He likes BibleGateway, and he prefers to read the Bible in Koine Greek, a dialect common in Biblical-era Greece.

“And if I want to compare translations, I can get dozens,” he said.

Phones in the pews

Head bowed during worship — with eyes gazing at a phone — is considered good manners at churches such as Crossroads United Methodist Church in Lakeville.

After years of printing out the sermon and related questions, Crossroads decided to go paper-free. The many interactive features of Bible apps made that possible.

“During announcements I tell people, ‘Take out your phones and follow along [the readings],’ ” said the Rev. Deb Marzahn. “And we show a little video how to use YouVersion.”

Folks in the pews highlight passages, take notes and share with their friends, Marzahn said.

“It saves on paperwork and time,” she said. “You have the Bible at your fingertips. And it’s free.”

But it can be a bit confusing for newcomers, she said.

“Someone new in the church left a comment card,” said Marzahn with a smile. “She said how disrespectful it was for the woman up front to be texting and on Facebook during the sermon.”

The right mix