EDMOND — LifeChurch.tv recently marked the fifth anniversary of its popular YouVersion Bible app, which shares its birthday with the Apple iTunes app store that helped provide the application to millions around the globe.
Bobby Gruenewald, pastor-innovation leader at the Edmond-based megachurch, said the free app made its debut July 10, 2008 — a “Gutenberg-type moment,” although its creators didn't know it at the time.
He said the Bible app is now one of the app store's top 20 apps, available in formats for most mobile devices, with 604 versions and 368 languages. The app hit the 100 million downloads marker July 7, a major milestone and an indication of its popularity, he said.
“When we started YouVersion, we had absolutely no idea that it would grow and become what it is today,” Gruenewald said. “Each step along the way, God's expanded our faith for what's possible.”
And to think, the app almost didn't happen.
LifeChurch.tv's founder and senior pastor is Craig Groeschel, but Gruenewald has been the face of its YouVersion outreach since its inception. That could be because Gruenewald came up with the idea for the YouVersion concept in 2006 while sitting in Chicago's O'Hare airport. In a recent interview, he said he initially had the idea for a website that would serve as an outreach tool to encourage people to read the Bible more.
But two years later, when the YouVersion website had not really changed how people interacted with the Bible, LifeChurch.tv's Digerati team was on the verge of shutting it down, Gruenewald said.
But “we decided to try one more thing.”
Gruenewald said that “one more thing” turned out to be exactly what he had envisioned years earlier in the Chicago airport.
He said he and his team decided to develop a way to make the website accessible on the small screens of the BlackBerry and iPhone. He said this was at a time when the only apps available on the iPhone were those that Apple installed. Gruenewald said he and the Digerati team noticed that they were reading the Bible more because it was accessible on their mobile devices they carried with them all the time. He said traffic on the website increased as more people began accessing it from their mobile devices.
“I was asking the right question in the airport that day. The question was, could we be at that moment in history where, if we could just leverage or develop the right technology, we could really change or transform how this generation engages in the Bible? Could we be at one of those Gutenberg-type moments?” he said, referring to Johannes Gutenberg's 15th century invention of the printing press, which made books, most notably the Bible, more accessible to the masses.