Using AI For Ministry Isn't What You Think

September 12, 2023

by Nathan Webb, Pastor of CheckPoint Church in the Catawba Valley District

When you hear "Artificial Intelligence," you might conjure images of futuristic robots or complex algorithms that power giant tech companies. It seems unlikely that AI could find a home in the compassionate, human-centered world of ministry. However, the tools made available by AI are hugely influential on the day-to-day work of ministry in many settings, mine included.
Artificial intelligence is becoming a game-changer for church organizations and faith-based missions. And far from being an esoteric, hard-to-understand technology, it's increasingly accessible and applicable in surprising ways. Before we can get into the important reality of how AI can help our ministerial contexts, we should first discuss what it is and isn’t.

What AI Isn't

It's not foolproof
The term "Artificial Intelligence" can sometimes create an aura of infallibility, but the reality is different. Like any tool, AI can make errors, particularly when the data it's trained on is flawed or incomplete. Its algorithms can misinterpret user needs or even, in worst-case scenarios, perpetuate existing social biases that have been inadvertently baked into its training data.

It's not magic 
Although AI can sometimes perform tasks that seem almost miraculous, it doesn't operate through mystical or supernatural means. It’s a learning model designed via the most massive pool of thought known to humankind - the Internet.

It's not limitless
AI can handle massive data sets and work around the clock, but it has limitations. While it's excellent for crunching numbers and automating tasks, it can't read between the lines to understand the subtle human emotions involved in pastoral care or provide the spiritual guidance that only a human can give. It can’t discern between exegesis and eisegesis. It might even be fooled into making up Bible verses, if the prompter is clever enough.

It's not taking over
Contrary to what Hollywood blockbusters may suggest, AI isn't plotting to replace humans, especially not in complex, empathy-requiring roles like ministry. AI is a tool to enhance human abilities, not a replacement for human skills and wisdom.

What AI Is

It's less busywork
In the day-to-day operations of a church, there are myriad administrative tasks that can be time-consuming. AI helps automate these processes, whether it's sorting through emails, scheduling social media posts, or data analysis. This allows you to focus on what truly matters: building relationships and nourishing spiritual growth in your community.

It's a great copywriter
Imagine having an assistant that helps you draft compelling newsletters, inspirational social media updates, or even the framework for your Sunday sermons. AI can help fine-tune your message, ensuring that you communicate clearly and effectively to your congregation.

It's a useful machine
Beyond writing, AI can offer a wide array of capabilities like video editing, data analysis, and more. These are tasks that might require specialized skills, additional staff, or volunteers. AI can help you manage these activities more efficiently, freeing up human resources for more important work.

It's ancillary
In the grand scheme of ministry, AI is not the star of the show but a supporting actor. It can help extend your capabilities and reach, but it can never replace the vital human connection and leadership that are the cornerstone of any successful ministry.

How I'm Using AI In Ministry

Since 2020, pastors have had to add ‘video producer’ to the ever-growing list that is their job description. Creating video content for a ministry can be labor-intensive. Descript uses AI to simplify the video editing process by transcribing spoken words into text, allowing for easy editing. This means you can quickly share your sermons, workshops, and special events online with a broader audience.

GPT is a massive and highly customizable resource. I’ve heard of churches integrating the code into their websites and having the AI serve as a 24/7 receptionist to answer important questions. I personally use ChatGPT as a sermon planner. I write my sermon, as I always have, but when I’m finished with the first draft, I feed it to the AI and ask for feedback. I have GPT draw out the best quotes for social media posts. I build Bible Studies with questions specifically tuned to the sermon that week.

In all my years of ministry, I can’t even count the times I’ve spent searching for the perfect image that would complement my sermon. It could be an image to go in the bulletin or on the screen or even something that could be posted to our social media for deeper consideration. With Midjourney, I no longer have to spend hours searching. I can feed into the AI art generator the exact image I am wanting and it will work with me through a series of drafts to craft exactly the image I’ve been searching for.

Should You Use AI? 

If you find yourself constantly burnt out, juggling too many responsibilities, or just struggling to find volunteers, then AI could be a significant asset for your ministry. While it won't solve every challenge, it can handle a remarkable range of tasks, allowing you to focus on the pastoral and spiritual aspects that only a human can provide. In the ever-changing landscape of ministry, adopting tools like AI could be just what you need to extend your impact and enrich your community.

As pastors and church leaders, we’re already drawn thin from the tasks that demand our attention. Don’t be afraid to experiment with AI and allow it to shift the time you’re putting into administrative tasks and moving it into the important Jesus-work of relationship building.
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