Welcome to the future. As time marches on, technologies that people only dreamed about 20 years ago are now commonplace. Small handheld cell phones have replaced the need for most maps, home phones, flashlights, cameras, video recorders, and more. Our cell phones can open the garage, change the temperature in our house, talk to someone at the front door, and even pour us a glass of water.
Technological advances have also impacted the church in significant ways. Today, congregants have the ability to check-in, chat, give, connect, offer prayer requests and even worship remotely. Although these advancements are amazing, the truth is the future is forever pressing forward.
Enter the Tech Revolution of the Church
A tech revolution is upon us and the future of the church may look very different than it does today. Developing technologies will touch every aspect of how we do church in the coming years. Artificial intelligence and deep learning will be used to plan upcoming sermon series while assessing the needs of a congregation. Drones will be used for security. Autonomous vehicles will ferry people to and from church services. Real-time translation and earbuds will revolutionize the multiethnic church movement. Also virtual reality and augmented reality will open new avenues for people to connect and engage with church content.
This will all be fueled by unprecedented growth in new technologies that include:
- Artificial Intelligence
- Virtual Reality
- Networks & Sensors
- BlockChain Technology
- Quantum Computing
- Transportation Breakthroughs
What is Artificial Intelligence (AI)?
IBM defines Artificial Intelligence as the ability to leverage computers and machines to mimic the problem-solving and decision-making capabilities of the human mind. The goal is to create computer programs with the ability to make rational decisions and accomplish tasks that typically require humans.
Where is this technology going next?
Artificial Intelligence is everywhere and continues to grow. It’s used in smart assistants like Siri and Alexa, in search results, self-driving cars, conversational bots, and through streaming recommendations. In the coming years, AI will more effectively understand visual and written clues in order to offer higher quality recommendations and interactions in an instant.
This means a smart assistant like Alexa may use video or voice recognition to know who’s speaking and offer tailor-made suggestions based on the user. Imagine a smart assistant waking you up to your favorite music, starting your coffee, turning on your lights to your preferred level, and bringing up a few news stories on a floating digital display as you head downstairs to start the day. Suggestions could change daily based on your mood and health. After analyzing traffic patterns, AI could be used to send a self-driving car to pick you up at your home at a specific time in order to arrive at work on time. On your trip to work, you get a call from your mobile service provider asking you about a security breach. After hanging up, you wonder whether you were chatting or speaking with a human or AI. At work, Artificial Intelligence could help prioritize your daily tasks, optimizing your to-do list based on your performance compared to your teammates. Lunch suggestions might be offered based on a scan of your health and nutritional needs. Overall, AI will grow to influence and impact every moment of your day.
How will Artificial Intelligence impact the future church?
A deep dive into data will help a pastor better understand the needs of the local church and surrounding community. AI may help identify ideal sermon topics along with stories and metaphors best suited to connect with congregants. Visual data may even offer real-time information on how congregants are responding to the service and suggest who may be interested in prayer or taking next steps in their faith journey.
Worship bands will find suggested worship sets based on active listening preferences of their congregation, connected with that week’s sermon topic. Churches will have the ability to know who’s attending with the ability to greet people by name as they enter the church building each week. In the future church, Artificial Intelligence will also cater discipleship paths and lessons for every individual, including volunteer and service opportunities ensured to fit their interests and schedule.
What is Virtual Reality?
As a concept, Virtual Reality refers to digital technology that completely replaces one’s environment. This typically happens while an individual is wearing a headset. There are two subsets to this topic worth addressing, Augmented Reality and Holograms.
Augmented Reality refers to layering virtual objects on top of the real world. These are most often seen today through the use of one’s phone or through some sort of augmented-reality glasses.
Holograms are virtual objects that appear in the real world.
Where is this technology going next?
Virtual Reality technology will increasingly be utilized in education, gaming, military training, architectural design, social skills training, and surgical simulation. New technological advances will enable people to interact with a live hologram. The line between what is virtual and what is real will blur as holograms and other virtual reality experiences will include taste, touch, and smell.
Education: Teachers could appear in a student’s living room or a virtual student could appear within a classroom. Virtual students will be able to interact with one another. Teachers will be able to offer their students more immersive learning experiences.
