PrayerMate is a free app on iOS and Android designed to help you pray faithfully and widely. You maintain a series of digital prayer lists (e.g. Biblical prayers, My family, My church, World mission — whatever you like!) and then it gives you a manageable selection to pray through each day. Download PrayerMate via http://app.prayermate.net/
On 21st September 2016, I had the great privilege of starting to work full-time on the PrayerMate app. It’s something I’d desired to do for several years before that (basically ever since I built the first version of PrayerMate during an extended holiday), but the financial situation just didn’t seem to make it feasible (the app is available for free, after all!) But after a period of praying about it and considering it more seriously, God finally opened the door last year when the company I had been working for for over four years shut down. God has wonderfully provided through the generosity of a whole host of donors and organisations, and so on this one year anniversary of working full-time, I thought it would be fitting to do a little retrospective of how things have gone.
What’s been built
Occasionally I scratch my head and say “What have I actually managed to get done in a year?” — but if I step back and compare what the app was like a year ago, there’s been a tremendous amount of change. Here’s just a few highlights.
New “add” screen
One of the most important pages on the app used to be one of the most confusing. One of the first things I changed last autumn was to totally revamp the process for adding new subjects that you want to pray for:
BEFORE: The old “Add” screen
AFTER: The new “Add” screen
New home screen / onboarding
Historically, the app always used to just launch you straight in to a prayer session. Whilst there was lots that was good about this, it was a bit bewildering for new users, and also I wanted to convey that maintaining your lists is an important part of using the app effectively. The addition of a new “home” screen also made it much easier to create some vastly improved onboarding:
BEFORE: The old onboarding and home screen
AFTER: The new onboarding and home screen
Short term devotionals
Some usage I’ve always wanted to better support was the many short term prayer guides that are available at various points through the year. This year I managed to add support for daily push notifications for these feeds, and we had 9 fantastic prayer guides available for lent, plus were able to make a big deal of the 30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim World guide to coincide with Ramadan. The response was fantastic, with thousands of people making use of these great resources — praise God!
The Lent prayer guides available for 2017
Improvements to the Publishing Platform
The PrayerMate Publishing Platform allows churches, charities and even individuals to sign up to create a prayer feed that their supporters can then access through the app. I’ve made big advances this year in the functionality of the platform, especially in terms of providing greater visibility on how many subscribers you have. There is much, much more to come, but I feel a lot less embarrassed by the state of things than I did a year ago!
The big one: sync
The big project that has consumed most of my brainpower for the year is sync. Now, I know what you might be thinking: “but PrayerMate still doesn’t have sync?” But many users have been quietly testing it in the background over the summer — there are now almost 100 users using the sync functionality (including 17 on Android).
I’ll be honest, sync has been hard. Way harder even than I anticipated. It’s vitally important to all of the other projects I have planned, and it’s getting really close now. But it’s one of those features that you REALLY don’t want to get wrong — a feature that is basically responsible for changing the contents of your database without manual intervention. I would value your prayers that God will sustain me and enable me to keep going to the finish line on this one — it’s often far easier to give up and work on something else instead!
The new beta sign-in page
PrayerMate by the numbers
PrayerMate has now been downloaded a grant total of 230,325 times, of which nearly 70,000 have been since 1st September last year (that’s 30%). That really blows me away, to think of what God has done with this tiny little app that I started in a week in Gloucestershire back in 2011.
Considerably more meaningful than the number of downloads is of course “how many people actually use PrayerMate?”
This is always somewhat seasonal: people use it a lot during January (after their New Year’s Resolutions) and during short term devotional feeds, but they don’t always stick around. But whereas the baseline for most of 2016 was around 18,000 active monthly users (number of people who opened PrayerMate at least once during a 30 day period), the new normal is now between 23k-25k (and during Lent and the 30 Days of Prayer was certainly well over 25,000). Clearly there’s more to be done here to convert new downloads in to regular users — but this is still HUGELY encouraging to me. Praise God that nearly 25,000 people are engaging in prayer with their heavenly father through PrayerMate!
