On Sept. 8, 1966 (or Stardate 1513.1) Captain Kirk introduced the world to the idea of voice-activated technology.
Kirk sat pensively at a desk, conversing with his computer and gleaning information from its verbal responses. Half a century before its time, the creators of Star Trek captured in science fiction a reality that many of us almost take for granted today.
Today, voice technology is becoming an ubiquitous, seamless part of our lives. Millions of our vehicles have voice-activated functions to make Bluetooth phone calls, play SiriusXM radio stations and even adjust the car temperature. Even more prevalent are smart speakers in our homes. Between Amazon Alexa, Google Home and the Apple HomePod, in 2018 one in six Americans had a smart speaker (or more than one), according to NPR. The number is only increasing.
But voice technology doesn’t just live in our vehicles and on our kitchen counters — we carry voice tech with us nearly everywhere. Anywhere you go, people are speaking to their smartwatches and smartphones saying “OK, Google,” or “Hey, Siri.” Smart voice technology is becoming deeply integrated into the modern American experience — and may soon play a role in our faith communities and ministry.
The most helpful interactions with our devices now let us set and receive reminders and consume media. Smart speakers are most useful for “reading” audiobooks, listening to podcasts or asking our connected TVs to play a YouTube channel or Netflix show.
As you tap into the ways people most frequently interact with their smart devices, you can utilize the technology in ways that will be truly useful for ministry. Some methods may work best when utilizing Google Actions or Amazon Skills — these are like apps for your voice-activated device. Google Actions generally work by default. To use Skills with Alexa, browse amazon.com or ask your device to add one.
Here are four ways to use voice technology to engage our faith and engage congregants in the life of the church:
1. Fostering a healthy prayer life
How many times in small groups or Sunday morning fellowship do you hear “I’ll pray for you?” It can be easy to forget to pray for specific needs. Encourage congregations to ask their smartphones or Apple Watches to create a prayer list (Apple will create it in the Reminders app). Add new prayer requests with a simple voice command such as “Hey Siri, add ‘Pray for Jenny’s upcoming surgery’ to my prayer list.” For recurring prayer needs (like praying for the pastor’s sermon preparation), you can activate your voice assistant and say, “Remind me every Friday at 7 a.m. to pray for my pastor.”
We can encourage using voice technology to move toward a fuller prayer life by:
- Doing it ourselves.
- Suggesting it through social media posts.
- Promoting it with email updates to our church.
2. Refreshing your soul with sermons at home
Are your pastor’s sermons recorded and published as podcast episodes? If so, invite members to ask their smart speaker at home to play the sermon again mid-week as a great way to stay engaged and refreshed in the Lord.
Siri is great for podcasts. You may want to encourage parishioners using Google Home and Amazon Alexa to add a Google Action or Amazon Skill such as AnyPod to make listening even easier. If the sermons have been published to your church’s YouTube channel, those with smart devices connected to their TVs can ask them to play the videos, making it easy to re-watch sermons.
3. Rehearsing the basics of your faith
Catechisms are an ancient way to present and learn the core teachings of Christianity through a simple question-and-answer format. Now you can learn and practice various catechisms with your smart device! Third-party catechism Skills, such as “Luther’s Catechism,” have been created for Amazon Alexa.
If you have a tech-savvy person in your church who likes to code, you can develop your own Skills or Google Actions! With a little work, you can create your own catechisms to engage your church family throughout the week.
4. Hear the word of God (but not the voice of God!)
All smart speakers can read the Bible to you. All you need to do to hear scripture is to ask your smart device to read a specific book, chapter and verse of the Bible: “OK Google, read The Gospel of John chapter 15 to me.”
With some more tech-savvy elbow grease, a Skill or Action could be created where church congregants could say, “Read me the sermon text for this Sunday,” allowing them to start preparing for Sunday worship service.
What amazing uses of voice technology for ministry can you dream up? How are you using voice tech in your home, in your pocket or on your wrist to engage your faith? We want to hear from you!
Jon Watson is a long-time marketing and communications expert with a heart for ministry. He and his family are currently serving as missionaries, and are passionate about discipleship and church planting for revitalization and revival. He has served in communications director and management roles for tech startups, a Bible software company and United Methodist Communications.