Site helps churches connect digitally with worshippers

Whether it's the Bible, Quran or Torah, for centuries religions have worked to get the word out. Now, congregations are embracing the digital world to build their communities, CBS News' Elaine Quijano reports.

When Sean Coughlin was growing up, his Christian faith was always a big part of his life.

"I played baseball and went to church, that's really all I did," Coughlin said.

But after he moved to New York as an adult, he was frustrated with the challenges of finding a congregation on his own.

"There are dozens of sites to help you find a doctor or a restaurant or a vacation but no good site that helps you find a place of worship," Coughlin said.

So he quit his corporate job and started, a directory for religious institutions across the country.

Churches create online profiles, and wandering souls can see service times and filter by distance, denomination and vibe. Coughlin hopes they are then inspired to show up.

"A strong bias toward helping those people engage with those communities more deeply rather than helping them experience those communities online," Coughlin said.

It's something that matters deeply to him.

"I think it's just because in my own life I've seen the power of like faith-based community," he said. started with 500 churches in New York. Today, it includes 15,000 congregations across all 50 states, Canada and Mexico.

Churches pay a subscription fee to use a mobile app that allows followers to tithe online.

"I think technology has always had a really important role to play in the flourishing of faith, whether it's the printing press printing the Bible or Billy Graham on the radio and on TV," Coughlin said.

Anne Rudig, director of communication for the Episcopal Church, hopes will help the church attract younger followers.

"People will shop for churches online, and if your church can't be Googled, for a lot of folks it just doesn't exist," Rudig said.

Today's religious leaders are increasingly present in the digital world. His holiness the Dalai Lama regularly imparts 140-character wisdom, and Pope Francis shares scenes from his travels on Facebook and tweets to more than four million followers.

Greg Burke, senior communications adviser to the Vatican, told CBS News in an email, "We think it's a great way to reach people, and especially young people."

"Religious institutions are always attempting to reinvent themselves," said Josef Sorett, assistant professor of religion at Columbia University.

He said is part of a long relationship between ministry and markets.

"I would imagine that FaithStreet would bill itself to churches that might want to purchase a service as providing them with immediate access to any number of folks that may show up in their locale," Sorett said. "That would distinguish them from churches that are not online... They're plugged in."

Coughlin said the goal of is to help churches fulfill their missions.

"This idea that Jesus had to go out into all the world and preach the Gospel is huge for us. We want to equip leaders of faith communities to do that in more powerful way," Coughlin said.