Mobile phones and other devices
The potential for evangelism
The desire to be in touch with people and information 24/7 has led to the huge growth in mobile cell phones and other mobile devices. Over 90% of the world’s population now lives within a mobile reception area. There are about 4 billion mobile phone users (equivalent to more than half the world’s population) and many of these are in the non-western Majority World, often in 10/40 Window countries. There are more mobile phones used in Africa than USA. The mobile systems in Japan and Korea are more advanced than almost anywhere. It is a hugely significant medium. Unlike a computer, a mobile is always with you – an integrated part of you and your lifestyle.
Mobile devices are transforming communication and development in the non-Westerm world (see links and video clips in Section 9 below) and also have great potential for evangelism and discipleship.
Convergence and capabilitiesThere has been striking convergence between the capabilities of different types of mobile devices. Although simple base-level phones are still available, devices increasingly offer a range of functions way beyond phone-calls and SMS text-messaging:
- web browsing
- MP3/video player
- radio/TV reception
- global positioning and maps, buddy location and parental child monitoring
- still/video camera
- games console
- book reading
- word-processing and other Smartphone capabilities
- low-value vending machine purchases, barcode scanning
- e-ticketing with barcode ticket sent by SMS
- diary, planner and appointment reminder
- wifi connectivity when in a wifi hotspot
- Bluetooth capability
- Mid to upper-range smart-phones can download ‘applications’ – easily-installed free or cheap software which extend their capabilities into many useful niche areas. Applications can also be books, web-like presentations, or games, which can be used offline
Yes, this many!Number of new mobile phones sold since you started viewing this page:
Phones sold in the last 24 hours:
By 2020, experts predict that the majority of web access will use mobile devices. In the mobile arena, developments are proceeding at lightning speed. Desktop PCs and laptops are much the same as five years ago (just a bit faster with more memory), and the chances are that you are reading this on a computer several years old. But mobile devices and applications are advancing month by month. What will the mobile world look like by 2020? Pew Internet suggests that mobiles will be More Computer Than Phone. Tablet devices are also growing rapidly in popularity. We need to be ahead of the curve, and develop strategies that will match the new mobile context.
A further type E-book reader are also mobile devices: Amazon’s Kindle is a mobile reader growing in popularity, which can also be used for email. A growing number of other book-readers are also available, though they lack the overwhelming advantage of being linked to the Amazon bookstore. Software is also available to read Kindle books on laptaps, mobile phones and tablet devices. We urge literature producers to offer downloads in formats compatible with Kindle and other e-readers.
Using mobile devices for evangelismWhen any new medium arises, we should ask: how can this be used for outreach and discipleship? We must work with the strengths of any new medium, rather than try to make it fit the mould of a previous medium. For instance, when Christian radio began, it was only perceived as a means of delivering church service-style presentations: hymns, prayers and sermons, which is simply not the way radio communicates best.
Mobile Advance aims to equip Christians for mobile phone evangelism. We see huge potential for evangelism in these areas:
Downloadable Bibles, books and appsA wide range of downloadable text Bibles in many languages can be installed on different mobile devices. At one time, these were mainly Java-based, but for modern phones, ‘apps’ are the easiest format to install and use. Thus a Christian can now have access to a Bible at all times because mobile devices are so convenient to carry. You can call up individual verses to share during a face-to-face discussion, or email/text them to others. You can also download and install e-books to read on a growing range of mobile devices using Mobipocket, Kindle format, or as PDF files.
Inquirers may also wish to download Bibles or books onto mobile devices. This may have a particular significance in countries where it is not wise to be seen reading a Bible. In the Middle East, many thousands of online Bibles are downloaded each month. Audio Bibles in many languages can also be downloaded onto MP3-equipped mobile devices.
However, people who are not seekers or at least inquisitive, may have no interest in downloading a Bible, and we need other resources that can engage with people ‘further back’.
For not-yet-Christians, it will be strategic to produce seeker-friendly materials with jargon-free introductions and explanations. For instance, a mobile version of John’s gospel (often given away in print form in evangelism) could have an introduction appropriate to seekers, in the way that Pocket Testament League include in their printed gospels. There is huge potential to create such presentations as ‘apps’.
Apps can also be like multi-page websites, and address felt needs or bridge strategy topics, and also act as a portal to draw down video clips or other online content.
Of particular potential for outreach is the comic book. These can be loaded onto mobile devices as sequential picture blocks, complete with sound: full story. In the West, comic stories can reach children effectively. In some countries, they are also highly popular among adults, particularly the Manga-style in Japan. Training in cartooning, comic production and animation for evangelism is offered by Rox35Media.
It is also easy to subscribe to daily Bible verses, devotionals by email, text message, or through an ‘app’. Again, we must point out that their primary application is to Christians, though for some cultures and demographic groups, others do choose to subscribe to these. Some ministries have found success in positioning such daily verses as tips for daily living.
