Smartphone app could help bolster pastoral care

8/24/2015

The Rev. Wayne Alloway, senior pastor at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Lincoln, Nebraska, had a bout with restlessness. But out of his inability to relax may come an idea for a smartphone application that could help many pastors in the Great Plains Conference and beyond sleep better at night.

Rev. Wayne Alloway


“One night I had a terrible time getting to sleep,” Alloway said. “I had a string of funerals, and I had a few people I had intended to check on that I’d put on the back burner because of what was going on and because of the pressures on my time.”

As a result, people who may have needed more pastoral care didn’t receive what Alloway had intended to provide. After all, conducting a funeral or visiting a person the day of a surgery is expected of many pastors. Following up on those families and people to see how they are doing weeks or even months later can require a computer-like mind.

Alloway’s caregiving “nightmare” gave way to a much more pleasant dream – one that could become a reality within the next six months: a smartphone app that allows for quick calendaring and push alerts to help a pastor remember when to call on a family weeks or months after the initial pastoral care is provided so another point of contact can be made.

“I think it opens a back door,” Alloway said. “We know people want follow-up care. It’s such a huge need. People want to feel like people care about them. And we do care about them.”

This image shows one possible look for the
RemindCare app, which is still in development.
Photo courtesy Nelnet

The app is called RemindCare. As the name implies, it reminds pastors when care is needed for members of the congregation or faith community. The app, once developed, is expected to allow pastors to make note quickly of a person in the hospital or note the date of a loved one’s passing. Then, at the interval set by the pastor – a matter of days, weeks, months or perhaps a year – the app can send a push alert reminding the user to check on the person or family.

The app also can remind the pastor of what he or she had in mind in way of communication – a phone call, an email, a letter or a visit. Features include scheduling follow-up opportunities, notes, reviewing of previous notes and even referring the information and follow-up details to another team member, such as an associate pastor, lay servant or others helping with congregational care.

Don Arp is a business anthropologist for Innovation Hub, a portion of Nelnet. The latter is a Lincoln-based company that started off as a student loan processor and servicer but has since branched into other industries. Arp’s task is to assess potential business opportunities based on the likelihood that the target audience will actually use the new product.

And that’s where pastors across the Great Plains can help.

“Ultimately, we want this to be pretty flexible,” Arp said. “We want to develop an app that allows for easy follow-up for pretty much anybody.”

To ensure that goal of easy use is met, Nelnet has set up a survey. (Take the survey here.) It takes just seconds to complete the five-item questionnaire, which aims to discover potential usage patterns and preferences.

Arp said this is known as the market validation process, basically research and development for a new product.

The hope is that hundreds of Great Plains pastors will take the short survey to help solidify the features in the app so it can be fully developed and on the market within the next six months. The plan is for the RemindCare app to be available in the iTunes store for iPhones and iPads and via Google Play! for Android phones and tablets.

Arp said depending on the survey results, search functions could be added to the app, such as a way for pastors to upload their church membership databases. Another scenario would require the pastor to type in the person’s name. Because of the large amount of data that could be required to be stored, the cost for a sort of membership for functionality of the app could be $8 per month – less than $100 per year.

Alloway said it is important for as many pastors as possible to take the survey to help answer questions in the final development stages for the app.

“Before we finish development,” Alloway said, “we want to make sure it meets not just the needs of Wayne Alloway, but meets the universal needs of pastors.”


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