Now Reading
AI and the Future of the Church

AI and the Future of the Church

Continue reading this exclusive article
Already a member? log in

Artificial intelligence is no longer just a topic for science fiction and technologists — seemingly overnight, it has become a significant part of our daily lives. As society progresses into an era dominated by AI,  Christians especially find themselves at a crossroads where they must grapple with the ethical implications and potential benefits of this rapidly evolving technology.

Does AI have a role in our congregations? Can it possibly enhance our faith experiences moving forward?

Technological advancements are happening, rapdily, whether we like it or not. And the Church doesn’t have the luxury of waiting to join the conversation.

Navigating the Disruption

Faith and technology have not always been viewed as harmonious companions. Some may see AI as a threat to traditional religious practices, raising concerns about the erosion of human connection, the dilution of spirituality, or even the potential for moral dilemmas.

However, rather than shying away from these tensions, the Church has an opportunity to engage in thoughtful dialogue and discern how AI can align with its core teachings.

As we explore the intersection of faith and technology, it becomes crucial to understand how AI can enhance rather than replace the human experience, allowing the Church to adapt and thrive in a rapidly changing world.

While AI may not change the core tenets of faith, it can influence how people perceive and engage with their beliefs.

“ChatGPT gave people an opportunity to interact directly with an AI system, and it led to this interesting anthropomorphizing of technology,” said Dr. Derek Schuurman, professor of computer science at Calvin University.

OpenAI’s ChatGPT launched the AI conversation into the mainstream earlier this year.  Since then, the AI race has escalated to a speed we’ve never seen before. At the time of publication, more than 1,000 AI-powered apps were being launched each week, offering every possible tool you can imagine and disrupting virtually every industry. And the Church is no exception.

“The Christian faith comes with a very important notion of what it means to be human,” Schuurman said. “Then following that, the call to use technology in a way that shows love to God and our neighbors. So how do we actualize and operationalize that with some of these tools?

“In our churches, we’re going to need to talk about discernment, about spiritual formation and nudges from these sorts of things,” he continued. “Then in the wider public square, we have to join the dialogue to talk about common good. Like, how do we build tools for the common good and what does that look like?”

Schuurman sees AI as an extension of creation, a new aspect worth exploring.

“The question is, how are we going to use these tools and how are we going to apply them in ways that lead more to flourishing?” Schuurman asked. “Are we going to direct it towards weaponizing it for propaganda or misinformation, or are we going to harness it for helping others?”

With AI, society has the ability to achieve more than we ever thought was possible. However, there are obvious limitations to what AI can’t do. While some developers are working on creating human-like AI tools, many technological ethicists are pushing back on this so that the rest of humanity can process what’s best for the world.

“At the end of the day, a machine is completely incapable of showing empathy,” Schuurman said. “So this worry that AI will replace pastors or therapists or friends is a bit unmerited. It may be able to mimic those emotions for a while, but eventually, we need a real human response. We have to ensure we’re not building machines that pretend to substitute for jobs where people — humans — are uniquely qualified.”

Debunking Some Misconceptions

Brian Paige, vice president for IT at Calvin University, explains that AI didn’t just pop up overnight. Rather, it’s something that’s been a long time coming.

“We’ve used AI for years,” he said. “It’s in our phones, our search engines, our Amazon checkouts. When we think about AI, we have to remember it’s not some computer overlord. It’s simply a technological tool.”

Paige, of course, understands individuals’ fears about the future of AI, but he’s not nervous about the real future of AI advancement.

AI aims to amplify human capabilities and automate mundane tasks, he explains. Often, it involves the processing of data to learn, problem-solve, predict trends, answer questions and provide recommendations based on analyzed data.

“When it comes to AI, or any technology, I think it’s good to be discerning, but we don’t have to be scared,” Paige said. “I think there’s a lot of media hype at this point that’s playing into fear. But for every dark side of technology, there’s a lot of positives, too.”

This doesn’t mean we should dismiss any worries, Paige said. Rather, it should cause us to question why we’re afraid, or exactly what we are afraid of.

Paige said he regularly asks himself, “If God is in control and God is not fearful of this, what is it? What is causing this fear? Is it because somehow I’m not in the right relationship with God or am I not in the right relationship with technology?”

Paige points out that at one point in our society, we were scared about how phones, televisions, the Internet and more would change our world for the worse. And while each advancement in technology can have its drawbacks, overall, it’s brought the world to a more intelligent, higher functioning place.

He also looks to the story of Babel as a reminder that God is in control of technology, even when it seems like it has the power to take over our world.

“Babel was a place where there was this human construction of a system, a place where humans tried to use technology to be like God,” Paige said. “And God humbled humanity — but it wasn’t because technology was a threat. It was how humanity was using it. And if we’re not careful, we can turn AI into an idol that will require God to humble us.”

