This story was updated on 3 February 2012.
Ben Christensen, Cliff McCollum, Michael Morrow and David Gaona have never met, but they share the same hobby: Each is a part of an army of approximately 100 volunteers who help create mobile phone applications (apps) for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Tom Welch, a senior Church technical program manager, started the volunteer effort in 2006 with the launch of LDS Tech. Church members can use this website to fill out a talent profile and see which projects best fit their skill set.
“We have a team of employees at the Church who work on the projects, but we also enlist our volunteers who have expertise in these platforms to come and help,” Welch said. “These volunteers do everything from helping with design, to programming, to project management. We even have a group of people who answer support e-mails from customers. It’s a pretty big effort.”
The Church currently offers eight free apps on several mobile phone platforms: Bible Videos, Mormon Channel, Gospel Library, LDS Tools, Scripture Mastery, LDS Youth, LDS Music and Ensign. The Church’s first app, the Mormon Channel, was launched in June 2009.
Some may wonder why people would volunteer to do this, especially when those in the computer programming industry can make a comfortable living. But that is even more incentive for some of these men and women to volunteer their time and knowledge.
“I have been blessed with technical skills and talents that have enabled me to be well-employed and greatly blessed in my life, and felt I should try and use them to benefit others,” said Christensen, who helps with the Gospel Library app for the iPhone. “[Creating apps for the Church] seemed like a good avenue to do so.”
McCollum, a software developer by trade who has worked on the Mormon Channel iPhone app, agreed.
“The fact that the applications are useful to other members of the Church is icing on the cake,” McCollum said.
The Mormon Channel app allows users to listen to the Mormon Channel, the Church’s official radio station. Gospel Library allows users to download the scriptures, general conference talks and a wealth of other Church content. To date, Gospel Library books within the app have been downloaded over 13 million times. LDS Tools allows members to download ward (congregation) and stake (similar to a diocese) directories and schedule ward and stake events. The Scripture Mastery app helps youth memorize scriptures.
Morrow, who assists with the LDS Tools app, said the volunteer opportunity is great because of its impact.
“When they first put out the call for community help, I suspected volunteers might be relegated to a support role,” Morrow said. “But Tom and the rest of the Church team have really opened their arms and welcomed us in as full team members. We truly have a voice in the direction of this work.”
Though difficult to measure, Welch estimates volunteers are responsible for half of the work that has gone in to the creation of the Church’s mobile apps. A combined 1,200 volunteers help out with other projects at LDS Tech.
The Mormon Channel and Gospel Library apps will be released in Spanish and German in March — also thanks in part to volunteers. Two months ago, Gaona fortuitously came across LDS Tech and learned he could help with Spanish translation of the Mormon Channel iPhone app.
“I was astonished to know that I could join the projects,” Gaona said, “so realizing that I can contribute in a really small way in providing this application in different languages makes me really happy.”
The Church is also looking to develop other apps that could benefit from volunteer efforts.