A Prayer App Turns to TikTok to Find Its Flock

Jon Schneider was mindlessly scrolling TikTok when a video caught his eye. It showed the actor Mark Wahlberg and “this guy who kind of looks like Jesus,” and they were inviting viewers to join them in prayer.

Mr. Schneider, 35, thought it was a movie promotion. In reality, it was an ad for Hallow, a pay-to-pray app that offers Bible readings and sermons narrated by clergy and celebrities, including the former N.F.L. star Brett Favre and Madison Prewett of “The Bachelor” fame.

Hallow raised $40 million in 2021 and counts the tech billionaire Peter Thiel and Senator J.D. Vance, Republican of Ohio, among its investors. Full access to the app costs $69.99 a year. An onscreen numerical ticker notes the number of “prayers prayed with Hallow.” In recent days, that figure was heading toward 427 million.

Mr. Schneider, a marketing professional in Ballston Lake, N.Y., who is not religious, said he was surprised that TikTok was serving him so much Hallow promotional content. There were a few days where it just seemed like every other ad was Mark Wahlberg suggesting I pray the rosary with him,” he said.

Like other TikTok users, Mr. Schneider is drawn to the app partly because it fills his “For You” feed with videos that often match what he wants to see. Many other TikTok regulars have noted its algorithm’s uncanny ability to anticipate their interests.

Advertisements can be a different story. Mr. Schneider says he is often shown ads for products that don’t grab him. “It’s the meal kit stuff that I keep saying I don’t want to see and stuff that is very clearly geared toward a heteronormative family, which is not something that I have,” he said.

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