Active monthly users
Number of items prayed per month
This is the stat that I love. As a community of intercessors, between them PrayerMate users regularly pray for over 1,000,000 items in a month. Is that not awesome to think about? Imagine a million prayers for the lost that they would come to know Jesus; a million prayers for believers that they would grow deeper in their knowledge and love of God; a million prayers for missionaries and persecuted Christians; a million prayers for unreached people groups; a million prayers for our spouses and our kids and our parents and our neighbours and our pastors; Imagine what our God can do with that — the God who is able to do infinitely more than all that we ask or imagine!
(An aside: just in case you’re concerned about this — I have absolutely no idea what people are praying for, except in the case of the anonymous stats I collect about how many people are engaging with feeds)
It’s a bit hard to get accurate data on the trend line for this since my method of measuring has slowly changed through the year, but here’s an approximation that seems to be roughly in line with the truth:
Items prayed per month
Number of available feeds
Another source of encouragement has been the number of organisations that have been signing up to start publishing feeds through the PrayerMate Publishing Platform. There has been steady growth in the number of feeds available, going from 248 in September 2016 to 365 today.
Eighteen months ago, PrayerMate had basically no income to speak of. The question of “can I afford to feed my family if I do this?” was a very genuine concern. It has been truly amazing to see the generosity of PrayerMate’s community of users in stepping up to donate towards this work. That, combined with getting a bit more rigorous about billing the organisations who publish feeds through the app, has, by God’s grace, enabled me to keep doing this for the last twelve months.
This week I finally sat down to do an exercise that I should have been doing each month throughout the year, which was to do a big spreadsheet of all donations, income and expenses and see what my financial situation is looking like. In the end it’s been really encouraging to see this. The chart below is highly incomplete — it leaves out a number of fairly large one-off expenses (things like some brief Facebook advertising campaigns during January and Lent, for example) It also completely leaves off some special funding raised for a particular project and the costs associated with that (see the “Team” section below). The main cost I have included month by month is a £2,000 pound withdrawal towards living costs — which admittedly isn’t always quite sufficient. But the basic direction of travel is that we’re approaching the point where the amount of money coming in is more or less keeping things afloat — praise God for his amazing provision! My wife and I had to stop what we were doing and say a little prayer of thanks there on the spot when I showed her this — what a blessing to us you all are!
Of course, past performance is no indication of what the future holds — and things could easily change if one or two key supporters had to redirect their funds elsewhere ( especially since a decent proportion of this income is one-off giving ) — but still this is a huge encouragement! I would also love in the future to be able to grow PrayerMate beyond just me — it would be amazing to be able to take on a second mobile developer to focus on the Android version, for example, plus a customer service person/account manager. But one step at a time!
Prior to this year, PrayerMate has basically been just me working on my own — with the odd bit of help from outsourcers (especially on the Android version). This year it’s been a real blessing to be able to get a few others involved.
Firstly there’s been my wonderful advisory board: Ben Lewis, Carl Chambers, Jo Sutton, Marc Baker, Tim Challies and Nathan Bingham. It’s been great to know there were some wise and godly people out there who had my back.
Ben Lewis in particular has been a true friend through the year, doing small amounts of consultancy for me and letting me come and visit him once a month or so to talk through how things are going and to discuss my plans for the month ahead. I don’t know what I would have done without Ben!
Another awesome provision of God has been Ed B joining the team. Ed worked full-time for seven weeks over the summer on a special project (watch this space!) and will be doing a day a week over the coming year whilst he does an internship at his church in Manchester. Ed is super smart and an amazing learner — making the absolute most of his seven weeks to get to grips with how PrayerMate works behind the scenes and to achieve amazing things in such a short time. It’s been such a blessing to me to have somebody to share things with and pray with day by day — and I’m really missing him now that he’s stopped working full time! Ed will hopefully be joining me at the Kingdom Code BUILD Christian hackathon weekend 20th–22nd October in London to build some shared list functionality — so please do be praying for that!
I’m also thankful for some project work done over the summer by a student named Joe — again, great to get a few more people involved!
Last but by no means least, words cannot express how thankful I am to my endlessly patient Beta testers. Two in particular have been absolute legends: Karen Jackson and Dan Sherman. They have saved the rest of us from untold brokenness!
