About a year ago, I began to search for the best prayer app for an article I wrote. I downloaded about a half dozen apps that left me uninspired—and soon deleted them.
The one app that I kept was PrayerMate. PrayerMate doesn’t do the praying for you; it helps you organize your prayer life by providing categories to file your requests under, and then rotates each prayer request as often as you would like. One of its great features is an alert that reminds forgetful (or distracted) people like me that it’s time to pray. PrayerMate is the #1 most useful tool I have found to keep me organized and focused in my prayers.
One day when traversing the blogosphere, I ran across the blog of the man behind PrayerMate: Andy Geers. Reading Geers’ short bio showed me that we share a lot of the same ministry DNA. Geers worked and studied at the Cornhill Training Course in London, a ministry of the Proclamation Trust, formerly led by David Jackman, who along with Dick Lucas, has been a key influence to inspire the ministry WordPartners has training pastors in exposition.)
After making that connection, I realized I needed to learn more about Andy’s story and what led him to create my favorite prayer app. Below is an interview I did with Andy Geers sharing his journey of faith, background to PrayerMate’s creation, and helpful thoughts about Christians and technology.
Can you describe your journey of faith?
I had the privilege of growing up in a Christian home, where prayer was a really integral part of our life as a family together. That said, I still managed to become pretty self-righteous and thought I knew it all – so I’d say it was only really as a teenager at summer camp that I discovered the Bible’s teaching on God’s grace—that I was a rotten sinner who needed Jesus to be righteous for me! That was a really humbling experience which totally changed the nature of my relationship with God.
Pretty much since then I’ve always walked this line between wondering whether I should go into full-time ministry so that I could share what I’d discovered with others, or whether I should keep going as a software developer. An opportunity came up to study on London’s Cornhill Training Course, run by the Proclamation Trust, and to look after their IT and website for them part time whilst I did it – it seemed like the perfect fit where I could keep developing both passions! Since finishing the course I’ve gone back into the technology industry (working at Hubbub UK), but the lessons I learnt at Cornhill have been invaluable in equipping me to serve in a “lay” capacity at my church where I’m a churchwarden and help lead a Bible study for dads, and so on.
How did the idea for PrayerMate come about? What has your journey with it been like?
I think like most Christians, I’m somebody who *wants* to be faithful in prayer for people, but I find it really hard work. My email inbox is full of prayer letters that, if I’m lucky, I read once, but feel like they don’t really turn into actual prayers. Whilst I was studying at Cornhill I got my hands on a second hand iPad and it occurred to me that it would be the perfect platform to automate the little paper prayer lists that I kept at the time, and have it automatically pull up the latest prayer letter from each person.
During one of the Cornhill Easter holidays I locked myself away in my parent’s living room for ten days and bashed out a very basic first version – pretty much the first time I had ever written an iOS app. When that launched back in June 2011 in was a *long* way from fulfilling my initial vision, but I’ve just gradually chipped away at the missing features in my spare time until I am where I am today – and there’s still plenty left to do!
It’s fair to say that when it first launched, PrayerMate was a very “niche” kind of app – it suited a very particular kind of person who thought and prayed like I did! But those who did like it seemed to find it really helpful – and the encouraging emails I get in my inbox from time to time really keep me going.
For a while now I’ve been working pretty relentlessly on trying to make the app simpler and clearer – and I think it has definitely been a learning process for me! It has taken me a little by surprise just how hard it is to create software that’s intuitive to somebody who isn’t me – as a developer you are so ingrained in a certain set of assumptions that it can be hard to see how the app’s behaviour clashes with the expectations of new users. (There’s probably an illustration in there somewhere about writing sermons that make sense to your congregation!)
The real tipping point for PrayerMate was in January 2014 when the folks from London City Mission persuaded me to make the app free – and the growth really exploded from then onwards. Now it’s just a few weeks shy of its 100,000th download, which I don’t think I could ever have anticipated!
What’s great is all the reviews from people who say that really struggled to pray before they discovered PrayerMate, and how it’s really helped them to grow in their relationship with God – those kinds of comments are really thrilling! In particular there seems to be a growing little pocket of users with ADHD who keep saying that prayer was a really challenge for them, and that PrayerMate has been a real blessing.
What’s also been fantastic is the growing list of churches and organisations who are signing up to publish prayer feeds that their supporters can subscribe to – almost 200 now. I love the thought of helping whole congregations pray more faithfully for the ministry of their church and what God can do with that!
What are some guiding principles for Christians engaging with technology?
A lot of people tend to approach technology at two ends of a spectrum: either with immense scepticism (and I’ve had plenty of people react with disgust at the very notion of a “prayer app”!) or just embracing it wholeheartedly as if the right technology will solve all their problems. (And anybody who has used PrayerMate for a while will know that it is *still* hard to pray – even with an app to help you—we still have sinful hearts.)
Then there’s the people who try to rise above it all and say that technology isn’t good or bad – it’s just neutral, it’s entirely about what you use it for that counts. There’s a couple books that have really helped me understand why none of these approaches is entirely satisfactory – The Next Story by Tim Challies and From the Garden to the City by John Dyer.
Think of a shovel – you can use it for good to dig a well in a village in Africa, or you can use it for evil to hit somebody over the head to kill them and then bury the body. But it doesn’t matter whether you use it for good or for bad, the effect on you will be the same – it will give you blisters, and if you keep using it enough, those blisters will eventually turn into calluses.
Think of a shovel – you can use it for good to dig a well in a village in Africa, or you can use it for evil to hit somebody over the head to kill them and then bury the body.
But it doesn’t matter whether you use it for good or for bad, the effect on you will be the same – it will give you blisters, and if you keep using it enough, those blisters will eventually turn into calluses.
All technology is the same – it changes us as we use it. Our technologies tell us a story – they sell us a “gospel” of what they can do for us (“get this app to revolutionise your prayer life!”) and we need to be proactive in analysing that story and working out which bits are true and which bits are lies – and that will help us anticipate how that technology is likely to change us. So in my case, I’m encouraged by how PrayerMate is helping me pray more widely for things I never would have done otherwise – but I also need to be conscious that in some ways it can also *limit* what I pray for: if something doesn’t appear in my PrayerMate list (or if I forget to take my mobile phone with me somewhere) then I might be less inclined to pray for that thing.
Are there any future projects we should know about?
In many ways it feels like I’m still only just getting started with PrayerMate! I’ve got a bunch of new updates scheduled over the next few months adding various bits of 3rd party content and easier ways to get those prayer letters out of your email inbox and into the app – as well as finally adding a sync feature and a way to edit your prayer data on a desktop.
I’ll never truly feel PrayerMate is “done” until I’ve managed to persuade the publishers of the Valley of Vision to let me license it for inclusion in the app but I fear that may never happen (you can help out by signing my petition here). I’ve also got a team of volunteers at the moment helping me translate it into other languages, but there’s always scope for more if you want to offer to help out!
Thank you Andy for the hard work you’ve put in on this amazing app. You are a great example of using your gifts for God’s Kingdom (1 Peter 4:10-11), and I for one am someone you have blessed!
You can follow Andy Geers on Twitter.
Download the PrayerMate App on iTunes, Google Play, or the Amazon App Store
A few of my favorite features:
- An alarm that alerts you when to pray (see image above)
- PrayerMate cycles through a variety of prayer request categories. This is the main feature of PrayerMate, and I have found that it helps me be well-rounded in my prayers.
- Several great feeds of prayers you can read including: Praying the Bible, Operation World, Heavenward by Scotty Smith.