Evergive, a social network for connecting religious groups, launched this week with one major supporter — the Catholic Church.
Or at least one part of the Catholic Church, the archdiocese of San Francisco. Evergive is now an official partner of the archdiocese, and the app has been promoted to parishes throughout the city.
Evergive includes the majority of basic features you’d expect from a social network, like private messaging and the ability to share text and photos with the groups that you’ve joined. But the app’s money maker is quite literally the app’s money maker — a feature for making donations.
Founders Mary Minno and James Ioannidis say the donation element is not the app’s core component — they quickly pointed to the app’s social elements as a way of “giving back” as well. But monetary donations aren’t easy to overlook, especially with religious organizations. A church can create a profile for free, and its members can donate directly through the app.
“The church needs a digital home now as the focal point shifts from the physical realm to the digital realm,” Ioannidis told Re/code. “[And] the reality is these organizations need funds to accomplish their goals.”
These donations are also where Evergive will make its money. The company takes a small fee for each donation — less than five percent, says Ioannidis — but there’s a lot of potential revenue to be had. The International Business Times estimated in December that North American Catholics donate $850 million per week.
Evergive is nowhere near that size, of course. It just launched publicly Tuesday and has only a few dozen churches on the app, most of which have even fewer members. That potential revenue, though, is probably why Evergive has raised more than $1 million from investors before launch.
The app’s ultimate goal is to branch into other areas beyond religious organizations, like schools or neighborhoods (non-Christian religious groups are also welcome to join, Minno said.)
For now, though, religious groups seem to be Evergive’s niche. These types of narrowly focused social networks are growing in popularity, like RallyPoint for military members or Doximity for physicians. There’s also Facebook, of course, which is far from narrow but is used for managing all kinds of groups.
Minno says Evergive is working to expand on its religious focus; the company plans on creating similar partnerships with other dioceses around the country. The Catholic Church has certainly warmed up to social media and technology over the past couple years. Pope Francis is on Twitter — as was Pope Benedict XVI before him — and many churches have used PayPal to accept online donations for years.
In addition to gathering users, there may be one other challenge on Evergive’s plate: Convincing church leaders to give users a thumbs up when it comes to checking their phones mid-service. It’s possible for churches to share things like the service bulletin or hymnal through Evergive as well.
“I think it’s a timing thing where a few years ago you may have been getting some push back,” Ioannidis said. “I think it’s gotten to the point where they’re like, ‘people are going to be on their phones during Mass so they may as well be engaging with us.'”
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.