Over the course of the day, a user of the King James Version Bible app may receive nearly a dozen push notifications — messages like “Jesus is my rock!” “God is always on time ⏰,” and “I will never walk alone.” Each notification, accompanied by a four-second-long hallelujah chorus, is a call to prayer. The app also features a full digital reader and audio book version of the Bible, daily scripture passages and devotions, and pop quizzes to test a user’s biblical knowledge.
Launched in 2018, the KJV Bible app has climbed the global Android charts with its English and Portuguese editions in the last few months. In January alone, the Android version of the app was downloaded over 5 million times around the world, according to the market intelligence firm Sensor Tower. The same month, the app placed in the top 100 most downloaded apps in some of the world’s most populous Christian-majority markets, including the United States, Brazil, and the Philippines. In Nigeria and Ghana, the app peaked as the third and fourth most downloaded free app in each country, respectively.
For all its recent popularity and rising profile among Christian users around the world, little is known about the KJV Bible app and its developer, registered on both the iOS and Android app stores under iDailybread Technology. By tracing digital breadcrumbs left by iDailybread and reviewing government filings, Rest of World attempted to identify the true owner of the app. The search led to a crowded Hong Kong shopping district and a mid-sized Chinese mobile gaming company called Lexin Shengwen—and revealed how a growing number of users are flocking to the app with seemingly little interest in the company behind it.
According to the Google Play store, iDailybread owns seven Christian-oriented apps, including other Bible services and Bible-themed games. Another 24 apps from the developer have been removed from the Google Play store since 2016, according to mobile analytics service Data.ai. On a bare bones corporate website the developer posted, “iDailybread is a group of devoted Christians, working hard on this bible project,” but it’s not clear who are the members of this group or where their operations are based.
iDailybread’s app store registration points to a corporate address in Hong Kong’s densely populated Mong Kok neighborhood, on a street famous for its sportswear vendors. The address listed, Fa Yuen Commercial Building, 75-77 Fa Yuen Street, unit 605, sits above an off-brand Adidas store.
Hong Kong government records and corporate websites show that unit 605 has been used as an address for over a dozen different Chinese technology companies, including smartphone manufacturers and a Bluetooth research and development firm. The address appears in the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) filings for several of these companies.
A cross-check with Hong Kong’s corporate registry shows that in traditional Chinese, iDailybread’s company name, Lexin Shengwen, mirrors that of a Beijing-based company. Often branded in English as “Learnings,” Lexin Shengwen exclusively targets overseas customers and claims to have over 800 million global users across its suite of mobile gaming apps, which include word puzzles, digital coloring books, sudoku, and meditation. Lexin Shengwen did not respond to requests to confirm its ownership of iDailybread, but several clues lead back to the mobile gaming company.
For instance, the Facebook promotion pages for the KJV Bible app and other iDailybread properties are moderated by accounts located in mainland China and registered under the company name Beijing Lexin Shengwen Technology, according to Facebook’s Page Transparency safeguards.
Lexin Shengwen’s mission statement potentially acknowledges the company’s religious inclinations: “making happiness, beauty and faith within reach.”
And while the current corporate website for Lexin Shengwen does not advertise its involvement in the Christian app space, an older cached version of the website does show that Light Bible, another iDailybread property, is part of the company portfolio. Two Christian-themed versions of Lexin Shengwen’s most popular mobile gaming franchises (which have won annual awards from Google Play and the Apple App Store) have also been released under the iDailybread banner: “Bible Word Puzzle” and “Bible Color Paint by Number.”
Launched in 2016, Lexin Shengwen was founded by Ryan Liu, a former Google China mobile business director. Liu has spoken publicly about the opportunities for Chinese mobile gaming firms to build for users overseas. Today, Lexin Shengwen has over 200 employees across its offices in Beijing, Chengdu, and Hangzhou, according to the company’s public statements. Since its products are not distributed in China, 95% of Lexing Shengwen’s user base resides overseas.
Chinese gaming companies that touch on religious themes like Lexin Shengwen have to contend with two trends in contemporary Chinese politics: a crackdown on the mobile gaming sector and, according to Carsten Vala, a professor of political science at Loyola University Maryland who researches the politics of churches in China, increased restrictions on minority religions, including Christians. In December, the government announced a new policy banning foreign organizations from spreading religious content online that could lead to further censorship of religious communities.
