When the internet was introduced to the general public in the early 1990s, it was met with a mix of emotions. Some were enthralled by the idea of being able to easily connect with others online and access vast amounts of information. Others remained skeptical, concerned about the trustworthiness, reliability and privacy. Many held a genuine curiosity.
Now, it’s hard to imagine life without the internet. It has fundamentally changed communication, business, media and daily life.
Enter artificial intelligence (AI).
AI has exploded into the public eye as tools like ChatGPT give everyday people a glimpse of how science can help them generate a lot of information in a brief amount of time. But is AI necessary? Ethical? Helpful? And is it here to stay?
You can expect ongoing updates from Barna on the topic of AI as we conduct research, in partnership with Gloo, to help answer these questions.
This article explores some of what we know so far about how Christians feel about AI and its potential use by the Church.
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Christians Are More Reserved About AI in General
Most people are still getting acquainted with AI. Only around one in 10 U.S. adults say they use AI often, whether personally or for work. Generally, people also hold mixed feelings about AI, ranging from outright distrust (29% of U.S. adults say, “I don’t trust it”) to promising interest (35% say, “I am curious about it” and 21% say, “I am fascinated by it”).
Through the lens of faith, however, there are some opinions where Christians have very different views on AI compared to non-Christians. Just over one in four Christians (28%) say they are hopeful AI can do positive things in the world, compared to two in five non-Christians (39%). Today’s Christians are also less likely than non-Christians to feel fascinated or excited about AI, or that it would make their life easier.
Christians Are Wary of AI’s Use for the Church
Kenny Jahng, founder of AiForChurchLeaders.com and editor-in-chief of ChurchTechToday.com, recently shared this perspective to attendees at a Barna-led cohort on tech and AI:
“Technology is here to serve us and not the other way around. There’s all this fear that AI is going to be taking over the world, it’s going to be human versus machine. [But] if we step back and look at it, there are things that AI is really good for,” he says.
Jahng went on to note some of the possibilities for AI, like using tools for brainstorming or kickstarting the process of learning something new.
What many Christians feel AI is not good for, though, is the Church.
When asked how to express their level of agreement with the statement, “AI is good for the Christian Church,” just one in five U.S. Christians agree (6% strongly, 16% somewhat). Most Christians disagree (30% strongly, 21% somewhat), seeing AI and the Church at large as something that should not intersect. Just over a quarter (27%) says they don’t know, indicating that a sizeable portion of Christians are still making up their minds.
Christians Express Even More Concern About AI Use in Their Church
AI could probably be used in a multitude of ways to help run local churches, especially those with little to no staff. Regardless, over half of U.S. Christians (26% strongly, 26% somewhat) say they would be disappointed to learn their church is using AI.
This only strengthens the point that churches using AI should do so cautiously and openly. Jahng equates it to how one might use an intern:
“Don’t think of AI as a push-button vending machine, where you push one button, out pops a candy, you open the wrapper and you just consume whatever’s given. The more constructive way is to think of AI as a super-intelligent student intern.
Though Christians are carefully discerning their perspectives and uses of AI, there’s still growing opportunity, even for the Church.
About the Research
This data is based on a survey of 1,500 U.S. adults conducted online from July 28–August 7, 2023 via a consumer research panel. The margin of error for the sample is +/- 2.1 percent at the 95 percent confidence level. Quotas were set to representation by region, race / ethnicity, education, age and gender based on the U.S. Census Bureau. Minimal statistical weighting has been applied to maximize sample representation.
© Barna Group, 2023.
Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.
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