Written by Bill Whitt
January 22, 2024

Can AI Really Help Accelerate Church Renewal Work?

As with any technology, I believe AI can be used wisely or foolishly. It can bring great blessing or great harm.

In our 2024 Survival Guide, we noted that artificial intelligence (AI) will go mainstream this year. It’s already being woven into existing products by Google, Microsoft, Adobe, Canva, and many others. The technology will be hard to avoid.

  • However, a recent survey shows few church leaders are using AI productively to help their ministries. According to a Gloo/Barna survey, 67 percent of church leaders say they have no experience or consider themselves to be beginners, and 44 percent have never used it. Only about 3 percent of those surveyed have policies in place (or plan to create policies) regarding the proper use of AI.

As with any technology, I believe AI can be used wisely or foolishly. It can bring great blessing or bring great harm. Below are three ideas about how church renewal leaders can use AI well and three ideas about how to avoid its pitfalls.

Three Benefits of AI
Benefit 1: Brainstorming and Researching
  • Writer’s block affects even the best of us! With AI, you can have a conversation partner who offers ideas to you (some good and some bad, just like any other brainstorming session). Maybe it’s a headline for a newsletter article or the title of a sermon series!
  • Chat-GPT also suggests possible areas of research that are relevant. It can then proofread the final article you have written, analyzing not only spelling and grammar, but also tone of voice and readability.
Benefit 2: Transcribing and Summarizing
  • AI can quickly and accurately transcribe spoken content like sermons. From there, it can write long or short summaries, suggest group discussion questions, and create other helpful resources like devotionals to help people go deeper.
  • I tried this a couple of times with a new site, church.tech, and I was really impressed with the results. Check out the group materials it produced for a sermon the prodigal son and a sermon on Jesus calling his disciples.
Benefit 3: Designing Graphics and Editing Videos
  • Church.tech can also edit shorter versions of your sermon videos that are perfectly formatted for social media. Using it to add chapter markers in YouTube could also be a huge timesaver.
  • Graphic design is getting easier too. Need to generate an image for a newsletter? Tell Microsoft Copilot what you want! Done! Need to create a flyer? Just type in a description to Canva’s Magic Studio to get started!
Three AI Pitfalls to Avoid
Pitfall 1: “Hallucinations” and False Information
  • When AI doesn’t know the right answer to your question, it often just makes one up. We’ve started calling these responses “hallucinations.” For this reason, it is critically important that we not take any answer AI offers at face value.
  • We must check every AI suggestion against an original source. Thankfully, Microsoft Copilot and others are making that easier to do, as they have begun revealing what sources they are using to create their answers.
Pitfall 2: Lack of Heart and Soul
  • Even if AI were able to give 100 percent correct answers all the time, it would be no substitute for a human being. Pastors are shepherds who know and love their flocks. AI will never have the same “heart” as a pastor.
  • If pastors begin using AI to write their entire sermons, they will have effectively pushed the Holy Spirit out of the process. They will be just reading a script handed to them rather than wrestling with the text for hours and deeply internalizing its message.
Pitfall 3: Attribution and Originality
  • If we copy a human author’s work without attribution, that is a serious offense called plagiarism. If we use AI’s output and pass it off as our own, doesn’t that feel a bit like plagiarism too?
  • When we use AI to help generate any part of a work, it’s best to disclose that clearly. For example, I used DALL-E (via Microsoft Copilot) to create the image you see at the top of the page, and I used Adobe Photoshop’s Generative Fill to make it the appropriate size. I also used Chat-GPT to brainstorm various headlines and outlines for this article, although I did not end up using any as-is. See, attribution and transparency is easy!

In summary, I believe AI is a tool we can use to help make disciples and spread the good news. Like any tool, it has strengths and weaknesses, and it can be used or misused. Let’s begin thinking deeply right now about how to chart a wise path forward!

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