At a time when church attendance is in decline and use of technology throughout everyday life is increasing, the Church of England is capitalizing on the virtual assistant trend by launching a new skill on Amazon Alexa.
The BBC reports:
“The Church of England is offering worshippers the chance to use voice-activated virtual assistants to pray. People can ask Amazon’s Alexa device to read a prayer of the day, the Ten Commandments or the Lord’s Prayer or to recite grace before a meal.”
Alexa will also be able to answer theological questions, drawing on material from the Pilgrim discipleship course, which is popular in the Church of England. Although Sunday attendance has been in a steady decline, down 14% since 2006, the Church of England is currently reaching more than 1.2 million people online each month and hopes to broaden that reach through the use of virtual assistants. According to the Church of England’s website, they also hope this new skill will reach those without a background in the Church or who may have questions about faith, scripture, and doctrine.
As the Alexa skill is developed, the Church of England also plans to incorporate the content from the skill on its website and in its phone and tablet apps; they also plan to launch similar skills on Google Home and Apple HomePod.
This development comes at a time when churches around the globe are learning what it means to minister in a world increasingly connected through and dependent upon technology. In February of 2018, the Church of England launched Digital Labs, a program bringing together coders and other tech workers from around the UK, Europe, and USA to use their skills to develop digital ministry resources. They hope to develop programs, apps, and other methods of working with their 16,500 local churches.
In the Episcopal Church, there is also a growing interest in digital ministry. In an effort to strengthen this ministry, in 2017 the Episcopal Church created a new full-time position for Digital Evangelist, a member of the Presiding Bishop’s staff.