Andy Geers unpacks the thinking behind his ground-breaking app, PrayerMate.
How did you start engaging with technology as a Christian?
My dad got me into coding when I was about five – it was enough to get me hooked. I explored full time Christian ministry, but ultimately decided to get a job as a software developer. That was where I really got to explore the idea of how faith and technology interact, and came up with the idea for PrayerMate.
PrayerMate grew and reached 100,000 downloads, but it was a challenge trying to keep a full-time job alongside. It wasn’t really making any income at that stage, so I couldn’t see a way forward. My wife and I had been praying about it for a while and we decided to make a go of me running PrayerMate full time.
As soon as I told PrayerMate users that I was doing this, loads of them, as well as a number of churches and charities, generously stepped up and started donating. That was 2016, and here I am still! We now have two extra mobile developers, plus some part-time support. It’s amazing to see how God has answered those prayers more than we could ask or imagine.
What’s your biggest hope for the work you do?
We want to see people grow in their love for Jesus. When I started PrayerMate, I thought, 'This is just an app to help people pray more,’ but prayer is such an integral part of our relationship with God that, inevitably, if you help people to pray, you help them get to know God better. Prayermate users vary hugely: e have a brand-new Christian who said she was using PrayerMate even before she came to faith – for her it was part of taking her first steps in prayer. And a celebrity pastor who had been praying anyway, but for him PrayerMate was helping him pray more widely and deeply.
We have someone who adds a note to PrayerMate every time he has a gospel conversation with someone. Over time he’s built up this log, and one of the people he’d noted just came to faith the other day.
One of my favourite stories is a bit more world-scale: someone tweeted, ‘PrayerMate asked me to pray for Eritrea this morning, and then this happened:’ and she quoted a newspaper headline about how Eritrea had made a historic breakthrough to end a two-decade state of war with Ethiopia, that day! No doubt there was a lot more going on than that one person’s prayers, but it still blew my mind. There is definitely room for the Holy Spirit in the algorithm, I think.
What’s the difference between a Christian working in technology, and Christian ministry that uses technology?
In one sense, there isn’t a clear divide. Wherever we find ourselves we’re using the gifts God has given us to serve him. There’s a great book, ‘From The Garden To The City’ by John Dyer, and he brings this insight:
You tend to get two poles in how Christians approach technology. One is that it’s the best thing ever, it’s going to be the thing that saves humanity. You only have to look at the COVID vaccines – they’re a wonderful thing and I’m very thankful for them, but science almost becomes this religious thing where salvation is found.
At the other pole, you’ve got people who are terrified of technology and think it’s going to be the destruction of civilisation, or in lesser degrees, like the idea that social media is making us all stupid and argumentative.
It’s easy to just try to find the middle but, John Dyer uses the example of a shovel. You can use it for good, to lay the foundations for an orphanage, or you can use it for bad, to hit someone over the head and bury the body. Dyer says: it doesn’t matter whether you’re using it for good or bad, the shovel will have an effect on you in the process. You’ll start to get blisters. Keep digging, and they’ll become callouses. Actually technology changes us as we use it, for good or bad. It changes how we think, and how we view the world.
That idea has influenced me – even building a prayer app, it changes how you think about prayer! You could easily build in, say, streaks of how many days you’ve prayed in a row, which could be a great thing, but the danger is, people think, ‘I must be in God’s good books if I prayed that often.’ If I’m going to be shaping how people view prayer and God, I want to do that in helpful ways, carefully and theologically.
It doesn’t matter if you’re building Facebook, or a shoe company, or whatever, you can still bring your Christian values to work.