Venture Funders Flock to Religious Apps as Churches Go Online

(Bloomberg) —

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Covid-19 has upended the traditional Sunday service, taking sermons from the pulpit to the screen. It’s sparking a long overdue digital awakening for churches across the country and investors are taking notice.

The pandemic has given more people a reason to seek solace in God and faith-based communities at the same time that houses of worship were forced to close their doors. Pastors have resorted to streaming on YouTube or Facebook Live in a bid to keep congregations engaged. Membership in spiritual apps has surged. The top Christian meditation apps raked in 2.3 million downloads in the U.S. from March to August, up 325% from the same period a year earlier, according to mobile data and analytics company App Annie.

Traditionally secular venture capitalists have largely shied away from religion. In Silicon Valley, “no one wanted to touch religion five years ago” says Peter Pham, co-founder of incubator and venture fund Science Inc., which backs Pray.com. Now, “there are many avenues to tap and more companies will be born out of this growing need for a creative spiritual-digital experience — the opportunity is mind-blowing.”

The pandemic has “crystallized the opportunity,” says Brett Martin, co-founder and managing partner at Charge Ventures, an early stage venture capital firm in New York. A global shutdown accelerated tools that the tech industry was already into, like video conferencing, community building and fundraising — all of which can be applied to religion, Martin says. “Shame on the venture capital community for not recognizing the opportunity sooner.”

Some did. Pray.com, for example, was founded in 2016 and is backed by $16 million in venture funding. Now there are plenty of ways investors can get involved across all the functional areas of a church — from digital tithing to management software and virtual