Military Training: Military personnel will be able to experience live combat in training with this technology. Officers will also be able to use holograms and augmented reality to more effectively plan upcoming missions.
Architectural Design: Building designs will be explored and checked through the use of augmented reality. A future building inspector may begin by virtually inspecting a hologram of a future building plan, followed by a virtual inspection of the actual build.
Social Skills Training: Individuals will practice social skills with a robot hologram or through augmented reality. The program will offer live feedback and suggestions.
Surgical Simulation: Future surgery training will happen through augmented reality. 3-D holograms of body scans will also offer doctors new ways to diagnose and treat patients.
Entertainment: Mixed reality is already impacting football stadiums across the country. This technology will continue to improve and expand. Imagine the hologram of a team’s mascot towering above an opponent before they hike the ball in an attempt to score.
How will Virtual Reality impact the future church?
The rise of Virtual Reality presents many possibilities for the future church. Congregants may one day virtually attend a virtual church, complete with virtual small group Bible study. Virtual Reality will also enable someone to fully engage in the front row of a church service, while sitting on their couch at home.
With the rise of holograms, entire church services will take place in the middle of someone’s home or other venue, enabling a whole new way to start new church campuses. Augmented reality will enable pastors to give an immersive live tour of the Holy Land in Israel, or offer an immersive first-person perspective video to help apply a sermon point. Immersive taste and smells will be added as sermon illustrations, including offering immersive virtual communion.
When attending a church in person a virtual greeter could greet a family as they enter the church parking lot, help direct a first-time attender to the church’s main service or share visual easy-to-follow lines that will show someone wearing Augmented Reality glasses where to find the children’s ministry. Virtual and Augmented Reality will also enable congregants to experience a church service live in their native language. Church members will be able to communicate in real-time with people speaking other languages, creating a church environment where people from all over the world can worship together while speaking different languages. Virtual Reality will revolutionize the future of the church in countless ways.
What are Networks?
Networks refer to the ability to share information electronically. The increasing ability to share more information at faster speeds is opening up opportunities to use new technologies.
Where is this technology going next?
Wireless speeds are now rivaling fiber-optic cables with the newly released 5G networks. The use of 5G will enable more wireless devices to communicate at faster speeds than ever before. Reliable real-time communication will open the door for new wearable and even implantable devices that can track and monitor people’s health. Soon surgery with the use of robots could even be done remotely. High-speed communication also opens the door to fully-autonomous driving as cars will begin to communicate with each other and eventually the highway itself.
The advent of 5G technology creates new opportunities as the internet of things gives way to the Internet of Everything (IoE). More than merely interconnected devices, the Internet of Everything refers to connecting people, data, processes, and things together through powerful intelligent networks.
How will Networks impact the future church?
Faster, interconnected networks will help churches connect with visitors in new ways. A website’s Plan a Visit page will include an option to be picked up by an autonomous vehicle. On the trip to church, the visiting family can learn about the church, in a way that is catered specifically to their needs.
New network speeds will create opportunities for hologram guest speakers and 360-degree fully remote viewing. Also, the church will see augmented-reality sermon illustrations where the speaker can make it snow in the worship center, or share the stage with a historical figure. The possibilities of what the future church will see, hear, and experience within worship services are endless, as blazing fast networks will be able to transfer tons of data almost instantaneously.
What are Sensors?
This technology refers to exciting new ways cameras and sensors are being used to interpret and understand human behavior. Sensors can be used to turn human thought into action.
Where is this technology going next?
The combination of super-fast networks and cheaper and more powerful cameras will create new opportunities in the future. Powerful facial recognition software will be able to identify if individuals are feeling agitated or elated. This knowledge will help security identify potential threats before they become full-fledged problems. Facial recognition will also be used to identify shoppers before they enter a store, enabling the store to cater to the shopper’s individual needs and preferences.
New Neural Interfaces will change the medical field forever. Sensors placed inside the brain will help paraplegics to walk again, an individual to interact fluidly with a robotic arm through thought alone, and quadriplegics to fully interact with the outside world. Eventually, Neural Interfaces will become common enough that almost everyone will use them to interact with their digital world. Imagine starting your car, turning on the coffee pot, locking your house, writing a report, or setting an alarm with merely a thought. Sensors like Facial Recognition and Neural Interfaces will change how we all interact online and in the world.
