In 2008, LifeChurch.tv launched a way to read the bible on mobile devices, YouVersion. Today, YouVersion has more than 100 million downloads, The New York Times reports. That’s as many as Facebook-owned photo-sharing app Instagram and cloud storage app, Dropbox.
While YouVersion is on the radar of Silicon Valley investors, it’s a deal their funds can’t touch. YouVersion is part of the church, so it’s set up as a non-profit that doesn’t generate revenue or have exit plans. It’s funded entirely by donations ($3 million was donated to sustain the app last year) and by LifeChurch.tv, which has poured $20 million into it.
LiveChurch.tv is a tech-savvy evangelical church started by pastor Craig Groeschel in 1996. YouVersion is largely the brainchild of LiveChurch.tv’s “Innovation Leader,” Bobby Gruenewald. Prior to joining LiveChurch.tv, Gruenewald was a finance major, Christian rapper and entrepreneur. He once sold a wrestling website for $7 million.
YouVersion is a free app that offers 600 translations of the Bible in 400 languages. There’s a version for Catholics, Messianic Jews and more. While the app is free, users can pay for in-app extras, like study bibles, which are considered donations, not revenue.
Crossway, a publishing company that produces bibles tells NYT: “They have defined what it means to access God’s word on a mobile device.”
YouVersion isn’t the only tech tool churches are using. Religion is becoming a popular startup space. TechStars New York company FaithStreet, for example, is trying to become a social network for churches. Its iPhone app lets people write tweet-size prayers, which other users can scroll through and “heart.”
While YouVersion may not be an investment opportunity for venture capitalists, it has benefitted from some of their free advice. Kleiner Perkins partner Chi-Hua Chien has helped mentor LifeChurch.tv. He calls YouVersion a “remarkable tech startup by any measure” and an “important distribution channel for anyone who is creating Christian faith content.”
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