Is an A.I. Powered Church Really a Church?

by | Aug 28, 2023 | Articles, Church, Resources

Did you hear about the AI-powered church service that was held in Germany a couple months ago? The sermon, the worship songs, and even the prayers were all written and delivered by Artificial Intelligence. There were AI voices and realistic avatars delivering the service from a large projector screen at the front of the sanctuary.

Interesting? Terrifying? Thrilling? Awesome? Maybe you feel a mixture of all of these emotions. I don’t know about you, but I often have an unsettled feeling as I wrestle with what makes my intellectual process unique or significant in comparison. I’m sure many people in the industrial revolution had a similar feeling. There is a sort of unnerving and reverent feeling you get when a machine replaces a human ability.

Much like the industrial revolution, I’m sure many will vie for regulation that preserves the “necessary humanness” in the skill they hold dear. And much like the industrial revolution, I’m sure that eventually millions of jobs will be displaced, jobs that some never expected were on the line. My question for the Church is this:

How will you respond when that technology threatens to displace your pastor, your worship leader, your deacons and elders?

That AI can generate worship music, sermons, prayers, and voices and faces that are all believable is not an evil in and of itself. It is a beautiful thing that God has created us with such ability to create in His image. We are image bearers of God and create in that image. God intended for us to work, add value, and care for His creation, first and foremost for one another. And we do that when we invent tools such as AI for the purpose of adding value and serving others.

However, isn’t there more to the picture here than simply a displacement of our priestly duties? Can AI teach us about scripture in an expository, creative, and meaningful way? Certainly it can! Can it develop beautiful worship music that leads us to worship God? Yes. Can it pray a prayer that is scripturally sound and that guides us in our own prayers? Absolutely. And as a business consultant, I feel compelled to tell you that it would most certainly be cheaper, and it might even be more effective at all of those things than most churches are today.

If Artificial Intelligence can effectively create these three pillars of a well crafted church service, then why would we not turn it over to AI? If it can do all these things better than your church leadership, then why do you have a pastor? Why do you have a worship team? Why do you have a human prayer team or times of corporate prayer?

With token prediction, AI tools will be able to perform in many of these tasks far better than any human ever could. Chief Scientist of OpenAI, Ilya Sutskever, says about the future of their AI tools, “Imagine talking to the best meditation teacher in history…” So, why wouldn’t we?

But are we missing something else in our services? There are certainly things that even the best robot pastor could not do. I’ll name a few:

  • Without a soul, we can be certain that AI cannot listen to the Holy Spirit’s leading and be guided to address a scripture that God knows will impact several people in the room deeply.
  • It cannot stop the worship service by the Holy Spirit’s conviction and call the congregation to repentance.
  • It cannot pray in faith that God will heal. It cannot manifest any of the gifts of the Spirit for the common good.

We will always need people, image-bearing followers of Christ, to lead, serve, and encourage each other in the church. We must have a church that comes under the authority and direction of the Holy Spirit.

So the question becomes, if your service could be replicated by an AI as it stands today, then what is the purpose of that church service as opposed to a Christian TV program, an online master class, or well-developed devotional app? Is it not to “encourage one another,” serve one another, to hold each other accountable and challenge each other, to disciple and be discipled, to build each other up and strengthen one another “as iron sharpens iron” and by the leading of the Holy Spirit? Aren’t all those things for the benefit of the one serving just as much as the one being served?

If relationship, serving, and demonstration of the Holy Spirit’s power, leading, and unity, are not at the center of our church services, what is the purpose of our participation in church? If it’s just about ingesting good content, why not just take an online course or watch a YouTube video? Why not use ChatGPT for counseling and accountability? Or have you already handed these things over to automation with pre recorded prayer sets, virtual services, and apps to replace the human touch anyway?

Please hear me. I recognize the incredible opportunity that we have with technology used for God’s glory, and there is a time and place for all of these things.

I believe that AI will be able to provide the church with a better orator, teacher, song writer, counselor, church administrator, accountability partner, or entertainer than your church could ever afford. But remember, that really isn’t much of what church is about anyway.

It’s time to take a step back, look hard at every aspect of our churches, and ask God why He has placed us there. Inevitably, the way we gather together will continue to change, so let’s not bury our head’s in the sand. On the other hand, I hope we place a stake in the ground where it counts. I hope that the impending technological tide will force us to do some introspection. Rather than being a content-consuming attendee of a beautifully directed, AI led metaverse, what if we humans actually committed to being the Church together with one another?

Jon B

Jon has spent his career as a serial entrepreneur and business consultant both in the US and abroad in missions contexts. From a young age he has worked to marry a calling to missions and gifting for business. He is currently the Director of BAM Coaching and Business Incubation at The Stone Table.

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