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New ‘Terumah’ phone app will link churches with far-flung followers

December 6, 2012

DECATUR, Ala.

It’s a a little like stumbling across the beginnings of Google or Facebook in a spare bedroom.

At Daniel and Andrea Tait’s home, a business plan charted on typing paper is taped to a closet door, alongside a how-to book picked up from a non-profit business incubator.

Welcome to the global headquarters of Terumah (“offering to the Lord” in Hebrew), a fledgling company that’s shaping up, byte by byte, in Daniel Tait’s spare time.

As the company’s “managing member,” Tait sits at the center of the new business, started in April from the seed money he and his father cobbled together.

The idea germinated one weekend when Tait had to miss a presentation at his church. He wished there was a smartphone app that could link him to that kind of event. That idea has mushroomed into a website created by Tait and designers in India.

The idea is to launch a website and phone application that could help network congregations and worshipers, or other non-profit organizations or, even, faith-based bands with fans around the world.

“Terumah takes the religious experience you have in your church or synagogue or mosque anywhere, and opens it up to everybody who may or may not be sitting in that pew,” Tait said.

Unlike a congregation’s own website or Facebook page, his application allows leaders to send “push” notifications directly to their followers’ phones — the messages that come in with the usual notifications about emails or text messages on the phone’s homepage. Users don’t have to open an email program or go to a website to see the information.

While some large congregations might have that capacity or the $10,000 or more it takes to develop that kind of phone app, Tait is betting that most congregations don’t. Which is why he’s doing for them.

“This brings the news straight to you,” Tait said.

When users open the app, it can also link them to the church’s website or allow them to view a recent video or hear a sermon. He can see that some people would want to follow more than one congregation — say, their own parish and also a friend’s church for its music events.

Even without the phone app, Terumah is different from individual websites, since information posted at Terumah can be tagged so that it’s searchable by people who, for example, want to read a sermon on finances or see a video from Easter. Even for congregations with a limited staff, adding the posts to Terumah takes only a click or two more once the information is prepared for the congregation’s website or Facebook page.

“On Terumah, it’s discoverable by people who live anywhere,” Tait said.

The site can be used without cost for the basic plan, which includes unlimited social media integration, three event/campaign/sermon posts, and up to 500 push notifications a month.

And that’s all without any outside advertising. “I wanted the message of the organization to get through,” Tait said. “It’s not my place to tell your users, ‘Here’s what you should really be looking at.’“

The company is for-profit, but Tait says he’s committed to keeping the financial records open in a bid to keep his promise not to become greedy and to tithe any eventual profits. The money will come to Terumah through fees paid by users who sign on for more options, and from a 1 to 2 percent processing fee for donations given to a congregation through the website.

“I don’t want to get in the business of skimming off profits from churches,” Tait said. “I want to be a facilitator. I want to put people in touch who are not normally going to be there.”

“When I first started it, I definitely doubted I could get it up, but I can see such progress over time,” Tait said.

Tait, 25, figures he’s spent up to 20 hours a week on the project since April — and that’s outside of his day job and his new role as father to an infant son, Cohen.

But between walking the baby, Tait is keeping at it, getting feedback from the congregations who have agreed to be beta testers of the website, tweaking options and assembling the phone application itself, which will be ready soon. In the next few weeks, Tait will begin taking the information to local congregations, asking for people willing to sign up for the free program.

“It’s almost like everything has to get started at once,” Tait said. “But if I can connect one person to one organization that makes a lasting impression or maybe even bring one person who previously did not believe in God to believe, well it will have been worth it.”

Kay Campbell writes for The Huntsville Times in Huntsville, Ala.

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