Are faith and technology ideological foes or fellow travellers?

James Kelly, founder of a new initiative called FaithTech, is banking on the latter as he works to blend religion and tech in a way that’s never been done in Waterloo Region.

Kelly wants to bridge the gap between pastors, tech leaders, entrepreneurs and developers, and bring them together for a greater good – to make the community a better place.

“It’s almost like the church is 20 to 30 years behind the technology and understanding how to leverage technology,” said Kelly, 29. “One of my missions is to help the church catch up, and actually become a leader in the community.”

As one of the founders of Radiant City Church in Kitchener, Kelly said he has seen first-hand the ways his Christian faith can improve life in the region.

FaithTech aims to do that with a trinity of strategies. The first is FaithTech LABS, where committed volunteer developers, coders and creative thinkers can collaborate on not-for-profit and for-profit tech ventures.

One example is Text to Tithe, which launched beta testing in August. It takes the problem of churches not having enough funds to do outreach work, and applies a technical solution.

While many 20- or 30-somethings don’t carry cash or cheques these days – the traditional format for church donations – almost everyone has a cellphone in their pocket.

So Kelly spoke to some web developers and they developed Text to Tithe, which allows anyone looking to donate to a local church to do so with a quick text message.

Each church is given a unique number and donors text their donation amount to that number. It’s tied to the donor’s credit card, and once they set up an account, contributions can be made in seconds.

The program has been so successful Kelly is in talks with several non-profits in the community to expand the service. They plan to charge a small fee but just enough to cover their expenses.

He’s also partnered with web developers and search engine optimization experts to make the web a safer place for those at risk of harming themselves.

They want to ensure that whenever someone does a web search for ways to commit suicide, a website with resources and counselling contacts is the first search result they see.

“That’s using technology to save lives,” Kelly said.

Their second strategy is to host innovation events to inspire change. That includes one or two hackathons a year, starting this Nov. 4-6 at D2L in Kitchener, as well as an innovation talk (similar to Ted Talks) at Vidyard on Nov. 4.

Finally, they’ll develop future Christian leaders with one-on-one training and materials, and Kelly is already looking to expand his network. He’s already looking to expand FaithTech to New York City, Denver, Dallas, Seattle, Vancouver and Toronto, as well as Indonesia and Japan, among others.

Last month, Kelly quit his job at a local recruitment company to focus on FaithTech full time, and he sees three possible revenue streams for the business – one from so-called “kingdom investors” (similar to angel investors) where the “return on your investment is helping people, not money.”

The second is to explore funding from various foundations, and the third is from the growth of for-profit organizations or businesses that emerge from FaithTech.

He admits that while some see the worlds of faith and technology or science as incompatible, he hopes to take FaithTech beyond that debate and use technology to help create lasting change.

“Most of those conversations are fuelled by strong opinions, but nothing gets done, and I’m more interested in getting stuff done,” he said.