How will Sensors impact the future church?
Facial recognition software combined with powerful new cameras will help take church attendance each Sunday. The cameras will also be able to assess the mood of everyone as they enter and leave the service each week. These metrics will be used to assess the success of service each week. This data could also track individuals feeling unhappy at the church and may be thinking about leaving. Recognizing families as they park will enable greeters to warmly welcome families by name as they approach each Sunday, automatically informing children’s ministry and even offering a personalized digital program each week.
What is Blockchain Technology?
Blockchain is a method of recording information in a way that makes it very difficult to change, hack, or cheat the software. A blockchain is primarily a digital ledger of transactions that is duplicated and distributed across the entire network of computer systems on the blockchain.
Each block in the chain contains a number of transactions, and every time a new transaction occurs on the blockchain, a record of that transaction is added to every participant’s ledger. The decentralized database managed by multiple participants is known as Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT).
Blockchain is a type of DLT in which transactions are recorded with an immutable cryptographic signature called a hash. This means if one block in one chain was changed, it would be immediately apparent it had been tampered with. If hackers wanted to corrupt a blockchain system, they would have to change every block in the chain, across all of the distributed versions of the chain.
Where is this technology going next?
Over the next few years, blockchain will revolutionize every system requiring secured transactions. New decentralized currencies will grow in popularity, enabling quick and safe bank transactions anywhere and to anyone. These transactions will save time and money as they will not require multiple levels of record reconciliations.
Blockchain will also revolutionize other industries as well. In healthcare blockchain technology will offer a safe way to store records. Property records will be recorded using blockchain, offering a transparent and secure way to transfer property or other official records. This technology will be utilized to increase security, transparency, and speed for all financial and other sensitive data transfers.
How will Blockchain Technology impact the future church?
One of the biggest problems with current church giving platforms and church data management is the lack of security and privacy. Blockchain technology could ensure that all giving would happen securely, protecting congregants and churches from potential hacking. This technology could also ensure transparency in banking transactions, helping protect a church from internal issues of fraud. As churches gather more data and process more financial transactions, the move to blockchain technology will become very important for the future church.
What are Robots?
The most common definition of a robot is a machine that senses, thinks, and acts. This definition suggests that robots utilize some sort of body or machine that interacts in the real world. Using this definition, a vacuuming robot like the Roomba would be considered a robot, along with many washing machines and dishwashers.
Some computer programs or physical machines maintain parts of the definition, but are still not considered robots. For example, chatbots and smart assistants like Siri and Alexa may be sophisticated computer programs, but are not robots. Also physical machines like drones may have a body and perform prescribed functions, but most are not robots. As time moves on the line between what is and isn’t a robot will become blurred.
Where is this technology going next?
Faster wireless technology will open new doors for smarter robots in the coming years. Also, the Internet of Things (IoT) will create new opportunities for more machines to become interactive robots than ever before. The future of robots can be broken down into three categories: robots, drones and cars, and smart assistants.
Machines that sense, think, and act are developing at a rapid pace. Robots will soon be able to mimic most human movements and even facial expressions. These intelligent machines will become especially useful in the military and industry. Robots will be able to go places unsafe for human troops in order to limit casualties. The use of robots in industry will increase productivity while limiting errors.
In the coming years, robots will appear almost everywhere. Imagine visiting a robot therapist or doctor, ordering from a robot waiter, and even learning from a robot teacher. The line between machine and robot will blur as some robots may look more like humans while other intelligent and sensing machines will continue to look like an electronic device.
Imagine a yard that mows and waters itself when it senses the need for those activities. Also, your house could choose to open or close your blinds while adjusting your house temperature to the ideal setting. Your car could sense your mood as you head home and prepare ideal lighting and music. As the cost of personal robots decreases over time, families will have robots prepare dinner and do laundry. For many moms and dads, relinquishing these responsibilities alone is enough reason to march toward a robot-filled future.
2- Drones and Cars:
As drones increase their ability to think, they will be utilized for deliveries and security. In the future drones will be able to scout and assess threats. Police stations will send drones ahead of a human unit. Concert venues and football games will utilize drones to scan crowds for danger.
Flying and driving drones will deliver everything from pizza to packages. These autonomous robots will determine the ideal route and determine the best place to drop off your package. They may also determine whether it would be safe to make your delivery at all. Pretty soon our sky and roads will be full of drones delivering everything from A to Z.