Video clips and mini-presentationsMany mobile devices have the capability to download and store video clips, or even full-length videos. These can be downloaded from the Internet onto a PC and then transferred to the mobile device, or downloaded directly by the device itself, by cable from a PC, Bluetooth, or by a direct download from the Web. The huge growth of the video short is amazing, since the arrival of YouTube in 2006. In our new digital communication culture, the video clip is a major means of communication and evangelism because it uses visual story.
There are several aspects of mobile video evangelism:
- Clips installed on a Christian’s phone, available to be shown one-to-one within the context of a conversation. These very often can be ‘conversation starters’ that ask questions and prompt discussion, rather than one-way, preach, or formulaic gospel presentations. Such clips also have a vital role as embeds in Facebook, blogs, or websites.
- Such clips can also be emailed to friends, or embedded in Facebook postings, and be viewed on mobile phones that way.
- Clips that a non-Christian would choose to download and watch.
A Christian can maintain a portfolio of video clips on a mobile device, to demonstrate to a friend in person, or pass on virally to friends’ devices. Alternate platforms to share videos include portable DVD players, tablets or notebooks, or MP4 players.
Video clips which are sufficiently amusing, compelling and ‘unreligious’ in style, may also be passed on by not-yet-Christians to their friends. They may also be inclined to view or share video material which addresses felt needs and life issues.
Some groups produce emailable ‘digitracts’ which can also be used with mobile devices.
MP3 audio can also be downloaded (including by podcast) and passed on virally. This can include music, radio programs, or audio shorts specifically made for mobiles. See further discussion on MP3s in section 8.
Outreach street teams, Christian bookshops and churches will increasingly be able to offer such downloads to passers-by using Wifi, BlueTooth (see below) or Short Code Service autoresponder text message. Web outreach sites can also partner with such teams by offering a Short Code autoresponder number that the team can publicize. (Unfortunately, Short Code numbers are usually country-specific.)
A related feature is a graphic tag, a ‘Quick Response (QR) Code’ square graphic (somewhat like a barcode) that can be added to your website, posters, flyers, etc. A user takes a photo of this mobile tag with their mobile phone camera, and can then visit the website of your choice. Software to create this fuction is available from, for example, MicrosoftTag and the www.goo.gl URL shortening service. Expect this easy graphic-to-website functionality, needing no keying-in of an URL, to become very popular. Consider using it as widely as possible, on all printed materials, church streetside noticeboards, car stickers, etc. To the right, there is a QR Code that embeds the URL of this page.
Facebook via mobileSmartphones normally have Facebook apps installed (or downloadable) which enable easy Facebook usage within a smaller screen area. Mobile users can therefore engage in Facebook evangelism opportunities, which must be appropriate, relational, and dialogue-based.
Facebook users many parts of Africa and Asia now have free text-only access to Facebook, as a result of agreements that Facebook has made with mobile phone companies.
Text messagingThere are many ‘verse of the day’ or mini-devotionals available to subscribe by text message (eg. FourteenFloor). In most countries, these are currently limited to 160 characters. (In Korea however, a service is now available which as well as color graphics and embedded audio, allows 1000 characters.) Of course, portable devices with email capability can bypass this restriction.
While Christians are the predominant users of such daily messages, it is also possible that inquirers may subscribe too, especially if the content is positioned to be seeker-friendly and jargon-free. In addition, Christians can share such messages with friends, through their network of relationships.
Text messaging is being increasingly used in the secular world to share information. Company adverts frequently offer a mobile Short Code number which will automatically send product information to the user. This gives us the potential to offer contact numbers in order to receive Christian information. For instance, church street-side notice-boards (and press advertising or contact cards) can display a Short Code number which will automatically send an invitation and details of the church’s activities. Many mobile users, especially in non-western countries, do not have access to the Web. Shirts That Text Back is an example of this approach.
Text messaging is also used as a followup/inquiry medium in some countries. For instance, 70% of follow-up inquiries for radio programming from FEBA come in as text messages, often with two-way texting discussion for a time after each program. Because many radio listeners, especially in the non-western world, have no easy access to the Web, and snail-mail letter-writing is both tedious and often very expensive, we commend this mode of follow-up to any radio ministry (ideally using Short Code numbers).
An outreach ministry in Thailand writes, “One of the strategies we are developing in Thailand with our Never Too Late radio soap is to offer our listeners daily wise sayings in text messages from the main character, Annop, on finance and family matters... These wise sayings are really from the Bible.”
It is interesting how the short abbreviations and acronyms used in text messaging (in order to send messages quickly and in less than 140 characters) are actually influencing language use in many countries.
