Bobby Gruenewald, Founder & CEO, YouVersion Bible App on Innovation

[NOTE: This blog post is based on my interview with Bobby Gruenewald (available on YOUTUBE), Founder & CEO, YouVersion Bible App on March 28, 2022.]


Many people have the YouVersion Bible App on one of their electronic devices—but few people know the fascinating story behind it. The YouVersion Bible App was first launched in 2008, along with Apple's first set of apps. Fast forward to today and the YouVersion Bible App has been downloaded 516 million times—and is growing at 4 million per month. Why?

 To find out, I interviewed Bobby Gruenewald, Founder & CEO, YouVersion Bible App & Pastor of Innovation, Life Church, to get his insights on innovation.

 Over the past 17 years a lot of work has been done to build out the App. The App has 2,400 versions of the Bible in 1,800 languages. In English alone there are 60 versions available. Further many of the languages come with an audio version.

 Despite all these resources, the App is free. There are no advertisements. There is no premium service or upgrade. As Bobby shared, “their heart has been to stay non commercial.” That’s not easy—how can that be done?

 Bobbly explains that there are two aspects to the strategy of not charging any fees for the App. First, there is the why. “Because the App came out of our church’s mission, we felt strongly that we wouldn’t charge anything. We are trying to get people engaged with the Bible, for whom it is not part of their routine, and a fee would be a barrier.”

 Second, there is the how. “Support comes via donations and out of the budget of the church, just like we would fund missions. The first year the cost was likely US$300-400,000. Now it’s a US$25 million budget, which is supported by the church and both large and small donors. Last year, 96,000 people contributed—so that’s a lot of small donors.”

 This strategy has allowed Bobby and his team to not need to sell data to make money, although that could be a significant source of funding. They now have a whopping 150 million registered users of their App. They respect individuals’ privacy. “We know their names and their email address—these are people who have opted in.” They try to steward the opportunity carefully. They want to use the data to make the user experience more personal and better.

 One fascinating aspect of the YouVersion Bible App is how it has grown in the area of Bible distribution where there are already many existing and well-known players. Bobby explains that they “have worked hard to build a coalition of thousands of partners that support the App and to be aligned around the same purpose” of having more people read the Bible.

 As Bobby explains, “They have worked at building trust and trying to build into what others do.” For example, Biblica (The International Bible Society) which owns the NIV translation views YouVersion as an extension of their ministry rather than as competition. As a general rule, YouVersion tries to be a method of distribution for Biblica and other organizations.

 Innovation has been a big part of the founding and growth of the YouVersion Bible app. Bobby views innovation simply as a new way to solve a problem. There is typically a constraint, whether lack of people or resources.

 For YouVersion, there is a missional rather than commercial purpose. “The role of innovation is to look at how to take the new things we need to do to achieve our mission and look at how to overcome present obstacles.” The need for innovation is the same as in a business, but for a different purpose.

 In short, the YouVersion Bible App is a great example of innovation in action within a church context, integrating marketplace leaders and their skills, utilizing collaboration, and focusing clearly on a missional purpose.