Catch the Current
The Bible Appreneur: An Interview with Bobby Gruenewald, Founder of YouVersion
YouVersion.com and the Bible App recently passed 50 million downloads. This online resource and others like it are changing the face of Bible reading and study in several ways. Robert Crosby has a new article on this topic in the current issue of Christianity Today ("The Social Network Gospel: How Interconnectivity Helps Us Engage the Bible"). This is the first of several interviews with the creative minds who are leading the way in this area. Next up is Mark Brown, the founder of Facebook's Bible Page with over 8.4 million users.
Bobby, you have emerged in recent years onto the scene as someone who is harnessing technology for ministry. You were even chosen as one of the "100 Most Creative Leaders in Business" in 2011 by Fast Company Magazine. What is your background? Where did you come from?
Actually, I was a finance major at a Nazarene school. I started a couple of tech companies and then sold them in 1999.
How did you get connected with Craig Groeschel and LifeChurch.tv?
Shortly after I started attending LifeChurch.tv, I began volunteering almost full time. I loved being able to leverage what I knew about technology for the church. After some time, they wanted to hire me, but my initial answer was "no." I was concerned that taking a staff position at a church would change the way I felt about the church—turning something I loved into a job. I set aside my selfish perspective and realized God was directing my path to a role that would bring together my strengths, experience, and passion for Kingdom purposes.
How did YouVersion get started?
The idea came to me in an airport. Four years ago, while checking in my luggage it suddenly occurred to me that because of technology everyone has a virtual "printing press" in the home. This suddenly posed incredible possibilities in my mind for new forms of interaction with and around the Bible. Right there in the airport, I went online and reserved the URL, www.youversion.com. Soon thereafter we began to assemble what has come to be known as the "Digerati" Team, the technological brains behind the project.
Did it start as an app?
No, YouVersion was introduced as a website. When we started we averaged 20,000 visitors each month for the first three months. The numbers weren't too thrilling, so we decided to try one more tweak before abandoning it. Once we created a mobile version, it took off. We were fortunate that we got into the App Store on the day it opened. Also, we were able to obtain the app title - "The Bible." We selected a traditional looking icon.
What led to YouVersion becoming such a big project and success?
I believe 2006 was a pivotal year at LifeChurch.tv. Three key things occurred: One, we decided to give away our creative content, to make it available for free [note: this includes a wide array of sermon and promotional tools on http://open.lifechurch.tv/ with the church's name removed and accessible by anyone]. Two, we launched our online church on Easter Sunday, which connects people to Christ and each other online. Three, we began development on YouVersion.com.
What was your user count goal when you got started?
Robert Crosby is an author and Professor of Practical Theology at Southeastern University. Read his interview with Bobby Gruenewald, the Founder of YouVersion.com (the Bible App) and related articles at Christianity Today—The New Engagers and The Social Network Gospel.
Robert Crosby is the author of the new book, The Teaming Church: Ministry in the Age of Collaboration (Abingdon Press). Crosby's column, "Catch the Current," is published every other Tuesday on the Evangelical portal. Subscribe via email or RSS.