Ever since Apple announced the iBeacon, I have occasionally chewed over the thought of how these ‘beacons’ could be used in Church technology.
For those who aren’t familiar with the technology, let me give you a quick overview or refresher. Beacons are small devices that broadcast a `unique’ three-part code via a new version of Bluetooth, called Bluetooth LE (or Low Energy), and this coded signal can reach up to 70 meters / 210 feet. Because of the ‘low energy’ technology, these beacons can last for up to two years before the coin-sized battery needs to be replaced. When an organisation has a group of beacons, the beacons are configured to all use the same information for the first component (the UUID) of the `unique’ code. The second part (major id) of the code could be thought of as a region or location identification, and all beacons with the same `major id’ are located in the same location. The third part (minor id) of the code is the identifier of a single beacon inside a region. Based on the strength of the signal received from the beacon, your smartphone can determine how close it is to the beacon. Beacons can be seen by iPhones (4s and later, iPad3, iPad mini with retina), and Android (see your phone manufacturer to check).
Beacons, by themselves, are of no use to anyone. Let’s take a look at a few possible uses of beacons within church technology. The following examples rely on a custom-written app for your church, and the following conditions have been met:
- you must have installed an app on your smartphone which recognises the unique code, and started the app at least once
- you must have Bluetooth enabled on your smartphone
Beacons, by themselves, are of no use to anyone
Coming to a new venue can be fear-inducing. You’re not sure where anything is, you don’t know where to go or who to talk to. Imagine a small app that could, based on where you were standing, show you where the restrooms were, where the Information Desks are, where the parent rooms are, or where the children go during a service? That same app can sense when you’ve left the building and perhaps prompt the user about what time other services are, or perhaps other ministries that may be of use to the person.
Our church has started putting up Christmas lights each year. Imagine an app that helps tell the Christmas story, by video or audio, and changes at each stage of the presentation.
The church member already has a login and password to your church web-portal, a site where they can update their information in the Church Management database. As the person walks through the front door, a “Welcome Home!” message pops up on their phone, while the app connects to the Church Management database, and marks that the person has attended. If the person’s information shows that there’s something coming up that might interest them, based on demographic or selected interests, the app could put a message on the screen “Click here to see information on <insert topic of interest>”.
Similarly, a youth group could run a “tribe” or “age-group” attendance challenge, where the check-in or entry is automatically logged when entering the building.
Most church organisations have a `Sign-In’ area, where children must be taken to be `checked-in’ to the children’s ministry program. Imagine just walking into the registration area, and your Church app pops up, asking if you want to sign in your children. As you select the children, and click OK, you walk in and your sticker has been printed, ready to place on your child.
Conference Expo Areas
As part of your conference, each exhibitor is `loaned’ a beacon to be placed unobtrusively at the front of their stand. If a person comes within range of the beacon, the Conference information app pops up and asks the user if they would like more information about “XYZ Widgets”. As the user types in their e-mail address, the user get’s added to a mailing for “XYZ Widgets”, and the Conference database gets updated to show what areas in the Expo generated the most interest.
The sky is the limit
I’ve just thrown around a few ideas that I came up while on the bus to work this morning. The application of this technology has only two real limits: your imagination, and not over-saturating the end-user with noise. The cost is nominal – I’ve seen some beacons being priced at 3 for $100. Or if you already have an iPhone you can run your phone as a beacon while you’re coming up speed on the technology.
Tell me how you could use beacons in your environment: