Kellogg World Alumni Magazine, Summer 2001Kellogg School of Management
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  Michael Keefe
Michael Keefe is using the Internet to build stronger church communities.

Dot-com deity
Michael Keefe '99 brings that old-time religion to the Web

Michael Keefe is discovering that doing the Lord's work pays.

The 1999 Kellogg alum hasn't embarked on a career as a televangelist, but as founder and president of He has combined his religious background with his Kellogg education to produce a venture that he says gives religious institutions a powerful online marketing tool.

Think Church offers Catholic churches a way to expand their mission beyond their Sunday services by distributing parish news, Bible readings, pastoral care and other spiritual resources to their congregations. For an average of $6,000 per year, a church can enjoy its own personalized Web site which Keefe's company will create and maintain. Customers can defray this cost by seeking outside sponsors, and after meeting ThinkChurch's fee, 85 percent of all sponsorship funds are returned to the client.

"ThinkChurch can actually serve as a revenue-generator for our customers," says Keefe, a 1994 graduate of Notre Dame who was attracted to Kellogg because of its strong Public/Nonprofit program. Once enrolled at the business school, he realized that he was also drawn to Kellogg's cutting edge high-tech curriculum -- so he found a way to combine his passions.

The inspiration for the atypical dot-com venture, based in Chicago, came to Keefe in 1999 as he recognized just how few religious organizations had tapped the Internet as a channel to broadcast their message. "The majority of churches either don't have a Web site or they have a site that's static," says Keefe. "Most churches only use the Web as a placeholder, not a tool for their community."

And that's where Keefe says he can help. In about two days, says the former Kellogg Kauffman Entrepreneurial Recipient, ThinkChurch can have a client's Web site up and running. While the back-end of the site remains consistent for all clients, each church can choose individualized features.

"There's a lot of pounding the pavement and many face-to-face meetings, because we don't fit the model of the typical Internet company where you're going to have a million visitors per day," says Keefe, "but what we are creating is the church Web site. We're going after large, flagship parishes. Since creating the Old St. Pat's site, for instance, there will not be another Old St. Pat's site to compete against us."

Besides St. Patrick's in Chicago, ThinkChurch has developed relationships with several other large church communities, including Baltimore's St. Ambrose and Tampa's Most Holy Redeemer. Within two months of its November 2000 launch, St. Pat's site recorded 60,000 visits by 3,000 individuals, a third of whom visit the site daily, notes Keefe.

Rather than supplanting the bricks-and-mortar church, Keefe's company strives to enhance the parish community. "We take existing strong communities and create a dynamic Web presence for them."

ThinkChurch hasn't always been an easy sell, though. Keefe has had to address a number of misconceptions held by clients. In particular, he's had to combat the biases of some older priests (Keefe says there are now more priests over the age of 80 than under the age of 50) who view the Internet with suspicion. He's also had to convince them that he wasn't trying to steal their parishioners. Some priests feared that if they put their church on the Internet, fewer people would show up Sunday morning.

"It's a big concern and something we have to address every time we talk with a potential client," admits Keefe. "At first, I didn't realize how much churches are like small businesses with different layers. You don't see that when you're sitting in the pew on Sunday."

Born in Chiapas, Mexico, where his parents served as Catholic Volunteers, Keefe grew up in a family that valued its religious tradition. After graduating from Notre Dame with a BBA in finance, he spent three years as a volunteer in a Franciscan order, being paid $100 a month and "really trying to live a simple life." It was after this experience that Keefe pursued his love of nonprofit work by enrolling at Kellogg. He says he knew coming in that he didn't want to be an investment banker or consultant.

"I was pretty strong with my career commitment," he says. He was so confident that he didn't interview during his second year at Kellogg.

Keefe's convictions stem from his belief that the church represents one of the most important social structures in a person's life. Weddings, funerals, baptisms and anniversaries, he notes, are major life events that many people elect to celebrate within their religious communities, and have done so for millennia.

Says Keefe, "It is a satisfying feeling realizing that I'm giving a facelift to the oldest organization in the world."

-- Matt Golosinski
©2001 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University