BlueTooth local broadcastingBluetooth-equipped mobile devices can pick up locally-transmitted messages over a range of typically 100 meters, though up to 300 meters is possible. This allows you to offer opt-in short presentations within the vicinity of a church, Christian bookshop, or any outdoor event. Whether this will become a widespread and viable communication option remains to be seen.
- BlueTooth Location-Based Mobile Ministry
- Part 2 of above article
- Bluetooth Introduction
- BlueTooth Broadcast
- Gabriel Communicator
GamesThere are increasing numbers of mobile games available for mobile devices. How might these be used in an evangelism context?
- Church or outreach websites can distribute a free game, maybe branded with their name.
- Games which lead users through life choices, or create questions in their minds, obviously have a low-key evangelistic potential. Of course, few not-yet-Christians will wish to play a Bible knowledge game.
- Mobile devices with access to the Web can access a wide range of online games and there is now an application enabling mobile devices to access the virtual SecondLife parallel universe.
Other marginal niche opportunitiesWallpaper on your cellphone can be a conversation starter with friends. Wallpaper can display a thought-provoking slogan, quotation or cartoon; or a visible URL of an outreach site. A small number of Christian wallpapers are available – some might seem rather ‘cheesy’ or ‘churchy’ in your culture, yet work well in another. However, modern phone desktops are usually covered with ‘app’ icons, so this is a minimal opportuity
Unusual or musical ring-tones might occasionally be conversation-starters in a social setting as someone asks you what your unusual ring-tone represents. ChristianRingTunes offers a wide range of tones in different music genres. Don’t choose something which sounds ‘churchy’ or ‘cheesy’ within your culture and demographic group.
Another ring-tone opportunity is to offer free tones on a website as an enticement to draw people to the site.
Web AccessMobile internet access has been available for some years, but take-up and usability has been limited and patchy for a range of reasons. One problem was that normal websites, designed for a monitor at least 800 pixels wide, were often hard to use on a screen the size of a postage stamp, and there were many other usability issues too.
At last, most of these issues are solved. Fast web access is available and mobile devices are able to over-ride a website’s style sheet, and impose a style which creates a usable web experience, at least for mobiles with larger screens. (The larger screen sizes of tablet devices take web usability to a whole new level.) It is also possible for site owners to include a mobile style sheet within their website, which will be active on a mobile device. We urge evangelistic and discipleship websites to test their websites within a range of mobile devices, and research whether a mobile stylesheet is needed too. (Eg. National Community Church claims to have optimized their site for mobile.) The Firefox Developer’s Toolbar also allows you to approximately simulate how your site may look in a mobile device. Better though to use the ready.mobi page testing tool, and then use dev.mobi for ways to improve its mobile usability.
Additionally, it may be appropriate to develop a mobile-friendly version of a site – perhaps with less text or other options – which will be easier to read on a mobile. A link on the homepage to ‘mobile version’ can be hidden using a normal style sheet, but made visible on mobile devices; or preferably the use of a mobile style sheet can seamlessly change the appearance and visible links on the homepage to automatically lead users into the mobile version pages.
It is particularly important to consider a mobile-enabled church-site or youth-group site to target young people, for whom mobile connections are a second-nature instinct.
Wapple is one of a growing number tools for creating mobile-friendly sites.
In China, Korea and Japan, the majority of internet access is already via mobile phones. These countries are very high in the International Telecommunication Union’s Digital Opportunity Index. This trend will be increasingly seen in other countries too.
In developing nationsMobile phones are dramatically transforming development and grass-roots trading in sub-Saharan Africa and other regions, as this video and links below it explain. Most challenging are the growing opportunities for evangelism, as explained in this key article The Little Phone That Could.
- Going Wireless – paper from David Lehr: How Mobile Devices are Transforming Economic Development at the Base of the Pyramid. A detailed overview from a world expert on the subject.
- International Telecommunication Union – overview of mobile development (somewhat dated now).
- Mobile Phones – An Appropriate Tool For Conservation And Development? 2004 paper from Fauna and Flora International; a lot has changed since it was written, but useful discussion.
- Economist article – overview of African mobile situation.
- Times article – Ugandans have a creative way of using mobiles for money transfer. M-PESA is a similar service operated by Safaricom and Vodafone in Kenya.
- BBC article – Mobile phone lifeline for world’s poor.
- World Resources Institute article – Cell phones may help ‘save’ Africa; mobile phone banking a boost for the poor.
- Footsteps article – Christian NGO Tearfund reports on teacher training via mobile phone.
- The Mobile Web in Developing Countries – white paper from W3C, which also discusses the one laptop initiative.
- The Mobile Web in Developing Countries – is free software that turns a laptop and a mobile phone into a central communications hub. Once installed, the program enables users to send and receive text messages with large groups of people through mobile phones. What you communicate is up to you, making FrontlineSMS useful in many different ways.
- Medical screening
– incredibly, a small phone add-on can enable health-care staff to perform instant and often remote diagnostic tests for eye problems, malaria diagnosis, etc.
The Aardman stopmotion ‘Dot’ was developed to demonstrate a microscope attachment
with a Nokia N8 phone:
There’s a serious significance to this, as the video about the making of Dot explains. It showcases the use of microscope attachments for remote diagnosis of, for example, blood samples:
Many of these new uses have potential for Christian development and outreach work in these nations.
Prices of mobiles in these nations are dramatically less than in the West and ownership is widespread.
As MP3-capable phones become common, this enables the distribution of MP3 recordings with evangelistic or discipleship messages to people who may not own CD or tape players, and without the costs of duplication and distribution. ‘Listen again’ Christian radio downloads and audio Bibles can be distributed this way too. There are several major advantages:
- Non-western nations are largely oral communication cultures.
- Many people may have limited reading skills; note however that illiterate people have little problem in using mobile phones.
- Printed material is often expensive to buy and hard to obtain. In many languages, there is little printed Christian material available. But radio ministries usually possess a big reservoir of previously-broadcast programming in many languages, just waiting to be redistributed in MP3 format! Global Recordings also offer gospel presentation MP3 downloads in many languages.
- Audio Bibles in MP3 format are available in many languages, for instance from Faith Comes By Hearing. Kiosk Evangelism has developed an innovative self-service dispenser that allows users to download free audio Bibles and other resources in multiple languages, directly onto their mobile microSD cards.
We urge radio ministries to consider developing specific MP3-download web-pages of selected programmes which have a permanent non-time-sensitive value, especially in cultures where there is little printed material. These should explain how to place MP3 downloads onto mobile devices and ways to use and share them virally. Spotlight Radio and SOON Ministries offer MP3 downloads in easy-English.
Parts of the JESUS Film are available in MP3 audio by podcast in a range of languages.
A pastor writes, “I am working as ondinary pastor with Church of North India in rural area. It is good for me that I download your worship and outreach songs on my pc and through that to my mobile, to show the rural people how to worship by heart.”
This video explains the potential in the non-western world, from a mission viewpoint (also available to download as a 32Mb MP4 file:
You can use Google Alerts to get latest news of, for example, how mobile phones are impacting Africa:
Distance learningThere are innovative ways to integrate mobile phones into an integrated distance learning system that may draw together SMS, email, web, Facebook, e-books etc. These are mainly relevant to discipleship or other forms of Christian training, rather than evangelism, but might also work in an Alpha-like evangelistic course.
Relationships – the heart of communicationWhatever else it may be, a mobile device is at root a means to sustain relationships. Our primary role in the world is to be an incarnational presence to those around us:   with whom we should be building relationships. John Stott’s final sermon called for incarnational evangelism to “turn the world upside down”.
It is an ongoing problem that we tend to create relationships only with other Christians, and retreat into a Christian ghetto which we may fondly hope will somehow attract others in.
However, if you take time to ask a range of people how they came to faith in Christ, their spiritual journey almost always includes prolonged relationships with praying Christians. Research confirms this. Instances where someone finds a tract or Bible, or listens to a radio program, and come to faith through that means alone, are notable for their rarity. Effective outreach websites which are bearing fruit normally use a network of email mentors to build relationships with inquirers.
Mobile devices help us maintain relationships with friends, whether or not we use options listed on this page. Don’t underestimate the eternal value of a five-word text message to a friend, saying for example, ”Praying for you this morning,” or even just “Well done yesterday.”
The Gray Matrix provides a useful representation of the pathway that God normally uses to draw people to faith.
Key resources for mobile developmentChristians developing different mobile options have often worked in isolation, unaware of what others might be doing or how to network with them. There have already been cases where different groups have ‘re-invented the wheel’ and wasted time by developing an application that someone had already done.
- Mobile Media Ministry
– latest news and ideas from Visual Story Network for the growing potential of mobile ministry, with option for discussion.
- Mobile Ministry Magazine
is a regular online publication with many resource links and partner groups specializing in
different types of mobile ministry. It lists resources which will help you use many of the strategies described on this page.
- Mobilev is a one-stop resource for every aspect of using mobile devices in outreach. It’s an information-sharing wiki with links and discussion forums where you can find or add resource links, and ask questions.
- Mobility.mobi offers help for many areas of mobile site coding and development.
For more technical advice and news, see the very many secular sources such as MobileTechNews (feed at right of this page), Cellular-News, MobileContentToday and PhoneContent. Learning of new secular applications may provide ideas for appropriate mobile evangelism.
Please also send us ideas and share your experiences and encouraging results of any aspect of mobile evangelism and discipleship.