June 12, 2023: In a groundbreaking event at St. Paul’s Church in Fürth, Bavaria, Germany, the future of religion took center stage. Hundreds of worshippers gathered to attend a service entirely led by artificial intelligence. The AI chatbot, ChatGPT, delivered the sermon, captivating the audience with its unique approach.
Excitement filled the air as people lined up outside the majestic 19th-century church long before the service began, eager to witness this extraordinary moment.
During the service, ChatGPT focused on personal growth, embracing the present, overcoming fear of death, and nurturing faith in Jesus Christ. Four different AI avatars took turns delivering sermons and leading the service, providing a diverse experience for the congregation.
One of the AI avatars addressed the attendees, saying, “Dear friends, it is an honor for me to stand here and preach to you as the first artificial intelligence at this year’s convention of Protestants in Germany.”
The Service’s Conceptualization The entire service, lasting 40 minutes and attended by over 300 people, was conceptualized by Jonas Simmerlein, a 29-year-old theologian and philosopher from the University of Vienna. This event was part of the Deutscher Evangelischer Kirchentag, a biennial gathering that attracts tens of thousands of devout Christians. This year’s discussions focused on essential topics such as climate change, the war in Ukraine, and AI.
Simmerlein collaborated with ChatGPT to develop the service. He provided the chatbot with the slogan for this year’s gathering, “Now is the time,” and asked it to craft the sermon accordingly.
“I told the artificial intelligence, ‘We are at the church congress, you are a preacher… what would a church service look like?'” Simmerlein explained. He also requested the inclusion of psalms, prayers, and a concluding blessing.
The result was a well-rounded church service that satisfied Simmerlein’s vision. However, some attendees expressed their reservations about the futuristic approach, noting that it lacked traditional services’ essence and personal touch.
One churchgoer, Heiderose Schmidt, who works in IT, remarked, “There was no heart and no soul. The avatars showed no emotions at all, had no body language, and spoke quickly and monotonously, making it challenging for me to concentrate on what they said.”
Even Simmerlein acknowledged that technology lacks the deep connection that human pastors bring to their congregations. He highlighted the invaluable role of a pastor in knowing and understanding their community, being present in their lives, and conducting significant rituals.
Since ChatGPT made headlines last year, clergy members have reached a consensus that technology can generate a competent sermon, but it cannot replicate the passion and personal touch that come from authentic human preaching.