Texas pastor says AI-generated church service was 'boring,' lacked 'spiritual depth'

'I'm so glad we did that, and let's never do it again'

Churchgoers participate in a worship service at Violet Crown City Church in Austin, Texas, on Sept. 17, 2023.
Churchgoers participate in a worship service at Violet Crown City Church in Austin, Texas, on Sept. 17, 2023. | YouTube/Violet Crown City Church

"Welcome! Today's service will be generated by artificial intelligence!"

It may not be the most common way to greet a congregation, but that's precisely how one United Methodist church in Texas kicked off its AI-generated Sunday service last month.

Jay Cooper, the pastor of Violet Crown City Church, an LGBT-affirming congregation of about 125 people in the North Austin area, said he decided to switch things up with the church's worship to reconnect and re-engage.

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"The idea to create an admittedly unorthodox AI-generated worship service came from my belief that the church should not only be aware of the most pressing issues of our world, but also to actively engage in them," Cooper told CP via email Tuesday.

The hope was, Cooper explained, that by allowing the large language model ChatGPT to provide the elements of the Sept. 17 church service — everything from the worship to the children's message to the offering and communion liturgy and the main sermon — he could "incorporate it into our community life in such a way that it would make an impact, be a learning opportunity, and help us understand the potential and limitations of artificial intelligence."

Despite those good intentions, Cooper said, the service ultimately failed because it lacked the human element and instead felt robotic and lacked what he called "spiritual depth."

"In short, it was boring," he added.

Cooper said while the chatbot didn't "generate anything overtly heretical," he said ultimately, AI is not a "thinking sentient being" but merely a reflection of human programming.

"It is a program that we have created and it's doing what we've programmed it to do," he explained. "Therefore, in many ways, what it generates is a reflection of who we are, meaning it's often wrong, misguided, prejudiced, and broken."

He gave one example of the technology's ability to identify the person of Jesus Christ and "not information or data as the ultimate source and definition of truth."

Still, despite its flaws, the AI-generated service led to his congregation considering some weighty theological topics.

"What the service led to was a meaningful conversation about how we, as followers of Jesus, are to seek the sacred in every person, place and situation in our life, for Scripture reminds us that when we seek God, we will find God," he said. "The question we invited the congregation to consider then was, 'Is that seeking and finding possible even in this situation?'"

He readily admits, however, that his decision to use ChatGPT was only temporary.

"The consensus during the time of feedback was, 'I'm so glad we did that, and let's never do it again," said Cooper. "We've decided this will be a one-time experiment for our congregation."

However, that doesn't mean the church won't find other applications for AI, including potentially writing up a business plan for a proposed event center for Violet Crown City Church.

Cooper said he's also considering using AI for marketing efforts, putting together mission budgets, or creating slides used during the worship service.

"Perhaps it can supplement and speed up some of the administrative jobs we must do in order to free us up for more relational ministry with people," he added.

While he believes some of the "hype around AI is overblown" when it comes to job loss in some industries, he cautioned any pastor who may be considering using the technology in their own ministry, such as one rabbi in New York earlier this year who became the first Jewish teacher to deliver a sermon written entirely by artificial intelligence.

"Pastors must consider the use of ChatGPT in ministry with great discernment. It must never replace the Spirit-led work of preparing and delivering a sermon, nor should it be used to generate prayers," he said.  

"I have heard of pastors using AI to help spark ideas for developing certain points within a sermon, but it should never be used in place of wrestling with Scripture along with the Spirit as we write our messages."

Ian M. Giatti is a reporter for The Christian Post and the author of BACKWARDS DAD: a children's book for grownups. He can be reached at:

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