Focusing on overseas users may be useful in escaping the notice of regulators. “Part of the dynamic that I see with the app is that it is responding to a general trend of going overseas and making money,” said Vala, noting that as long as a service is not targeting Chinese Christians, it may be of less concern to state officials. “It’s less sensitive in that it’s being done in English rather than in Chinese.”
Building international markets for Chinese gaming companies is highly encouraged by the Chinese government, sometimes with tax rebates, says Anthony Y.H. Fung, a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong who researches the globalization of the gaming industry. “There is really quite an incentive for them to go overseas. It’s a soft power campaign with many creative industries, definitely including gaming.”
The market for Christian evangelical users is robust, often because these users aren’t prioritized by other parts of the tech sector. “Secular companies have been slow to see evangelical religious markets as viable,” said Heidi Campbell, a professor at Texas A&M University. “There is not a lot of acknowledgement from non-Christian spaces that they are audiences to build for and think about in the development of technology.”
KJV Bible competes directly with apps like the YouVersion Bible, which is owned and operated by a U.S. megachurch in the state of Oklahoma called Life.Church. Launched over a decade ago, YouVersion is now available for free in more than 1,700 languages. Life.Church’s press materials claim it has been downloaded over 500 million times.
In the Philippines, where 86% of the population identifies as Catholic, the YouVersion Bible is the app of choice, according to April Fallaria, who, working with the Asia-Pacific Nazarene Theological Seminary, conducted a 2019 survey of religious app usage. But some Filipino users Rest of World spoke to said iDailybread’s KJV Bible app is increasingly popular.
C.J. Laceda, a church youth coordinator in Caloocan, Metro Manila, downloaded the app in November 2021. She first came across the service on Facebook, where she is a moderator of “Sharing God’s Word,” a private group run out of the Philippines with nearly 180,000 members. It’s a space for Christians to share images of Bible verses, usually pasted on top of stock imagery or religious illustrations. The KJV app has become a popular source for these posts.
“I’m surprised but that won’t be an obstacle for me to stop using it,” said Laceda, when asked if she thinks differently of the service after learning about the app’s potential owner. “It’s OK to earn money, because the [company] is the one that thought of the idea; they can help us. Maybe that’s a blessing from the Lord.”
As part of its daily updates, the KJV app generates a scripture image for users, with embedded social sharing tools. It’s a stream of new content for Christian social media users, and an organic marketing tool for the app. Laceda says both her pastor and a former teacher post KJV Bible app images to Facebook, and she does too.
Many user actions on the KJV bible app, including pressing the “Amen” button, will lead to pop-up video ads. The app also features a premium $4.99 no-ad subscription. A report from November 2021 by the Ugandan privacy watchdog organization Unwanted Witness shows the app may also collect a significant amount of user data, including 33 permissions and 15 trackers. It is not clear whether this data is sold to third-party advertisers. Unwarranted permission requests are chronic across the Bible app industry, according to a 2015 report by cybersecurity firm Proofpoint.
The four KJV Bible users who spoke with Rest of World said they were largely unconcerned that a for-profit gaming company was curating their religious experience on the app.
Leonard Kim, a digital marketing professional in Los Angeles, downloaded all the Bible apps he could find back in 2020. He used many of them daily during a time when, he said, that he “was learning about God.” The KJV Bible app is among his favorites. “It’s all right there. Bible verse. Morning prayer. Inspiration. It takes all the guesswork out of what to say,” Kim told Rest of World.
In spreading Christian scripture around the world, iDailybread has purposefully cast itself as a missionary enterprise to users. Its website reads, “We are doing what God tells us—to spread the Gospel around the world using cutting-edge technology.”
Kim’s not concerned that the app may have been produced by a mobile gaming company, as long as it furthers this work, and puts the responsibility on app stores, not users, to monitor permission requests. “I don’t prejudge what this Chinese gaming company does or what their intent is. At least they’re spreading the Bible to others,” he said. “A Bible is a book. As long as the book stays in existence and doesn’t get Fahrenheit 451-ed, who cares who provides it.”