As Christians, we should think deeply about the ethical boundaries of AI and consider its impact on human dignity and work. By actively participating in the conversation, we can ensure that AI is developed and deployed responsibly.

Embracing AI in the Church

As the Church integrates AI into its practices, it must maintain a human-centered approach, upholding ethical considerations and preserving the values that underpin its teachings. This entails an ongoing evaluation of how AI aligns with principles such as empathy, inclusivity and the dignity of every individual.

The Church must actively participate in shaping AI’s development, advocating for fairness, transparency and accountability in its algorithms and systems. By actively engaging with AI, Christians can help influence the technology’s trajectory, ensuring it aligns with its mission to foster love, justice and spiritual growth.

AI tools can offer new avenues for reaching people with the message of Christ and connecting them to faith communities.

Aaron Senneff, the chief technology officer of Pushpay, explores some practical ways in which AI can enhance the spread of the Gospel and the health of the Church:

1. Personalized Outreach

AI-powered chatbots can be developed to provide personalized outreach and engagement with individuals seeking answers about faith. These chatbots can answer questions, offer guidance, and connect individuals with local churches or faith communities. By leveraging AI, the Church can extend its reach and provide support to those in need, regardless of geographical limitations.

“AI won’t replace pastors or members of the Church,” Senneff said. “But they can help organize communication efforts to ensure that people don’t slip through the cracks. Church is all about connection, and AI has the ability to make connecting easier than ever.”

2. Media Creativity and Outreach

AI offers exciting possibilities for media creativity in the realm of faith-based content. It can be used to create compelling visuals, videos and graphics that convey the message of the Gospel in innovative ways (especially for smaller churches that can’t afford a creative team on staff).

AI-powered algorithms can analyze audience preferences and trends, enabling the creation of engaging and impactful content that resonates with diverse audiences.

For Zachary Appletgate, the director of digital media and technology at Sandals Church in Riverside, California, the media ministry team has been able to further their reach with the help of a few simple AI tools.

“Every day it seems like there’s some new AI tool that comes along and makes our lives easier,” Applegate said. “We’re constantly looking for ways to grow our ministry and outreach, and in the last few months, AI has helped us grow faster than we ever imagined.”

Applegate’s team relies on AI to help create content for social media, including sermon clips and study guides. The team has even used tools like Midjourney to create engaging graphics that church members can use and share to effectively bring nonbelievers in.

“It’s hard to wrap my mind around how much AI has helped our church out, and we’re just getting started,” he said.

3. Sermon Writing Assistance

AI can assist pastors and preachers in writing sermons by analyzing biblical texts, historical contexts and theological resources. This technology can help generate sermon outlines, provide relevant scripture references and offer insights into interpretations.

“I don’t know if AI is ready to take on all the roles of a pastor,” Senneff joked, “but it is ready to help pastors get back to their strengths. Writing a sermon can take a lot of time away from other important roles. If AI can help give them time back, they could restructure their whole ministry.”

By leveraging AI in sermon preparation, pastors can save time and enhance the quality of their messages.

4. Community Building and Data Management

AI can facilitate data-driven insights and predictive analytics that inform decision-making processes, guiding church leaders in identifying community needs and implementing effective strategies for outreach and ministry.

By understanding the needs and preferences of their congregation, churches can tailor their programs to better serve their members. Additionally, AI can help streamline administrative tasks, such as organizing data, managing schedules and facilitating communication.

“For churches with small or limited capacity staff, AI can completely restructure your whole organization,” Senneff said. “Instead of hiring a huge team to manage daily tasks or projects, AI lets you accomplish all your goals for a fraction of the cost.”

Beyond daily uses for AI, advancing technology gives Christians the ability to spread the Gospel in a whole new way. Just as previous technological advancements revolutionized the spread of the Gospel, AI holds the potential to transform how the message reaches the masses.

Imagine this: you’re in a foreign country and you come across someone who speaks a completely different language than you. By simply downloading an app, you can have a full conversation with someone in their native tongue. And it doesn’t have to be a superficial conversation.

AI can facilitate the translation of the Bible into various languages in real-time, enable innovative approaches to sharing Jesus with people with different backgrounds, and provide support and hope to those in need. It could even assist in answering questions about faith and connecting individuals to local churches.

In the face of rapid technological advancements, the Church has a unique opportunity to embrace the future and explore how artificial intelligence can enrich and deepen our faith experiences. By navigating the tensions, harnessing the transformative potential and adopting an ethical and human-centered approach, the Church can proactively shape the integration of AI while remaining true to its timeless values. The intersection of faith and technology beckons the Church to reimagine its role in a digitized world, ultimately enabling it to continue its mission of spreading love, hope and faith in new and innovative ways.

© 2023 RELEVANT Media Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Scroll To Top

You’re reading our ad-supported experience

For our premium ad-free experience, including exclusive podcasts, issues and more, subscribe to

Plans start as low as $2.50/mo