How has it felt?
It has certainly been quite an adjustment learning to manage myself now that I am in control of my own time and priorities — an adjustment that is still ongoing! But overall, I have absolutely loved this past year — what an absolute privilege to be getting to use my skills as a developer full-time on a gospel-centred project to help people engage with their heavenly father!
I’ve spent a lot of the last decade feeling like I wanted to do some kind of full-time gospel ministry and yet also fairly certain that I didn’t fancy working for a church. I’ve really wrestled with that and wondered how to resolve the tension (“should I want to work for a church? Am I being disobedient by staying in the world of software development?” and so on) I even began exploring the possibility of going for ordination in the Church of England. But as soon as I started working on PrayerMate, suddenly it all fell in to place. I don’t for a minute regret waiting until last year before embarking upon this adventure — I think the skills I have learnt in the secular work place have been absolutely vital for making PrayerMate what it is — but here I feel like I am finally at the sweet spot of being able to use the skills God has given me in a way that directly serves the gospel. What a joy!
What’s been hard?
Progress has certainly been a lot slower than I had originally hoped. I have had to wear so many different hats — coding on both iOS, Android and the PrayerMate Publishing Platform, business development, fund-raising, customer support (for both app users and organisations trying to publish feeds), content manager, you name it. I’ve been doing a lot of travelling and meeting with potential partners and seeking advice and so on — all of which is disruptive to the business of actually sitting at my desk coding.
Sync in particular has really given me that sinking feeling on many an occasion. It grieves me that a year in to this I still haven’t shipped it to the general public — and right now it doesn’t seem like an immediate prospect either. That’s been hard — but I am encouraged to keep persevering by the many people who keep eagerly asking about it! (not to mention all of the exciting new functionality I hope to build that relies upon it).
Working from home has actually gone a lot better than I had anticipated with three young children around — but has also had its challenges! But overall I would say it has been great to be able to spend more time with the family at this particular point in their lives.
What’s been encouraging?
Without a doubt, the most encouraging thing has been all the messages I’ve received from people testifying to how PrayerMate has helped them to pray — whether they’re just getting started with prayer for the very first time, or whether it’s helping them to persevere when things are tough or simply to strengthen and broaden their existing habits. Please keep sending your encouraging messages and reviews — I love reading them! This is what makes making PrayerMate worthwhile.
I have big plans for PrayerMate — and in many ways, even a year in, it still feels like I am only just beginning to scratch the surface of what I would love PrayerMate to be. So watch this space for all of the big new features I have planned — and do join the mailing list to be kept up to date.
Behind the scenes I am also working on setting up a formal charity to back PrayerMate (and any other future projects). Whilst it’s been great to see God provide for my needs, I would PrayerMate to be able to grow beyond just me, and that means having a bigger structure in place. God has wonderfully provided a chair of trustees and now we’re just trying to pin down who the other two initial trustees might be — if you’re based near London and think you’d make a good treasurer or are a lawyer then I’d love to hear from you! Similarly, if you are a Christian and an Android developer and have a passion for prayer then please get in touch! (ideally I’m looking for somebody to be based in London).
But of course, these are all just “my” plans. I’m extremely conscious of the truth of Psalm 127: “Unless the Lord builds the house, the labourers labour in vain”. Ultimately the future lies in God’s hands — and though I pray that he will be pleased to use my efforts for his glory, maybe he has other things in mind!
How can you help support PrayerMate?
- First and foremost, please keep praying! That’s what it’s all about. If you’ve not tried PrayerMate, I recently wrote a little prayer guide on how to use PrayerMate to help you pray.
- If you want to be praying for me, PrayerMate itself has a feed that you can access through the app where I try to post daily prayer requests.
- Please do consider donating to PrayerMate if God moves you to support me in that way. This could be a one-off or monthly giving, as you see fit.
- Persuade your church to sign up and start publishing a feed for your congregation!
- Spread the word!
PrayerMate is a free app on iOS and Android designed to help you pray faithfully and widely. Download PrayerMate via http://app.prayermate.net/