The Next Wave of Digital Ministry: What to Expect in 2023
From AI to AR: The Cutting-Edge Tech Changing Digital Ministry
As we break into 2023, it may feel overwhelming for the digital minister to decide where to innovate. But still - innovation is essential to this field, and the tech world will stop for no one. Given the highlights of 2022, including the wildly unexpected ChatGPT and workspace redefining Meta Quest Pro, here are three of my leanings toward how digital ministry will change in the coming year.
AI Will Forever Shift The Workload
It’s not hyperbolic to state that ChatGPT changed how we view AI technology. While the currently-free AI resource requires some user experience to master fully, savvy digital ministers will use it in 2023 to change how their work gets done to make more room for relationship building.
ChatGPT is more than a search engine. While it is fun to utilize it to answer questions about HTTP processes or building recipes, the magic of ChatGPT is found in maximizing the output of its functionality for your existing content creation cycle in your ministry.
Do you write blogs?
ChatGPT should be fed those blogs and then produce those blurbs and tweets you’ve been too busy to make for years. It can draw out themes and elements from the blog to create a list of search-engine-optimized tags for you to apply to the metadata.
Do you preach?
ChatGPT should be fed your transcript and produce quotes to share throughout the week. It can create questions based on themes for further study and application. It can even brainstorm a series of similarly themed sermons to create a series of other messages to accompany the one you’ve crafted. While it can do the exegetical part for you, it can save time in between.
Do you administrate?
ChatGPT can be fed the information that you have (be careful with personal information, of course) and produce clever ways of working through it. Not all ministers have assistants or secretaries. Imagine utilizing ChatGPT to make one of the dozen areas on your job description easier.
I predict we will see more pre-built models that cleverly use ChatGPT to build out these exact things listed above, but you can be ahead of the curve by teaching yourself these practices now with the rough tool we’ve been given.
VR Still Isn’t Ready, But AR Will Push It Forward
If you’ve paid even the slightest attention to the digital church since 2020, you’ve seen the burgeoning field of virtual-reality-based ministry. One of my peers in digital ministry has even made it the sole focus of one of his ministries. While I am excited about the Church utilizing it, I am skeptical about the existing application of general VR technology. I don’t personally put too much trust in Meta as a company to administer the product. I’m also not sure we’ve reached the level of impact that other technology platforms have for community building, such as Twitch, YouTube, Discord, etc.
Unless a new third-party developer crafts an application that excels on this factor, I don’t foresee [VR] changing much in 2023.
Altspace is good at highlighting spaces, and VRChat is getting at catching attention, but neither has the casual relationship-building element of the leaders in the field. Developers are more focused on figuring out how to make this medium interesting still rather than how to make it communal. Unless a new third-party developer crafts an application that excels on this factor, I don’t foresee this changing much in 2023. Perhaps 2024 will be the year we see the shift happen after some work proves effective this year, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.
VR is only for the digital minister who has a five-year plan and is laying the foundation now, not the one looking for a current launch.
However - AR (augmented reality) will potentially push the medium the most this year. Several companies are vying for attention with augmented technology. Assuming their craft is more Google Pixel and less Google Glass, this is likely the preferred and more affordable avenue into the metaversal space.
Community Curation is Critical
Truthfully, this has been the recurring siren song of the digital ministry field for years, but digital ministers must take it seriously. In a world of more communities and content creators by the minute, the digital minister must make every effort to share the workload with their peers. I plan to break this process down further in a future post on Pixel & Pulpit. Still, the mentality behind the Twitch model of raiding other communities should be paramount in all of our community-building efforts.
The Church has long fallen victim to the island mentality and divided itself into chunks that seemingly cannot share space. What the nerds have determined that the Church is loathe to confess is that there is room for more than one community in a person’s life. The days of having one pastor are gone.
Highlighting the work of other communities is essential not only for their growth but also for the relevance of all communities in the space.
Your average church member is sharing their attention between dozens of communities - we should celebrate when any of those others are religious. We should lift our funny Christian streamer friend who has a community. Surely they would be a better community than the several-million-subscribers generic YouTuber they could be watching instead. Highlighting the work of other communities is essential not only for their growth but also for the relevance of all communities in the space.
We are better together. And the Internet is allowing us to prove that through well-considered curation of other communities that we would be glad to see our members share.
World 1-1 Complete
These are just a few of the predictions that I have for 2023. I’m confident we will see some unexpected things come out of the year. Like any other year, we should be using the tools and skills to provide more time for the critical work of relationship-building. We innovate not for innovation's sake but for the last, least, and lost person needing a friend, a mentor, or someone to listen for right now.
What would you predict for 2023? Leave a comment below, engaging the community with your thoughts. Still trying to figure it out? Peruse the comments and weigh in on the ideas of someone who shares below.
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Community is one of the few things that AI will not as easily replace yet. It can already write a better sermon outline than most, but it can't bring people together (yet). Community will be even more important in the future moving forward for both streamers and pastors when an AI can be live 24/7 or releasing content constantly.
This is amazing! I literally just quoted ChatGPT in my sermon this week (as in yesterday!) after prompting it to write a sermon on the importance of baptism in The United Methodist Church. For a quick response, ChatGPT pretty much had all the theology that I would be looking for in an response by one of my students or an incoming candidate for ministry. I was impressed, and I had to share that with my congregation.
I'm interested in how we can learn more from these models and programs in order to utilize them in a way that is more functional towards our ministries.