TAKING A LEAP ON FAITH STREET
Attorney Launches Web Site for NYC Churches
Posted August 4, 2012
By David Urbanski, Contributing Writer for The Ivy League Christian Observer
Sean Coughlin, Harvard ’06, is a co-founder of FaithStreet.com, a Web site that helps people find churches in New York City.
If you had told Sean Coughlin that by the time he turned 25, he would cast off his deep pocketed attorney career and opt to get neck deep in an Internet startup that serves New York City churches, he immediately knows how he would’ve responded: “You’re crazy.”
But that’s exactly what Coughlin, Harvard ’06, did in 2009 with the help of his good friend and roommate Ryan Melogy, a fellow University of Virginia Law School alumnus and Manhattan attorney.
Seeing no central online spot where folks could locate and learn about New York City churches, Coughlin and Melogy decided to create one—FaithStreet.com— and run it full time.
FaithStreet lets users search for churches in all five boroughs (Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island), as well as according to various features: new churches, churches with evening services, churches for young adults, and historic churches. In addition, any New York City church can create and manage its own FaithStreet profile for free.
Coughlin says the site houses 250 churches so far, representing 30 denominations, more than 100 neighborhoods, and dozens of languages. “We cover the whole spectrum,” he says, “from Times Square Church in midtown Manhattan to small, storefront churches in the Bronx and two-month-old church plants to 200-year-old Episcopal churches.”
Since the launch, the 27-year-old CEO says God has given him “a sense of peace” and confirmed the calling of the FaithStreet team, which also includes Glenn Ericksen, 25, who came aboard last summer as the site’s technical expert. Ericksen also shares a “co-founder” title with Coughlin and Melogy, who’s the senior member of the squad at 29.
And while church and God and faith aren’t typically the first subjects most associate with the Big Apple, Coughlin stands amazed at how many churches are “full of life” in the city and doing “incredible” things. Believe it or not, there are about 3,400 churches in New York City, and millions of New Yorkers attend church every Sunday, he says.
“Outsiders look at New York City and don’t get a great sense of spiritual intensity,” he explains from his office in Brooklyn, looking across the water to Manhattan’s skyscrapers. “But for us, there’s no disconnect between God and New York City. God created New York City. He’s in the city. The beat and the rhythm of the city are made by God. They’re all wrapped up together. We just want to shine a light on that and help individual churches share their visions.”
Coughlin and Melogy talked often during their law firm days about doing something “big” and “entrepreneurial”— indeed something “that’s never been done before”—while they were young enough to take on the challenge. Plus they both were experiencing the problem of finding and connecting with churches in New York City. Ministry work wasn’t a foreign concept to Coughlin, who served at Harvard as president of the Reformed University Fellowship and did mission work in Asia with Campus Crusade for Christ.
“We considered the financial tradeoff,” he continues, “but we’re seeing doors opened, so we’re definitely excited. It’s been an adventure following our calling—a wild ride—even if it’s not the same money we used to make in law.”
Indeed, one of the questions they’re frequently asked is how FaithStreet can generate enough cash flow if joining and using the site is free. Their answer: “We haven’t figured that out yet,” they note on the site, “but it will probably be through some combination of advertising and charging churches for optional ‘premium’ features.”
Coughlin says he and Melogy both “learned a lot as attorneys— and we brought those skills with us.” The pair knows of more than a few lawyers who’ve left law behind in order to pursue a wide range of entrepreneurial enterprises: “They take their law firm experience and start their own things. Sometimes, they just feel called elsewhere. In fact, I know a few pastors in New York City who went to law school—quite a few!”
And since Coughlin and Melogy also share a fascination with the bourgeoning world of technology (as does CTO Ericksen, obviously), the marriage of “faith and innovation through technology” to meet a very community-based need has been a good one.
“Plus, the churches by and large are so far behind technologically,” he adds with a chuckle. “We wanted to help bring them out of the dark ages and into the 21st century.”