AI Definitions Church Leaders Need to Know

The language of artificial intelligence (AI) is likely showing up more and more in the articles you read and in day-to-day conversation. Language is a powerful tool. Like the tower of Babel, language can connect, confuse, unify, or cause chaos. We’re here to help you step into AI conversations confidently, bringing you an ongoing list of essential AI terms to know. Check back often as we add more terms.


An algorithm is a series of instructions that a computer follows to solve a problem or complete a task. An example is the Facebook algorithm that determines how your church content shows up in people’s feeds. Millions of algorithms are in use daily.

AI: Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence, or AI, is a vast landscape within computer science aimed at creating smart machines capable of performing tasks that typically require human intelligence.


Automation involves precise, repetitive tasks done without constant human intervention, freeing up our time for more divine and interpersonal interactions. If you’re using social channels at your church, you likely use a social media scheduling tool. That’s a perfect example of automation: You set the schedule, and the tool does all the posting work for you.

Big Data

Big data refers to massive data sets that follow the Vs: variety, volume, and velocity. For volume, think of the amount of data a global airline has on passengers. Variety means the types of data available, from text and video to audio. Velocity is how fast the data can be received and acted on. Value and veracity are other terms being applied to big data. Value refers to the concept that not all data may be of value. Veracity means how truthful the data is.


Imagine a digital greeter at the church door, ready to answer questions from newcomers like “When does the service start?” or “What are the Sunday School options for my child?” That’s what a chatbot can do on a church website, providing information and answers at any time of day.

Cloud Computing

Cloud computing is the on-demand delivery of computing services over the Internet, including data storage, servers, and applications. Making use of cloud computing can enhance data accessibility, while providing access to hardware capabilities that might otherwise be unreasonable to obtain on-site.

Data Mining

Data mining is the process of discovering patterns in large data sets. Marketers often data mine to find trends in transactions, purchase history, consumer behavior and more. In your church, you may search through attendance information and demographic trends to discover patterns that are influencing your congregation’s growth.

Deep Learning

Deep learning is a form of machine learning which leverages a neural network with many layers. Deep Learning is able to discern more complex patterns than would otherwise be possible due to the depth (ie. number of layers) contained within its neural network.

Machine Learning

Machine learning is a subdiscipline of AI. It’s all about teaching machines to learn from data. Every time Amazon recommends a product to you, that’s machine learning in action. The machine has ‘learned’ from your past purchases (and those of others) and is working to make your life easier. More examples are in this great article by Tableau.

Natural Language Processing

Natural Language Processing (NLP) is a branch of AI focused on enabling machines to understand and interact in human language. NLP can enhance sermon transcription and translation, and helps create empathetic chatbots.

Neural Networks

Neural networks are a branch of machine learning that use a series of interconnected nodes and layers designed to recognize patterns in data. Their name and structure is inspired by the human brain. Some examples of problems and tasks that can be tackled thanks to neural networks include facial recognition and language translation.

Predictive Analysis

Predictive analysis is about using data and statistical models to predict future outcomes. Being able to look at past behavior, like church attendance trends, to predict future attendance empowers your church to lean into predicted opportunities and lean away from efforts that may not be bringing you results.

Sentiment Analysis

Sentiment Analysis is a technique used in AI to identify and categorize opinions expressed in a piece of text, which can help determine a person’s attitude. Just as a pastor might read the room during a sermon, sentiment analysis can read the mood of the congregation online, helping us respond to their needs effectively. The same can be done with a capture of your social media data to give you recommendations on how your content is resonating.

AI Extends Our Ability To Serve

By understanding these AI definitions, church leaders can leverage technology to better serve congregations and communities. Remember, every language, even AI, can be learned, and every tool, when used with love and wisdom, can glorify God. And perhaps, this modern ‘tongue’ can even become the new ‘tongues of fire,’ spreading the Gospel message to all corners of the digital world, helping bring about the realization of the Great Commission.

Missional Marketing: Your Go-To for AI Church Marketing Advice

New AI tools that support church marketing efforts are launching daily – and we help you understand them. Visit to find tech evaluations written by and for church leaders, and to join the discussion around the ethical intersection of AI and Christianity.