January 17, 2017

Craig Groeschel on Cultivating the Dream That Became the YouVersion Bible App


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Last week, I kicked off a series on the importance of dreaming in ministry. My first article dove into Why Ministry Dreams Need Cultivation & Collaboration. This week, I’m excited to share an interview with Craig Groeschel. As you probably know, Craig and his team at Life.Church pioneered the YouVersion Bible app that has now put Scripture into the smartphone-clutching hands of millions of people all over the world.

Craig shares insight into:

  • How the dream to make the Bible more accessible came to be
  • how his team responded to early defeat and limited budgets
  • How the dream changed over time.


Read the full story below!

TONY: Where did the dream to launch YouVersion and get the Bible in hands of millions of people across the world come from? 

craig-groeschel-headshot-tony-morgan-liveCRAIG: As our team thought about how Gutenberg’s invention revolutionized the accessibility and distribution of Scripture hundreds of years ago, we wondered how technology might be able to do something similar for our generation. So, we launched a website specifically designed to create community around the Bible. The only problem was—it didn’t work.

As a last-ditch effort, we offered a mobile version of the site and engagement took off. Shortly after, we heard Apple would be launching something called “apps.” With the momentum of the mobile site, we asked ourselves, “What if the Bible could be one of the first apps in the App Store?” We had a 19-year-old guy on staff create the first version of the YouVersion Bible App, and within three days we saw it downloaded on 83,000 devices.  

TONY: What was involved in cultivating that dream?

CRAIG: As God started to bless the early stages of the YouVersion Bible App, we expanded our dream. Instead of thinking thousands, we started thinking millions. I still remember the first time we wondered out loud if we could ever see the Bible App on one billion devices. It’s hard to believe, but we are one quarter of the way to reaching that vision.

On our team, we often say, “We are faith-filled, big-thinking, bet-the-farm risk takers. We will never insult God with small thinking or safe living.” — Craig Groeschel

TONY: What did you do with it once you had it?

CRAIG: As our vision started to expand, we simply tried to do the next right thing. Instead of trying to hit some random goal that was important to us, we tried to keep the mission pure. Above all else, we want to give the Bible to as many people as possible and get them engaged in God’s Word.

Each step of the way, we’ve tried to add the right people, create the right systems, continue to innovate, and always make faith-filled decisions that stretched our team beyond what we could accomplish on our own.

TONY: What barriers did you come against that caused you to question if it was truly a dream from God?

CRAIG: The season when we really questioned the future of YouVersion was when it only existed as a little-used website. We were prepared to chalk it up as a failure since we weren’t seeing momentum. But if we hadn’t acknowledged the failure of the website, we might not have tried it as a mobile site, which positioned us to develop the app.

Beyond that, we also had to find a way to secure content for the app. Naively, we hadn’t fully considered what this would take. We were a church from Oklahoma trying to convince major publishers and Bible societies to share their versions freely through an app. It’s truly something only God could have brought about. Without the generosity of these partners, the Bible App wouldn’t exist.

We also faced barriers any growing organization would face. We had more vision than money. We had growing pains. We occasionally had to replace key leaders and often had to restructure.

TONY: Were you able to see the results you’re experiencing now in the beginning? How has the dream changed over time?

CRAIG: In the beginning, we certainly didn’t think the impact would be this significant. We know that God wants to do more than we can imagine—and this was the perfect example. On our team, we often say, “We are faith-filled, big-thinking, bet-the-farm risk takers. We will never insult God with small thinking or safe living.” This is way easier to say than it is to do, but we’ve seen God show up over and over as His Word reaches millions of people around the world.


One of the keys to seeing dreams come to reality is learning how to effectively lead a congregation through significant times of change and rally them around the dream. On Jan. 23 at 1pm EST, Carey Nieuwhof and several members of The Unstuck Group‘s team will join me for a conversation to help equip you to do just that. Register now to join us. Space is limited!

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