Hundreds Attend First AI Church Service

An experimental Lutheran church service, almost entirely generated by AI, took place at St. Paul’s church in the Bavarian town of Fuerth and was attended by hundreds of people.

Theologian and philosopher Jonas Simmerlein asked a chatbot to create the sermon given to more than 300 people in Germany. 
(Matthias Schrader / Associated Press)

The artificial intelligence chatbot asked the believers in the fully packed St. Paul’s church in the Bavarian town of Fuerth to rise from the pews and praise the Lord.

The ChatGPT chatbot, personified by an avatar of a bearded Black man on a huge screen above the altar, then began preaching to the more than 300 people who had shown up on Friday morning for an experimental Lutheran church service almost entirely generated by AI.

“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 avatar said with an expressionless face and monotonous voice.

The 40-minute service — including the sermon, prayers and music — was created by ChatGPT and Jonas Simmerlein, a theologian and philosopher from the University of Vienna.

“I conceived this service — but actually I rather accompanied it, because I would say about 98% comes from the machine,” the 29-year-old scholar told the Associated Press.

The AI church service was one of hundreds of events at the convention of Protestants in the Bavarian towns of Nuremberg and the neighboring Fuerth, and it drew such immense interest that people formed a long queue outside the 19th century, neo-Gothic building an hour before it began.

The convention itself — Deutscher Evangelischer Kirchentag in German — takes place every two years in the summer at a different place in Germany and draws tens of thousands of believers to pray, sing and discuss their faith. They also talk about current world affairs and look for solutions to key issues, which this year included global warming, the war in Ukraine — and artificial intelligence.

This year’s gathering is taking place from Wednesday to Sunday under the motto “Now is the time.” That slogan was one of the sentences Simmerlein fed ChatGPT when he asked the chatbot to develop the sermon.

“I told the artificial intelligence ‘We are at the church congress, you are a preacher … what would a church service look like?’” Simmerlein said. He also asked for psalms to be included, as well as prayers and a blessing at the end.

“You end up with a pretty solid church service,” Simmerlein said, sounding almost surprised by the success of his experiment.

Indeed, the believers in the church listened attentively as the artificial intelligence preached about leaving the past behind, focusing on the challenges of the present, overcoming fear of death, and never losing trust in Jesus Christ.

During an event organized by the Economic Times, OpenAI CEO Sam Altman told Indians, “You can try to build AI like ChatGPT, but you will fail.”

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