In a packed church in Fuerth, Germany, the AI chatbot called ChatGPT took the stage and urged the believers to rise and worship. The chatbot, represented by a large screen displaying the image of a bearded Black man, proceeded to deliver a sermon to over 300 attendees during an experimental Lutheran church service.
“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 entire 40-minute service, including prayers, music, and the sermon, was generated by ChatGPT and Jonas Simmerlein, a theologian and philosopher from the University of Vienna. The service was “led” by four different avatars on the screen, consisting of two young women and two young men.
“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.
At times, the AI-generated avatar unintentionally laughter from the congregation with its use of clichés, such as suggesting that maintaining faith requires regular prayer and church attendance, delivered with a straight face.
Some attendees enthusiastically recorded the event with their cell phones, while others viewed it with skepticism and chose not to participate audibly during The Lord’s Prayer.
Heiderose Schmidt, a 54-year-old IT worker, initially felt excited and curious about the service but became increasingly put off as it progressed.
“There was no heart and no soul,” she said. “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,” Schmidt added.
On the other hand, Marc Jansen, a 31-year-old Lutheran pastor from Troisdorf, brought a group of teenagers from his congregation and found the experiment impressive.
“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,” Jansen said.
However, the young pastor felt that the service lacked the emotional and spiritual aspects that he considers essential when crafting his own sermons.