Ensuring Churches are Helped, Not Hindered, By AI-Informed Searches

Ensuring Churches are Helped, Not Hindered, By AI-Informed Searches


Exploring the Intersection of AI and Church Leadership: Part Two

Microsoft has made a media splash lately due to its partnership with OpenAI, the artificial intelligence (AI) company that developed ChatGPT.  ChatGPT was the topic of my first article in this series, found here, which focused on how ChatGPT intersects with the life of the church.

On February 7, 2023, Microsoft announced that it had integrated Prometheus, the technology based on the ChatGPT large language model, into Bing, Microsoft’s own search engine. Google was quick to follow, unveiling its own AI ChatBot called BARD which is based on Google's Language Model for Dialogue Applications (LaMDA). Even though BARD stumbled when asked a question about the latest discoveries of the James Webb Telescope, both announcements indicate that the way we search for information on the web is changing very quickly.  Bing’s meteoric rise in market share is a good indicator that search is shifting from a link-based model to a conversational model. Instead of spending time sifting through search results that point to websites that may or may not contain the information that are you looking for, a search based on generative AI promises to present data that is synthesized and in a conversational manner. 

For example, here are the results of a Bing search simulating the queries of a person interested in exploring UCC churches near my hometown:


As you can see from the excerpt of my initial search above it appears that the Prometheus-enhanced Bing scrubs a wide cross-section of the web in real time in an attempt to answer a query. That makes it different from traditional search queries on Google or pre-Prometheus Bing, which rely on keyword matching to find relevant content. For now it is also more up-to-date than ChatGPT, which provides information derived from the time of its training in 2021 (for example, as of this writing, ChatGTP does not recognize that Russia invaded Ukraine in February of 2022).

This new way of searching has an important implication for our churches. Search based on generative AI that actively scrubs the web to answer questions posed elevates the importance of accurate, comprehensive, and current church webpages. For example, someone may want to know, "What time is worship on Sunday?" or "How should I dress?" Your community may have been meeting on Sunday at 10 AM for the past ten years and values casual dress on Sunday. But if your web presence does not indicate this, then a prospective visitor using generative AI-based search will not know this, and they will move on. As search becomes conversational, users will ask deeper and more specific questions and might even make decisions without ever clicking a link to your website. So it is crucial that those AI searches can find information on your website on behalf of users.
Is searching with Generative AI perfect? No, far from it. But all signs point to the expansion of generative AI in search. At the time of this writing, Microsoft has an interesting advantage in search, but Google is also making strides and it will be interesting to see how their implementation of generative AI will intersect with Google search. Meta, parent of Facebook, Instagram, and Reels, just announced that a high-level team has been created to incorporate generative AI across all Meta platforms. Congregations can take time now to reflect on what is important and unique about their setting and ensure that these characteristics are fully reflected on the web and social platforms. 

Stay tuned for further updates as this technology rapidly advances. 

Next up: Learn about the latest updates in our Conference's presence in the Metaverse. 


eric elley - collar.jpg
Eric M. Elley

Eric Elley provides consultant services to Conference churches that need assistance defining and creating a digital presence. Eric can: Recommend hardware and software solutions for digital ministry that fit within your church's budget and technical...

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