The Church of England hopes to get more people hearing voices
Originally published by The Economist
AMAZON’S voice-controlled smart speakers, which answer to the name Alexa, are used to being asked about the weather or upcoming calendar appointments. From now on they will be fielding deeper questions. On May 24th the Church of England launched an app for the Alexa platform that allows users to pose metaphysical queries to the speaker on their kitchen counter. The app can also find the nearest place of worship, explain how church weddings work and recite the Ten Commandments.
Most of the 28 questions programmed into it are aimed at non-believers, who nowadays make up more than half of British adults. Curious agnostics can quiz Alexa on how to pray, what Christians believe and who the Archbishop of Canterbury is. The aim is to use new technology to “bring people into a relationship with God”, says Adrian Harris, head of digital matters at the church.
The app, which the church hopes also to launch on Apple and Google’s voice platforms, is the latest stage in a belated digital push. Before Mr Harris and his team of five were hired in 2016, the church’s digital strategy was overseen part-time by one junior staffer with an annual budget of £10,000 ($13,500). The latest review of its approach to the web had been a ponderous report in 1999 entitled “Cybernauts Awake!”
In the past two years a new social-media strategy has focused on making the most of the spikes in interest around Christmas and Easter. The church spent £50,000 on last year’s Christmas campaign alone. Some prayers published on the Church of England’s Facebook page have attracted more than 1m views. It has tripled its followers on Instagram and quadrupled those on Facebook, albeit from a low base: with 78,000 Facebook followers, England’s 500-year-old established church is still just behind Scunthorpe United football club.