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As mental disorders rise, praying to God has become the answer to those lost
Bambi Francisco Roizen speaks with Steve Gatena, CEO at Pray.com, a website and app that helps anyone incorporate prayer into their lives. Steve will be participating in the "Future of Mental and Behavioral Health" event on September 21.
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Highlights from the interview:
– Steve was born to a single Jewish mom on welfare. Steve’s dad is Catholic. He was raised by his mom and was fortunate enough to have a willful grandmother who dragged her also willful grandson to church. In his youth, religion “was not my thing,” Steve said and he “hated every minute of it.” Yet God would tug at him for much of his life through setbacks. First Steve had to leave the Air Force Academy due to injuries, which led him to a college football career. But then more injuries drove Steve to another profession – heading up a helicopter company making movies, saving lives and catching bad guys. Then tragedy really hit. Steve’s partner died on September 11, 2015 in a plane crash, leaving Steve, 29 yrs old at the time, in a dark place.
– Like many living in an increasingly secular society, Steve found some solace or perhaps distractions in a myriad of podcasts and activities, like SoulCycle, Core Power Yoga, Tony Roberts, Deepak Choprah. A friend suggested he listen to a pastor’s podcast to which Steve replied, “I’m not one of these Jesus people.” But he listened to the podcast and “everything he said to me hit me in the soul and transformed how I thought about myself and others.”
– “God’s timing is always on time,” answered Steve when asked if there were times he felt God was calling him throughout his youth. When things didn’t work out, he didn’t tie them to a divine purpose leading him toward other goals. Instead, he just worked harder and built healthier habits. Today, he knows it was “absolutely God’s plan” as healthier habits can only get a person so far, a lesson learned only through experience.
– Steve was fortunate to have an indefatigable grandmother, but others aren’t so lucky. How does he get people to listen? Realize that many people probably don’t want to “go to” church but want to feel like they went to church. The subtle suggestion made by Steve’s friend to listen to a pastor’s podcast made Steve feel like he went to church. There was a one-on-one relationship where something deeply meaningful occurred. Often you get people to listen through these one-on-one situations, Steve said.
- Bambi mentioned her brother Raul Francisco (aka Kuya Raul) wrote a book titled “Why Simple Discipleship”, which encourages people to, as Francisco writes, “meet as a church not at a church.” The idea is that one-on-one moments are often more effective and in fact “church” just as it says in the Bible in Matthew: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Matt. 18:19-20). Steve pointed out that the way people experience and share religion is evolving and these one-on-one moments can happen more often at Pray.com through their private prayer groups where not just Christians come together, but atheists, Muslims and others who want to pray.
- Bambi said that the current government seems to want to tear down the separation between church and state by seeing the world through an equity lens, which in itself is a moral value system. While Steve was an advisor for President Trump and now President Biden, politics is not about finding the best solution for everyone, he said. It’s not about implementing a path forward for everyone. In other words, the government should stay out of giving people a sense of moral purpose and meaning. “As a Christian, my faith gives me that. It gives me a lot of the answers that I can’t answer myself. It helps me understand who I am and gives me a model of who I want to be for others.”
- Notably Pray.com only produces content based on the Bible. It does not have content based off the Koran (the holy text of Islam), or the Bhagavad Gita (Hinduism), or Shinto or Buddhism teachings. This is an explicit decision because the Bible sells, said Steve. The other reason is that Pray.com was founded by four millennial Christians.
- Does Pray.com need to be more inclusive to offer its platforms into corporations that have (at least prior to 2022) millions beefing up their benefits programs with services that provide mental health therapy to their employee base? While Pray.com has received requests or are encouraged to expand their offerings, Steve said that Brian Grimm of Religious Freedom and Business Foundation has been helpful in raising awareness and expanding demand for faith-based content. The Christian Employee Resource Groups (ERG) are among the most popular inside corporations, said Steve. In fact, the Redi Index, which shows the most faith-friendly businesses, ranks Intel, American Airlines and American Express as the No. 1-3 ranked companies that have a large faith-based workforce. Salesforce and PayPal are also among the top tech companies with a high degree of employees with faith.
- While Steve believes there’s a positive correlation between the decline in prayer and religion and the rise in mental health, he said his company is working on multiple studies to see if there is a causation effect and to also gather research around the power of prayer.
- What made Pray.com possible today and not a decade ago was the pandemic. During Covid-19, all the churches in the world were shut down for the first time in history. Online church and a redefinition of church were necessities born of the pandemic.
- Pray.com generates revenue by charging a roughly $10 a month subscription and charging pastors a subscription to help them build their following. The company also recently launched Pray Radio and Pray TV, where pastors or media companies can buy time to air their shows.
- Pray.com raised $34 million from notable VCs including Founders Fund, TPG, Kleiner Perkins and more.
- Steve initially licensed the domain name Pray.com for $1 over five years and then purchased it for millions.
There's a lot more to this podcast, including Steve's view on Pray.com’s differentiation from other newly-formed faith-based sites.
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