Voice Assistants and the Church

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

In the 1960’s voice assistants were the thing of science fiction. James T. Kirk was talking to the computer onboard the USS Enterprise, or the world of A Space Odyssey with HAL 9000.

But now the things of ‘science fiction’ are now a thing of ‘science fact’. It is just assumed that your new phone will come with something like Siri and Google Assistant built in. Asking Alexa if you need to pack an umbrella as you leave, or asking Siri to play your new favourite tune, for some people, has become second nature.

But what place can voice assistants have as we walk as Christians in a digital world?

Early Doors – Some of the first Christian Voice Assistant Apps

Unsurprisingly, Life.Church, the church behind the Bible App, were one of the first groups to enter the market. Their Google Assistant app and Amazon Echo skill enable you to look up a passage and have your device read you specific passages from the Bible translation of your choice. This results in a great way to help you engage with scripture as you listen as it is read to you.

Two years ago at Kingdom Code BUILD, a weekend event for Christians who are involved in making and shaping technology, a team of developers and designers started to explore the, then new, capabilities of the Amazon Echo. Over the course of the weekend they built BibleChat – a skill for the Amazon Echo which works to answer the top questions that Non-Christians and Christians alike have about the Jesus, the Bible and Christianity.

Once installed, the skill works like this: you simply ask Alexa questions like ‘Can you tell me who Jesus is?’ or more broadly, ‘Tell me about the meaning of life’. BibleChat then responds with a short answer, and gives the option for more details to be sent to your phone, giving Bible references and places to dig deeper.

‘Find me a church!’

Or take for example the latest project to come out of the Church of England’s digital media team. It pairs up two things that they are well known for, A Church Near You and Prayer of the Day.

Download their skill onto your Amazon Echo and you’re suddenly able to find the C of E church closest to your location, just by asking Alexa where the nearest church is and when it meets. Or, if you’re struggling to pray, Alexa can read the prayer for the day so you can pray along.

Upskilling – some helpful applications

Those are three examples of specific applications made for the voice assistants, but let’s not forget the built in features of our smart devices.

There are tools already built in which can help us work out our faith.

Things like the reminder feature; ‘Ok Google, remind me this evening to pray for…’

Or other simple things like when you’re driving like getting Siri to call the friend who God has put on your heart to encourage them. Perhaps you like to listen to music while you read your Bible? How about creating a quiet time playlist and each morning getting Alexa to play it for you as you read. Or if you’re working your way through a recent Christian paperback, Alexa can read the e-book version out loud to you.

To infinity… and beyond!

That’s a small sample of where things are at right now… but what place do they have in the future of the church?

Well, for that you’ll have to come along to Premier Digital Conference in November where I’ll be speaking alongside Amaris Cole from the Church of England and James Poulter from Lego about voice assistants within the church.

Alternatively, if you are a developer, a designer, or have an idea for a voice assistant tool to equip the church join Kingdom Code BUILD in London, on 19–20 October where we’ll be spending the weekend exploring and building new tools to equip the global church.

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