A "Spirituality Startup" Sets its Sights On Millennials


Want to hear something odd?

There is a tech startup in Silicon Valley that is seeking to meet the needs of the “spiritual but not religious” crowd, and their founder, Tara-Nicholle Nelson, thinks there is a big market for this kind of service, particularly among Millennials. Nelson doesn’t want to start a church, and her vision is not specific to any religious tradition, but wants her phone app to be a means of therapy, or “soul comfort.”

Zara Stone reports for Forbes that Nelson’s company, SoulTour, is ready to help people with their “spiritual side,” particularly among those in the technology industry, noting that “Silicon Valley's statistically one of the least religious section of the states, with 61% of the Bay Area not attending church, compared to a 38% average.”

In developing SoulTour’s concept and business model, Nelson has gone directly to the people, conversing with them about their needs and desires for spirituality, and she has found people to be receptive to her ideas. Stone summarizes Nelson’s findings, stating:

People seem to believe in her mission — on her statewide research tour, she heard over and over again how people, especially millennials, wanted an easy way to connect with their spiritual sides. Many of them had been churchgoers who rejected that lifestyle but felt something was lacking. Nelson plans to provide meditation guides, self-help mantras, video stories and more, most likely accessed through a monthly subscription model, where users sign up for access through their phones. It’s important to her that it launches at a price point that’s affordable to everyone.

Churchgoing is here described as a “lifestyle.” Rather than tithe to an organized community of human beings with whom one would share a common narrative, polity, way of life, worship, means of prayer, and beliefs, Nelson’s research finds that people would be more open to individualized “meditation guides,” self-help slogans, and “video stories,” so long as it can be had at an affordable cost.

In a Christian community, we learn to pray and converse with God together through liturgy and teaching, we share wisdom with one another that is practical and applicable to daily life, and we listen to the testimony of friends, neighbors, and families concerning the work of God in our lives. And we do so at no cost, though we do ask members of the community to give financially with a joyful heart and by conviction, so that resources may be pooled to support the community and bless those in need. Granted, Christian communities meet more often in person than they do by phone, but that is a feature, not a bug.

The waning of organized religion does not suppress the spiritual impulse. SoulTour is looking to capitalize on that reality.

But churches can do better, offer something more substantive, lasting, transcendent, communal, and meaningful. And rather than recruiting consumers, we invite people to become participants. It is good to know that the spiritual longing remains, and the aversion to “religion,” particularly when the word connotes dead ritualism, is understandable.

However, there is an opportunity for churches to bring the best of both together, the openness of soul to God’s work today joined with the wisdom and tradition of the ancients. We don’t need an app for that, just a church.