Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
 / Updated 
By Keith Wagstaff

In San Francisco, where technology is almost a religion, the Catholic Church is moving beyond the collection plate and weekly newsletter.

The Archdiocese of San Francisco is partnering with Evergive, a service that starting on Friday will let Bay Area Catholics donate money, share prayers and more from their computers or smartphones.

The Catholic Church has already embraced social media at the highest (well, nearly highest) levels. But this technology could help local churches, where money still is dropped into collection plates and announcements come in neatly folded newsletters.

"It helps our parishes, especially those with limited resources, get access to a level of technology that they never could have afforded," Father Anthony Giampietro, the interim director of development for the Archdiocese of San Francisco, told NBC News.

In the past, of course, faithful in the Bay Area could post events on Facebook, donate money with PayPal and send messages with Gmail.

Evergive, which has been operating in closed beta for the past couple of months, wants to put that all in one private online space that can be easily set up and operated by churches, synagogues, non-profits, etc. — basically, any organization that relies on a shared sense of mission and donations to exist.

The Archdiocese of San Francisco has around 443,000 members, making it Evergive's largest and most important customer. The company charges a small processing fee on each donation, similar to credit card transaction fees.

It's an arrangement that Giampietro finds fair, noting that Evergive only prospers if the Church is prospering too. The ability to create donation pages around new projects was also a big draw.

"The ease with which we could set up a campaign for Nepal or a youth group was astounding," Giampietro said.

For James Ioannidis, CEO of Palo Alto-based Evergive, the social media aspect of the service is just as important as the fundraising.

"Just because people are only physically going to church once a week doesn't mean that they only have to be part of that community once a week," he told NBC News.

Like Facebook, Evergive is place where people talk about issues they care about. But because church members use Evergive to do things like ask for prayers for their loved ones, it has a much stricter standard of privacy, with administrators given the power to block people who are insensitive or don't belong to the community.

Giampietro also likes how the social media site provides a quiet place to talk about the Catholic faith without the digital cacophony present on so many other sites. Ioannidis stressed that creating a distraction-free zone was one of Evergive's top priorities.

"If you are sharing intimate details or questions that are very faith-specific, you don't want them served up next to articles about Justin Bieber or pictures from last night's party," Ioannidis said.

How the service works with the Catholic Church in San Francisco could determine how many other faith-based and non-profit organizations adopt it, and whether the company grows from 11 people to something bigger.

Giampietro hopes it succeeds. He likes how mass schedules, copies of homilies and discussions about faith are all made easily accessible to churchgoers. His ultimate hope is that technology like Evergive will encourage more people to interact with each other and the Church, instead of getting sucked into a virtual world.

"It's one thing to follow the Pope on Twitter and see his photos and videos," he said. "It's another thing to see him in St. Peter's Square."