Church Hunting? There's an App for That
Coughlin sees similarities between new churches and startups. "The unifying concept is that it takes a lot of faith," he says. "It takes a lot of belief in something you can't see. It takes a vision."
As an application with social features, comparisons are probably inevitable. FaithStreet has been likened to Yelp, but Coughlin thinks that's simplistic. While FaithStreet allows members to talk about their church, it doesn't include reviews—an omission that Coughlin hopes will discourage church shopping.
"We reject the idea of reviewing churches," Coughlin says. "A church is much more like a family than it is a restaurant or a mechanic." That means you'll never be crowned mayor of your church based on how many times you check in. But you'll also never read a scathing review of the community you love.
In fact, after filling out a personal profile (much of which can be imported from Facebook), a new FaithStreet user can't do much besides request information about a church. That's because everything about the platform is designed to point users to actual, real-world involvement in a community. The FaithStreet model is online-to-offline, because Coughlin wants real-world impact; he's not just peddling the next iWidget.
"We want to reintroduce the question to Americans that say they're spiritual, but don't attend church or are not active with the church community," he says.
Connecting the Nones
That demographic—"spiritual but not religious"—is a growing crowd. On August 8, the Pew Research Center hosted a roundtable to discuss (among other things) the "nones," the growing percentage of Americans who claim no religion whatsoever. The percentage of Americans who deny any particular religious attachment jumped from 7 to 14 percent in the 1990s, and is now close to 19 percent, according to recent polls.