Self-driving cars have the potential to change everything we know about driving in the future. Trucking companies will move to fully automated fleets. Many people may stop owning cars and will instead pay a monthly subscription to be taken anywhere they wish to go. Eventually the number of self-driving cars on the road will far surpass the number of cars with human drivers.
3- Smart Assistants:
Smart assistants like Siri and Alexa will be able to do more and more over time. As these smart assistants become even smarter, they’ll be able to engage in full conversations with the user. They will automatically identify voices and learn the preferences of their users. They’ll connect to almost every item in the house and remind a homeowner to take the dog out, change the laundry, or ask if they want their favorite show recorded knowing they’ll miss it due to their child’s soccer game.
Similarly, chatbots will become more intelligent, blurring the line between chatting with a human or bot. Almost all major companies will utilize chat bots to solve most customer concerns. Online therapy will eventually use chat bots as well. These smart programs will naturally interact with human users almost as well as any human user ever could.
How will Robots impact the future church?
The use of robots will change the nature of service projects in the future. A church will send a few robotic mowers to a neighborhood and offer to mow their grass for free as an act of service. Churches could purchase a car and offer free rides to the elderly. Refrigerators within a community could let a church know what items are needed and one week a church could automatically pay for and send milk (or another common item) to everyone needing it.
Robot drones will scan church parking lots for safety. Intelligent delivery robots will also be sent to drop off gifts to new visitors. Self-driving cars will meet new visitors at their house and offer them a VIP guest experience. Many churches will employ Christian therapy bots (or even robots) in order to offer in depth counseling beyond the pastor’s ability.
The increase of intelligent machines will create new opportunities for the local church to connect with and serve their local community. Smart bots will enable them to offer expert resources for the first time. Robots, drones, and smart assistants could help the church become a hub for local help and service once more.
What is Quantum Computing?
Quantum computers are a developing technology that enable scientists to consider the most complex problems. Traditional computers work in 0s and 1s and logically work through problems one step at a time. On the other hand, quantum computers consider all possible solutions at the same time, enabling them to handle very complex questions. This means solving a complex problem may take a traditional computer one week where the same problem would take a quantum computer 1 second to solve. Presently, quantum computers are about 158 million times faster than today’s fastest supercomputer- that’s pretty fast.
Where is this technology going next?
Quantum technology will be used in encryption, making copying transactions nearly impossible. The use of this technology will solve previously unsolvable questions. These powerful computers will help identify more effective drugs while also wading through complex climate and health data. The information they uncover will improve every technology in use today while opening the door for new technologies that were previously only dreamed about in science fiction movies. In many ways this technology is still in its infancy so its practical applications continue to develop.
How will Quantum Computing impact the future church?
Churches will enjoy the results of quantum computing in the coming years. These computers will be used to help churches identify individuals in their community in need and mostly likely to accept an invitation to church. quantum computers will even help indicate the type of invitation or service most likely to elicit a response. These powerful machines may be the backbone of future financial transactions within the church. Combined with blockchain technology, quantum computing will make every church transaction completely secure. These complex computer systems may help churches make sense of all the data they collect on the individuals of their church, painting a clear picture of their needs, concerns, and engagement level.
The Impact of New Technologies on the Future Church
Whether the church likes it or not, every new technology will eventually impact the way we connect with and serve our local community. Having explored multiple technologies, it will be important to consider how these future technologies may impact the future of the church.
In the future transportation will become “shared, electric, and automated”. This means churches will either need to own a small fleet of cars to aid in Sunday morning attendance or subscribe to an automated ride-sharing service to help their congregants and visitors arrive at church. This same service will also be used during the week to help those in need attend doctor appts. and other important visits.
The rise of autonomous driving will impact churches in other surprising ways. Congregants may move farther from their jobs than ever before. This means families may also choose to attend churches farther away than ever before. The future church will need to figure out how to serve the needs of their local community while congregants live over an hour away.
Churches will also need to identify the best way to redeem “ride time”. Special virtual content will need to be created to help families connect and grow on their way to and from a church service. Could “ride time” become the new Sunday school hour? Will churches offer in-person and virtual lessons together for those on their way to church? Churches could also share announcements and prepare congregants for the morning’s church experience- while on their way to church.
