Americans are becoming less religious. According to recent surveys, many of us just aren't going to church as often as we used to.
While Alabama still has one of the highest rates of attendance, citizens here are not immune to the larger overall trend. That's one reason a Tennessee Valley entrepreneur wants to create a new digital space, to help people live and grow their faith.
Rachael Jackson has an interesting background. She joined the local technology industry only after a trip down a long and winding career path, which began with service in the U.S. Army.
As a rebellious young teenager with divorced parents, Jackson told WHNT News 19 the military gave her discipline, focus and a future.
"I became an Apache pilot, went to flight school," Jackson recalled. "[I] was on a definite trajectory."
Then came deployment to Iraq. Jackson began blacking out. As she put it, "They don't like pilots to do that." After being sent back stateside, she just wasn't sure what to do next.
She felt broken and lost; unsure what her path forward should be. Eventually she founded her company Shattered Media and began telling her own story, as well as stories of others experiencing personal struggle.
The experience sparked a renewed faith inside Jackson. "I really think God wanted me to put my identity in him," she explained.
She saw reports of church attendance dropping and saw people spending more time in digital spaces than ever before.
That's when Jackson had an idea -- create an app focused on personal stories.
"I really wanted to do something to inspire Christians to actually go out and love and serve other people who don't know Jesus," Jackson explained.
The StoryBridge app is the culmination of Jackson's efforts to realize her idea. WHNT News 19 got an up close look at the social network, despite it still being in the prototype stage.
The app relies heavily but not exclusively on video. Users begin by building a profile and sharing their personal story. The app actually guides them through this process; suggesting tags to connect them to others with similar experiences.
Someone who had a miscarriage, for example, can be linked up with individuals who have a similar story. The same goes for those who've lost parent, are starting a new job or are experiencing other important life milestones.
Jackson wants the app to serve as a "different kind" of social network; one with "more kindness, less judgement and less bullying."
Eventually, Jackson hopes to link people up with local churches, non-profits and causes, so they can find ways to live their faith in their own communities.
She stressed that while the app is designed with a Christian focus, it's not exclusively for Christians. As she explained, it's for "anyone searching for real, meaningful connections" through story.
The app will be subscription based; eliminating the need for advertisements. Start up money is still needed to get the project off the ground and an IndiGoGo campaign is underway. Click here to contribute or learn more.
Jackson's hoping people will see what she does and embrace her idea to help people keep their faith, in an increasingly digital world.
"Communities, ministries, churches, non-profits: They're all going to look different in about 15 to 20 years," Jackson said of how we connect in the modern era. "[We need] to reach people where they are right now."