ChatGPT preaches sermon and runs church service


An artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot told hundreds of people at a Lutheran service on Friday “to rise from the pews and praise the Lord.”

The experimental church service was almost entirely AI-generated. A ChatGPT chatbot delivered a sermon at the church in Bavaria, Germany.

What happened

The sermon chatbot, personified by an avatar of a bearded man on a huge screen above the altar (pictured), told the packed congregation not to fear death, the Associated Press (AP) says.

“Dear friends, it is an honour for me to stand here and preach to you as the first artificial intelligence at this year’s convention of Protestants in Germany,” the AI avatar said.

It reportedly focused on leaving the past behind, paying attention to the present, not being afraid of death and maintaining faith in Jesus Christ.

The sermon-preaching avatar was one of four avatars taking turns leading the service. They reportedly drew laughter at times for their monotonous, deadpan delivery.

The service lasted 40 minutes. Prayers and music were included, as well as the sermon.

The chatbot developer

A University of Vienna theologian and philosopher, Jonas Simmerlein, used the ChatGPT to create the service, AP reported.

Simmerlein says about 98 percent of the sermon – themed “Now is the time” – came from the chatbot’s own writing.

The service was part of Deutscher Evangelischer Kirchentag (German Lutheran Church Day). The popular biennial event attracts thousands of Christians. Issues addressed at the event this year include climate change, the war in Ukraine, and AI.

“I told the artificial intelligence ‘We are at the church congress, you are a preacher … what would a church service look like?’” said Simmerlein.

He also asked the chatbot to use psalms, prayers and a concluding blessing in the sermon.

The ChatGPT provided “a pretty solid church service,” he says. However, no human interaction was able to take place between the chatbot and the congregation.

“The pastor is in the congregation, she lives with them, she buries the people, she knows them from the beginning,” Simmerlein says. “Artificial intelligence cannot do that. It does not know the congregation.”

Mixed responses

Not everyone agrees with Simmerlein’s assessment of the chatbot’s effectiveness.

“There was no heart and no soul,” one woman said after the service.

“The avatars showed no emotions at all, had no body language and were talking so fast and monotonously that it was very hard for me to concentrate on what they said.

“But maybe it is different for the younger generation who grew up with all of this,” she added.

Another attendee – a young pastor – was there with a group of teenagers. He was more impressed by the experiment.

“I had actually imagined it to be worse. But I was positively surprised how well it worked. Also the language of the AI worked well, even though it was still a bit bumpy at times,” he said.

But the chatbot missed any kind of emotion or spirituality – which is essential when he writes his own sermons, he added.


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