By Patrick Sisson
Like many of the faithful who are active in their churches, Bobby Gruenewald feels he’s been called to do an important job. But his role as Innovation Leader for Life.Church, meeting in 24 evangelical churches spread over seven states, may at first sound more akin to Silicon Valley than Sunday service.
Head of a team of 60, Gruenewald helps oversee a popular Bible app called YouVersion, which has been installed more than 200 million times, and helps to produce nearly round-the-clock online church services that net more than 150,000 viewers a week from more than 100 countries around the globe.
But he simply sees this high-tech outreach as another example of the church adapting to advances in media technology, a concept as old as Gutenberg printing bibles.
“There’s scripture that says ‘Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature,’” he says. “We’re just using today’s digital tools, and some of the tools of the ministry, as a way to build new relationships with people.”
The church’s embrace of technology can clearly be seen in all it does, including its new name and website, Life.Church, a change made in October 2014 to align the organization’s online and offline presence.
According to Gruenewald, the church was late to the game in getting a website and registering a domain, and adapting the relatively new 'dot-church' (.church) suffix enabled them to present a unified front when communicating with parishioners and potential members, immediately making their mission clear to anyone who encountered them online. (The power of a domain suffix can’t be taken lightly, he says; a previous site, LifeChurch.tv, made some think the group was a television ministry.)
“We haven’t had any negative feedback about the name change,” he says. “It’s really helped provide consistent messaging.”
Gruenewald came to Life.Church in 2001 after years running his own startup companies, including a hosting service and pro wrestling site. He arrived at his current job at a time when churches, like many organizations, started to consider how to best leverage online and social media to strengthen bonds with current members, as well as reach out to new ones.
It was also the beginning of a period of rapid growth for the expansive ministry, which started with meeting held by founding pastor Craig Groeschel in a two-car garage in Oklahoma City in 1996 and by 2001, began expanding to new cities. Gruenewald joined at a time when Life.Church saw the web as a way to broadcast its message, but as it's expanded, he’s also found online communication as a way to make a growing church with a national and global presence feel personal and relatable.
Gruenewald jokes that “we’ll do anything short of sin to reach people,” but Life.Church does tend to embrace and test any new form of communication and social outreach, as long as it can be used to build community. He views the church’s online services and social presence, whether it’s Facebook conversations or live prayer chat, as a means to connect people first, not just push content. Across all web properties, Life.Church see significant traffic (1.15 million sessions and 2.85 million page views last month), and the recognizable domain name makes his team’s mission of informing and engaging that much simpler.
“We’re placed here, in this moment of history, to take advantage of all the technology tool available today,” he says. “What we do is authentic to who we are and the mission we're working towards.”
Learn more about this organization by visiting the website www.Life.church.