- - Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Christian book stores, famous for their quaint brick-and-mortar presence in communities across the nation, are going digital in a big way this holiday season with a new mobile application designed to create an Amazon-like experience for the faith-filled shopper. And the shopping itself will offer an added charitable aim.

Family Christian stores, the nation’s largest Christian retail chain with 280 store in 36 states, says its “iDisciple” app released this month allows shoppers to search for Christian books, music, movies, blogs and podcasts without having to sift through tons of websites. And it soon will offer Christian music and stream family-friendly movies to your cellphone or tablet.

“We’ve got blogs, devotionals, podcasts, sermons. We’re adding music in early 2014, we will be adding e-books, and soon to follow will be a Netflix-like component for movies and TV shows,”said Mike Kendrick, CEO of iDisciple LLC.

What sets iDisciple apart from other digital shopping apps is its nonprofit status. Users pay a subscription fee of $4.99 a month that is donated entirely to other Christian nonprofit organizations of the subscribers’ choosing.

“We allow our users to help share that revenue with charities of choice. It’s a giving app, within iDisciple, that lets you choose which nonprofits your subscription money will be given to. A user can search the nonprofit outlet in the app, they can even choose from local nonprofits and we can add a nonprofit in the data base if it isn’t already there,” Mr. Kendrick said.

Hundreds of big-name Christian franchises are getting in line to share their content on the iDisciple app, according to Don Stillman, marketing partner at Sendios Communications, one of the marketing partners with iDisciple.

“When they found out about this shortcut way to access music as a way to promote and market Christian music, all the big boys showed up and said where do we sign. Even ‘Duck Dynasty’ signed up,” Mr. Stillman said.

The story of the new app, from start to finish, is “as much a business story as it is a Christian story,” Mr. Stillman said.

It all started when three Atlanta-based businessmen pooled their resources to purchase the Family Christian stores chain and turn it into a nonprofit. Mr. Kendrick along with Richard Jackson, founder and CEO of Jackson Healthcare, and Larry Powell, president of Powell Family Enterprises LLC, came together with a vision to create a new outlet to raise what Mr. Stillman calls “kingdom-based” profits.

“Each of these men have been blessed with professional success and share a mutual calling to give back to help those in need. This alignment of business acumen and Christian calling led them to the collective decision to join with us to acquire Family Christian and move it from an organization that contributes 10% of its profits, to one that contributes 100% of its profits to faith-based charities and ministries,” said Cliff Bartow, president and CEO of Family Christian in a statement released Nov. 15, 2012. By December, the company had become a nonprofit and had plans underway for new donation strategies.

“Once we started looking at the company deeper, it became clear that we needed a stronger digital strategy,” Mr. Kendrick said. “One of the things we thought about was why not be bigger and bolder with our vision and set out to create the iTunes of Christian content. One place where, if you’re a Christian and you want Christian inspiration and content you can go to iDisciple and it’s there.”

The app was developed in just nine months with the help of software development company, Premier Logic. Mr. Kendrick predicted that Family Christian Stores could expect to see 250,000 new subscribers to the iDisciple app annually and added that a free version offering basic content like a digital Bible and weekly sermons and podcasts is also available.

“Our goal within the next three years is to have 1 million subscribers and 20 million users,” Mr. Kendrick said.

Mr. Kendrick told The Washington Times that iDisciple has two main themes, — discipleship and generosity. And the app offers something for everyone from all walks of life, regardless of what point they are in their spiritual journey.

“The app offers customization and personalization and delivers content that fits the users personal needs. A 30-year-old mother with toddlers would have very different content on her app than an older businessman,” Mr. Kendrick said.

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