Church Progressive Web Apps, the Third Option

Shortly after beginning my career as a Worship Leader+, I quickly got entangled with my church’s website and online tools. However, I didn’t start hearing about Progressive Web Apps until 2018. In my defense, the term was only coined in 2015, so it’s not like I was too far behind. But it’s 2022 now and I’m pumped about this! Progressive Web Apps are powerful, and they offer a great hybrid option for your church. They’re cheaper than a custom app, and they’re basically your church’s website! So let’s dive in to why you need a Progressive Web App for your church (and what it is!)

What a progressive web app (and why do I need it for my church?)

A progressive web app (or PWA) is basically a hybrid between a downloadable app and a responsive website. In fact, you might be more familiar with them than you realize! Wordle, the popular word game that’s taken early 2022 by storm, is a PWA. Don’t get confused, PWAs are more than simply games. The Starbucks website is a PWA, along with and St. George Orthodox Church’s website (yeah, I know). These versatile web projects come in all shapes and sizes, so why is it a great route to consider for your church?

At their core, PWAs are websites (HTML, CSS and Javascript) wrapped in some special bits of Javascript code that allow your site to be downloadable, get access to push notifications, and overall make your website feel like a native app.

I truly cannot express how exciting this is. Let’s break down the advantages, first from a technical perspective, then from a content perspective (aka probably the one you care about).

Progressive Web Apps require Less Code

I love learning languages, whether human or machine. Maybe it’s because I’m adopted; maybe it’s because of all the mission trips I went on when I was younger. Either way, languages are so fun and wonderful to me. That being said, learning a new development language to build a custom app still sounds hard (I tried back in 2014, it was a lot). And that only applies for one type of device! If you wanted to build a native app for your church and congregation, realistically you would be building the same thing three (or, heaven forbid, four) times:

  1. iOS App (in Swift or Objective-C)
  2. Android App (in Java)
  3. Windows App*
    1. These were discontinued in 2017 and declared dead in 2020, but there’s still a chance you’d have to develop for them if you really want to be like the shepherd who leaves the 99 for the 1.
  4. Web (HTML/PHP, CSS, JS)

That’s a lot of code in a lot of languages! And you’d basically be wrapping one app’s code into another’s which really defeats the DRY (Don’t Repeat Yourself) principle.

Instead of developing multiple native apps, with a Progressive Web App, you simply add some Javascript to your website and it creates a shell for your site to run in! Less code means less money, less bugs, faster development, and optimized delivery.

PWAs Can Use Push Notifications

Yup, you read that right. This is always a big selling point for church apps, but now you can do it through the browser! You’ve probably experienced this on a desktop version of a site and thought, “why do I need to enable notifications?” Chances are, it’s because that site is a Progressive Web App and the notifications are a feature meant for mobile users!

PWAs are Asynchronous

This has been a major part of development in the last few years, and things are moving towards an increasingly asynchronous environment. If big words are daunting (which I totally get), you do asynchronous tasks all the time! Sticky notes, emails, voicemails and even shared calendars are common means of asynchronous communication. The fact that PWAs are meant to be asynchronous means they can run offline. After they are initially added to your device’s home screen, they check for any updates and download the changes behind-the-scenes and update what’s necessary. So cool! If your area suffers from poor wifi and non-existent cell coverage, this feature is great for you! 

Finally, Progressive Web Apps are fast

You probably already know this, but slow website speeds are the worst. Slow apps are the worst. Slow movies are the worst (even the artful ones). PWAs being asynchronous and having less code helps with this! Check out this case study from Formidable about the Starbucks Website. The Starbucks website is a PWA, built with “emerging markets” in mind (aka rural communities) who have poor connection to the internet. Under the benefits header, they write, 

By virtue of the specific requirements of a PWA, the final version of the PWA clocked in at 233KB, 99.84% smaller than the 148MB size of the mobile iOS app. The PWA is also faster than Starbucks’ existing iOS app, making the web app a favorite amongst its users.

99% smaller! That’s amazing. Websites are all about the best performance at the smallest data sizes, and PWAs really benefit from that.

PWAs and the Church

Now that your mind is properly blown by how awesome PWAs are, what does this mean for content creators? Simply put: having a PWA helps you do less work by having a single source of truth—your website. You can convert a WordPress site into a Progressive Web App with some elbow grease (and maybe a plugin/theme or two). If you use Squarespace, you might be out of luck, but migrating between the two isn’t hard. 

When done right, Progressive Web Apps should improve your site’s UX as you take a mobile-first approach to the user experience. If St. George can do it, you can too!

Need someone to bounce ideas off of? We’ve got your back. Plus, check out our other resources for Creating a Web Strategy and determining whether or not you really need a WordPress site.