The app that's changing religion in West Africa

Story highlights

  • A Ghanaian start up has developed an app which connects people to their church digitally
  • Asoriba has signed up 700 churches since its launch
  • Users can watch live sermons, download spiritual texts and donate money

(CNN)When Dinah Colecraft wakes up in her house in Ghana's capital of Accra, the first thing she does isn't take a shower or make a coffee. She uses an app to download a devotion sent by her church.

With the app she can also browse church events taking place that weekend and even make a donation using her credit card.
    Basically, it's a one-stop shop for spirituality.
    Created by a team of young Ghanaian entrepreneurs, Asoriba -- the parent company behind the app -- was deemed Africa's Best Startup at the Seedstars World event this earlier this year in Casablanca, Morocco.
    The goal of the app is simple, says Nana Prempeh, co-founder of Asoriba. "It's focused on the fundamental goals and aims of the church, and that is to win more souls."
    The church app hoping to win more souls
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    A digital collection box

    In Ghana, Christians normally give tithes -- or a tenth of their monthly income -- to the church.
    While nobody knows exactly how much money is in circulation within the Christian church in Ghana -- due to the plethora of small institutions with no collective figures -- most agree it's a huge figure.
    "I can reassure you that the churches are among the richest organizations in the country," says Prempeh.
    "Some churches need to use vans to take their money back to the bank on Sundays."
    By taking the collection box online, Asoriba has managed to tap into this huge market.
    Colecraft, who works at Grace Gospel Ministries, uses the app's payment feature.
    "It's very convenient to pay tithes on my phone," she says. "In the comfort of my house, I can contribute to the church without necessarily having to be there."
    Prempeh says the church uses the donations to fund education and healthcare.

    The Super Bowl of Africa

    While Western societies such as the U.S. are becoming increasingly secular, the church in West Africa is experiencing the opposite trend.
    With 71% of the country's 26 million strong population being Christian, there is ample opportunity for a company like Asoriba to grow.
    "The church is the center of people's lives in Ghana," says Prempeh. He compares big church events such as those held at New Year's Eve in Ghana to the annual Super Bowl in the U.S.
    "[It's normal to have] a pastor come and bless your new house or pray for your new car, and on Sundays most people go to church," he says.
    The app has already signed up 700 churches, and almost 50,000 individual churchgoers.
    Asoriba, which means "church member" in Twi, a Ghanaian language, has been particularly popular with the Charismatics -- a popular sect in West Africa -- due to their young congregation, Prempeh says.
    Ghana has 700 Christian sects, according to the World Christian Database, and around 71,000 individual congregations.

    Is digital spiritual?

    Part of Asoriba's appeal is its ability to connect churchgoers to the church without them physically attending a service.
    For those traveling or too busy to attend, the Sunday service can be downloaded, or even live-streamed, through Asoriba.
    But is anything lost with going from a physical to digital connection?
    "You can never replace your real life connections. However, you can enhance the physical connections and go beyond," Prempeh says.

    The new Facebook for churchgoers?

    By 2050 researchers estimate that the number of African Christians will have doubled, to more than 1.1 billion.
    The next step for Asoriba -- currently available on Android only, with an iOS version expected to be out in November -- is a social networking feature.
    The team behind Asoriba.
    The team envisions creating a virtual space for users to engage with others of the same faith about sensitive topics, such as sex and marriage, which they may struggle to bring up with people in real life.
    "We want people to express themselves, and we want to make it possible to have these conversations," Prempeh says.
    Asoriba currently has presence in Nigeria and South Africa, and are looking to expand across Africa.
    "We believe we can take the entire continent."