(OSV News) — Many single Catholics still hope for a real-life “meet-cute”: a charming or amusing first encounter with a love interest. But with church attendance declining among Millennials and Gen Z, the internet — and its ability to connect like-minded people from a distance — is a tool too powerful to ignore.
“I had sworn off dating apps, I thought they were really tacky,” an engineer named Chris told OSV News. “I also kind of wanted to have that story of, ‘We met at such-and-such an event.'”
However, Chris’ plans changed when in-person events came to a sudden halt with the COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020. Like many young people, he began to search for his match on a dating app.
According to a 2023 Pew Research report, 53% of U.S. adults under 30 have used a dating app, with one in 10 partnered adults — and one in five partnered adults under 30 — having met their current spouse or partner online.
But as dating apps grow in popularity, so too are services tailored to Catholics both proliferating and evolving.
Eric Niehaus, CEO and founder of Gather (comegather.app) told OSV News he created the app, which launched in 2021, because he needed it himself.
“Even though I was going to Mass and going to (Catholic young adult) events, I still was meeting a very small percentage of all of the Catholics that were around me,” said Niehaus.
Niehaus said the goal of Gather is to help Catholics meet other single Catholics nearby and go on in-person dates quickly.
“We care about having real, intentional connection. And it’s hard to have good, intentional connection in person, if you’re hundreds of miles away,” said Niehaus.
Niehaus also felt the business models of existing Catholic dating websites presented an obstacle to many younger single Catholics who could otherwise find — and be — good matches. Niehaus adopted the pricing model used by many secular apps such as Tinder and Bumble: Gather is free to use, requiring payment only for certain premium features.
“It’s really important for our mission, in terms of creating more Catholic marriages, to adopt a business model that is aligned with that mission, to allow as many people to use the product to create as many matches … leading to as many holy marriages as possible,” said Niehaus.
So far, Niehaus said, Gather has a few thousand users, primarily in the Washington and Chicago metro areas; but he said it is growing about 30% month-over-month through word of mouth. He expects the user base to grow rapidly soon, as Gather increases marketing efforts.
Catholic Chemistry (catholicchemistry.com) is also growing. Founded in 2018 by Catholic Answers web developer Chuck Gallucci, it currently has over 30,000 users around the U.S.
Gallucci said he had used older Catholic dating sites before meeting his wife and felt they didn’t keep up with the latest technology. When he launched the mobile app in the Catholic dating space, it incorporated video chat early on. “I like to think that we had just a cleaner, more modern, more usable interface,” he said.
Gallucci also shared that Catholic Chemistry encourages users to start chatting quickly by incorporating a “reply to this” button into every element of a profile.
“Maybe it’s a stereotype, but it seems that there are many Catholics who want things to be perfect before they move forward. … They might not be as quick to strike up a conversation,” Gallucci said. “This makes it more casual and easy.”
As for long-term success, Gallucci shared a number of user testimonies with OSV News that shared how the experience was positive and led to engagement and marriage.
Launched in 1999, CatholicMatch (catholicmatch.com) is the most well-established player in the Catholic online dating space.
Online reviews and Reddit comments can be harsh on CatholicMatch, usually citing messaging restrictions on the free subscription level, and the prevalence of older profiles that appear inactive.
But Mariette Rintoul, community experience manager at CatholicMatch, said the user base is actually very active and growing. Completely inactive profiles are hidden from search results after a time.
She said a lack of responsiveness doesn’t necessarily mean the profile is inactive. “Oftentimes, I can see on the back end if messages were opened or not, and very often, they were opened and just not replied to,” she said.
In that case, Rintoul said, “Someone wasn’t interested.”
As for messaging restrictions, a paid subscription unlocks the ability to start a conversation with anyone and reply to messages without a waiting period. Free subscription users can send messages back and forth instantly if they are a mutual match, meaning both liked each other’s profiles.
Despite the naysayers, CatholicMatch success stories happen all the time. Rintoul shared that from January to February 2023, over 500 users canceled their CatholicMatch accounts saying they met someone; an additional 80 to 100 engaged or married couples per month submit their success stories for the CatholicMatch blog.
Rintoul met her husband on CatholicMatch years before working for the company, and she believes that only a small percentage of the real success stories are known.
“My husband and I know at least 10 other couples in person — friends, people from church, etc. — that met on the site,” she said. Rintoul added that within that circle, “We are the only one that submitted our story.”
She says success usually comes when people are open to God surprising them, rather than using restrictive search criteria. To facilitate more serendipitous meetings, CatholicMatch is branching out into other services such as video speed dating and trivia nights.
Chris, the reluctant dating-app user, ended up meeting his fiancee, Amanda, in late 2021 on a dating app. Chris — who asked OSV News not to use his last name for privacy reasons — recommended matrimony-minded single Catholics try a dating app — but without getting too attached to the number of matches, likes and messages they might receive.
“Go into it with very low expectations,” he said, “but keep your standards high.”
Rachel Hoover writes for OSV News from Tennessee.