New Ways to Attend
Today, individuals have the opportunity to attend church physically or watch online. The future church will include many more ways for people to attend. Cameras set up in the first few rows could offer a virtual front row seat to any service. Virtual headsets could create opportunities for a fully online and “in-person” option using avatars. Congregant avatars could show up virtually, find a seat, chat with others, and watch a service together.
In the future, the use of holograms will also fully bring a “live” church service to any location. This will open up the next level of “church at home” where a congregant will invite their neighbors to their home to enjoy a fully live experience of a hologram church. The advent of these new online technologies will open the door for a local church to connect with and minister to people across the globe. Smaller local churches should make sure they keep up with these new technologies as the attendance practices of congregants may change drastically in the coming years.
New Ways to Teach and Learn
Individuals in the future will be able to submit their Bible knowledge level to receive a sermon catered to that level. The growth of virtual reality sermons will become increasingly popular. Pastors won’t just talk about a small city in France- they’ll transport their entire congregation to that location through the use of augmented and virtual reality. A new church visitor won’t have to imagine how tall Goliath was from the Bible, they’ll be able to actually see Goliath on the stage through augmented reality and eventually through the use of a hologram. The ability to use touch, taste, and smells will only add to the experience of these technologies within the church.
New Ways to Advertise
Today, individuals are familiar with the idea of being able to scan an image or take a photo and conduct a visual search on Google, Amazon or Pinterest. Well, in the future, digital information will be encoded into furniture, homes and yes, even the four walls of the church.
Imagine someone walking into the foyer of the church building and a digital greeter emerges, welcoming guests and sharing the events for the day. The person is then replaced by a floating display of options from Children’s Center to Find the Restroom to a Missions video sharing all that the church is doing to help people around the world. It’s the power of the church at their fingertips from the moment they walk in the door.
This will be the first impression reimagined. Now, while leaders and members connect with friends and visitors on a deeper, more personal level, guests will be able to navigate seamlessly through the church experience that pastors and church leaders have designed for them.
As they enter the Children’s Area, digital motion sensors will automatically be triggered and provide gentle guidance to their children’s classroom. Labor demands of church volunteering will be greatly eased as visual search options fill in the blanks and answer some of your first time visitors’ most common questions.
The applications will be endless, from applying for financial support to requesting counseling, churches will design and replicate a consistent experience, culture, language from guest to guest.
Smart Recommendations in smart glasses
As smart recommendations are made across devices and technologies, smart technology will get smarter. As AI technologies aggregate more knowledge and insights about human behavior, smart recommendations become more personalized, guiding your purchases and anticipating your every need.
New technologies such as augmented-reality glasses or smart glasses have already emerged. As this technology expands and becomes more readily available, layers of information will exist that are invisible to the naked eye. As smart glass wearers enter the church, they will be able to discreetly research background information on your sermon, the cost of the new drum set or five translations of the scripture, with a simple command. With more data available with a blink of an eye, people will begin to discern what to tune in and what to tune out with a blink of an eye.
With a few minutes of video and audio recording, technologies currently exist that are able to mimic the voices of pastors and leaders in your church organization. As these technologies expand, these capabilities will expand your leadership’s influence and ability to add a personal touch to every area of church service you could fathom.
Hyper personalization will take your members and guests’ personalized preferences, favorites list and online history to create a hyper-personalized digital experience that will be tough to ignore. Imagine having a guest walk up to the information center at your church and your attendant immediately greets them by name, asking them how their children are doing and mentioning the concert they enjoyed last month. Hyper personalization will provide a digital fingerprint for every individual to optimize their own custom church experience.
It doesn’t stop there. As church guests head home for the week, your church will be able to communicate using voice mimicking technology to give them an in-touch connection with the pastors of your church. Picture them receiving an email where the Pastor mentions their name directly, inviting them to your next in-person experience. Segmentation capabilities will amplify this hyper personalized experience, adding a personal touch to every phone call, email or outreach point with new members, guests and friends.
Another technological advancement that will shape the future of church and the world as we know it is deep-fake technology. A deep fake can replicate the human image using existing images and videos to map them onto a new image or video to create a fake video.
