Religious smartphone apps promote prayer, meditation — and falling asleep


A pair of Christian-oriented smartphone apps aim to move users closer to God — and even help believers fall asleep at night.

And the spiritual apps Hallow and Abide have attracted venture capitalists and corporate acquisition with their millions of downloads.

Hallow is aimed primarily at the Catholic market and has attracted $52 million in venture capital from a number of sources including PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel.

The app has been downloaded 2.5 million times, and users have started 50 million prayers using the “Lectio Divina,” (or “Divine Reading” in Latin), a schedule of Bible reading, meditation and prayer, says Hallow CEO Alex Jones, a computer specialist and not the Infowars podcast host.

Mr. Jones says Hallow’s active users — a number the firm doesn’t disclose — complete an average of 42 prayer sessions each month, up from an average of 10 two years ago. But unlike many apps, engaging in a prayer session does not involve staring at a device’s screen.

“You open the app, you take a session, you pick a length, you pick a guy, whoever you want to lead you through this prayer,” he said. “You plug in your headphones, close your eyes, and put your phone facedown. The goal is that it’s like being led in a meditation session with a guide there in the room. It feels like there’s someone else in the room with you.”

One potential, albeit unconfirmed Hallow user: Pope Francis, who was given a mobile player with the programming by Bishop Kevin Rhoades of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend in Indiana. The bishop, who “has been our main advisor from the beginning,” leads the firm’s faith advisory board.

Mr. Jones says there’s no way to determine if the pontiff uses the app.

Meanwhile, Abide is billed as a “Christian meditation and sleep app,” and was started in 2014 by former Alphabet veterans Neil Ahlsten and Eric Tse.

In October, nonprofit inspirational publishers Guideposts bought Abide for an “undisclosed sum,” saying the decades-old publisher hoped to “expand its digital footprint.”

Some 1.5 million listeners access Abide’s content via the app, YouTube and a podcast, and in 2020-2021, the firm said its users devoted more than 3 billion minutes listening to Bible meditations and “sleep stories” the firm produces.

Users appreciate a spiritual alternative that helps them fight insomnia, something the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said affects nearly 32% of adults, said Abide executive producer Russ Jones, a Christian journalist who is not related to the Hallow executive.

Abide’s programming avoids politics and “divisive issues,” Russ Jones said, adding that the goal is to build and keep a bond of trust with users.

“Do you know how humbling it is to be invited into somebody’s bedroom at 11 o’clock at night?” he said. “Not only their bedroom, but into their bed, literally, and they’re listening to you. That is such an intimate space. That is such a humbling space. And trust is hard to get and really easy to lose. It is absolutely critical that our doctrines be sound, that our theology be sound, and that we don’t lead people astray.”


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