Q & A

Brian Russell

There was a time when a church or a home was the only place Christians could find access to a Bible. Today, you can easily download Bible apps on your phone and on other mobile devices. One of the more popular ones is YouVersion, whose makers celebrated its 10th anniversary last year and also marked nearly 380 million downloads from every country in the world.

The countries showing the largest increase in engagement last year were Japan, Romania, Chile, Nepal, Spain, Indonesia, the Netherlands, Vietnam, Zambia, Portugal, and Italy. More than 27 billion Bible chapters were read on YouVersion in 2018.

YouVersion also offers a Bible App for Kids, which is now available in 42 languages.

Brian Russell, YouVersion’s executive director, shared his thoughts on this growing ministry with SAconnects (magazine):

What is behind the explosive growth of the YouVersion Bible app? I think part of the reason is the easy access people have to it on devices that they carry. The Bible is now at their fingertips every minute of the day. We also introduced features like audio Bibles that enabled people to listen to Scripture as they drive or ride on a subway. We’ve removed barriers between people and Scripture.

How do you get people to be aware of and use the app every day? We create features that throughout the day bring the Bible back to their awareness and consciousness. We offer the Verse of the Day, but also make it easy for someone to receive that verse by text or as an image. If they forget, the app will deliver that verse regardless of whether they open the app or remember to check. As they see the Verse of the Day notification, they’ll be drawn back into the app. Also, our Bible Plan feature is designed to encourage daily connection with Scripture because it’s a daily rhythm and is set up to complete a portion of daily devotional and Scripture readings.

What are some of the more popular features? In addition to the Verse of the Day, Bible Plan is another popular feature and continues to grow. Last year, we saw 947 million plan days completed and this year we are anticipating and tracking toward 1.4 billion completed plan days. We’re seeing 40 to 60 percent growth year after year in Bible Plan usage. Another one that people like is the Verse Image. You can create your own Verse Image through the app or choose one of our professionally designed images. Among the growing number of verses shared outside of our app, verse images are growing the fastest.

Beyond the impressive engagement numbers, how do you see God changing lives through the app? We celebrate the statistics, but so often we hear stories from users or people who have interacted with users. The growing number of Syrian refugees are among those stories. A surprising number of them have smartphones. They are engaging in God’s Word through YouVersion.

Two imprisoned Iranian women came out needing God’s Word for comfort and consolation. Someone introduced them to the Bible app on their phone. They were able to listen to and read Scripture in Farsi. Stories like that blow me away and humble us.

Are you reaching more people than the Apostle Paul did? We’re humbled when we look at the opportunities that are afforded to us. It’s funny that you would mention the Apostle Paul because we sometimes reference Paul and how excited he would be about the technology opportunities and the platforms we have today that can be leveraged to reach people. Obviously, technology and digital platforms can be used for bad purposes, but we also see God redeeming some for His purposes.

What is in YouVersion’s future? We continue to work on different features. We’re bringing awareness to people about how often they interact with Scripture or how often they are in the app. Our “Streaks” feature allows them to see how many days in a row they’ve engaged with God’s Word. Launching that feature caused us to see a visible jump in daily active users. People are motivated to stick with it and see themselves succeed in their daily connection with God. It’s also our responsibility as the Church to look at tomorrow’s technologies and make sure we’re leveraging them to help people connect with God.

How big of a problem is biblical illiteracy today? I would say that, until everyone is having meaningful, relevant connection with God’s Word every day, then there’s a problem. But it also represents an opportunity and we’re passionate about trying to fill that gap and make it as easy as possible for people to have relevant, meaningful connections with God’s Word every day.

interview by Robert Mitchell

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