People will begin to lose trust in advertising as AI technology creates a new virtual reality that is so believable that it will be difficult to distinguish what is real from what is fake. This technology will transfer subtle details such as eye movements, head position, eye gaze, eye blink rate and more to create an artificial reality that will make in-person connection all the more important.
As society loses faith in advertising, the applications of Artificial Intelligence will be used to make personalized choices ranging from toothpaste choice to church selection. For churches, this means people may ask their digital Artificial Intelligence assistants to recommend churches based on specific details such as ministry programs, service opportunities, congregation size, denomination and other general preferences.
By the time AI digital assistants, imagine the hyper-personalization and general database of knowledge available to impact a person’s decision to attend a church or not – from details such as service schedule to recent conversations.
New ways to Counsel and Minister
Pastors will record multiple videos that will be used by intelligent bots to offer realistic “live” responses to all kinds of questions about the church, faith, and life. Individuals seeking answers to real-life questions will be offered individualized content, sermons, scriptures, and other resources. All content will cater to the specific needs of the individual seeking support.
Most churches will subscribe to a counseling service that will offer round-the-clock “live” counseling. The counseling will be done by trained bots. The bots could look like a staff member of the church, or someone similar to the person seeking counseling. The counseling bots will listen to the individual looking for help and respond accordingly. The experience will blur the line between what is real and what is not as the counseling bots will show real connection with the person seeking counseling.
Preparing for the Future Church
Preparing for the future is difficult as new technologies are constantly developing. As soon as a church adopts a new technology it can feel like that technology suddenly changes in one way or another. As soon as your church begins to use one social media platform, that platform becomes obsolete and another one pops up in its place. On top of this, churches face three major challenges when it comes to preparing for the future of the church.
1. Budget Challenges:
Every church faces budget challenges. A church’s budget can limit their ability to utilize new technologies. In order to spend wisely churches typically wait until new technology becomes commonly used technology.
2. Getting Leadership on Board:
Some church staff and leadership are not interested in changing too much from how things are currently done. They are comfortable with the way their church currently does ministry and aren’t interested in the cost (emotional and financial) of technological advancement.
3. Finding Experienced Volunteers:
Sometimes starting a ministry isn’t the difficult part- keeping that ministry going is the real challenge. A passionate volunteer may have experience with a specific platform and offer to lead that ministry. But what happens when that volunteer steps down or moves away? Church staff are often already busy and don’t have the capacity to add new technologies to their weekly to-do list.
Although churches face multiple challenges while navigating new technologies, their ongoing effort is essential. As time marches forward, the local church can not give up on the changing needs of their communities. Change may present new challenges for the church, but these changes are necessary for the church to impact and enlighten every dark corner of the globe with the good news of God’s love.
The challenge of change was highlighted during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Churches that avoided new technology for years quickly realized that not having a website, the ability to stream their services, or a way for people to give online, had the power to make them obsolete overnight.
The good news is technology changes don’t have to happen overnight. In order to protect your church from eventual obsolescence, consider the following 3 suggestions:
1. Be Open to New Technologies:
Your church’s path toward the future will begin with an open attitude toward technology. Be open to listening to what’s new and be open to learning about it. Join church groups that discuss new technology and ask questions.
2. Do One Thing Well:
As you learn about new ideas it can be easy to get overwhelmed. Instead of trying to do everything, start small and choose to do one thing well. Starting with one new technology will give you time to develop and train a volunteer team to use it. This will help your new technology to take hold within the church for long-term success.
3. Keep Taking Small Steps:
Starting with one new technology is a good place to start, but it’s only a start. The local church is called to outreach. This means we have to go out and reach people where they are. Changing technology impacts where and how people who are in need, search for support and spiritual connection. You don’t need to do everything at once, but if you choose to continually take small steps, you’ll be ready for the future.
Hope for the Church of the Future
As Christians, we serve the God of every tomorrow. He is never surprised by people or concerned about the future. He knows what tomorrow brings and is perfectly at peace. His church will march on and make a difference in the world.
As pastors and parishioners, we may not have power over what happens in the world, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a part to play. We have a choice regarding whether or not we’ll stay stuck in the ways of the past, or reach out to new people in new ways using new technology. We’re not called to be everything to everyone, but we are called to do the most with what we’ve been given. As the times change dear church, may you be challenged to take purposeful steps forward toward a future.