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  • Writer's pictureRyan Panzer

Churches and Content: How to write better prompts for ChatGPT

This post is the fourth in a series on the intersection of Christianity and artificial intelligence. The previous post in the series, which explores why AI might push church communities offline, is available here.

Since the November 2022 release of ChatGPT, much has been said about what AI can and cannot do. For example, ChatGPT can write a simple five paragraph essay. It then struggles write prose that is truly creative or authentic. ChatGPT can come up with a coherent lesson plan. It's less effective at coming up with hands-on activities that facilitate learning. Thus, AI right now is more of a tool for organizing your thoughts, rather than an autonomous creative agent.


But while its true that ChatGPT has technical limitations, its constraints aren't always due to algorithms, models, and predictions. Across all domains, if we want to get more out of AI tools, we need to ask better questions. The prompt, or our request to an AI system, is the most important and most overlooked aspect of AI. When we ask vague questions, AI gives us vague answers. When we prompt AI with context and even nuance, we get outputs that are more useful, more likely to evoke our own creative response.


On a recent episode of the Freakonomics podcast, the host interviewed a prompt engineer, someone tasked with finding the best ways to ask questions of AI. And while we are unlikely to staff prompt engineers in most ministry contexts, the church out to think about the ways we prompt AI systems. What questions should we ask? What context do we provide? And how should we respond to the answers we receive?


Several marketing blogs have come up with ideas to write better prompts, with suggestions ranging from instructing ChatGPT to adopt a particular persona to specifying to instructing ChatGPT to write with language suitable to various levels of educational attainment.


With these in mind, here are three ChatGPT prompts to help church leaders utilize AI efficiently:


Don't just ask ChatGPT to create a Bible Study lesson plan. Ask ChatGPT to create a Bible Study lesson plan that:

  • Defines your audience. Be specific on whether your audience is youth or adults, traditional or progressive, in-person or via Zoom.

  • Places the lesson within an overarching curriculum. Is this group meeting one time, or is this a weekly meeting? Is this study taking place on a retreat or at a workweek lunch?

  • Reflects on one key question the group is currently engaging. Are they working through a strategic plan, or a staffing transition? Are they exploring a particular topic like care of creation or inclusion?

Example prompt: We are a Lutheran summer camp in Waupaca, WI. Create a Bible Study lesson plan based on Genesis 1. This Bible Study is for youth ages 10-16. The Bible Study will take place outdoors on a camping trip. The themes of the study should focus on care of creation and environmental stewardship.


Don't just ask ChatGPT to write your newsletter. Ask ChatGPT to write a newsletter article that:

  • Addresses a specific audience. Is the article for new or established members? Is it for visitors? Defining the readership makes sure the tone aligns with the interests of the audience.

  • Includes a catchy subject line. Once you've drafted your newsletter, ask ChatGPT to generate 10 subject lines for your email that will lead to the highest open rate. Select the option that seems most relevant.

  • Reads free of misspellings or grammatical mistakes. Paste your email text into ChatGPT and prompt it to proofread and spell check. AI is a great tool for better grammar!

Example prompt: This week our church has worship Sunday at 9 with a pot-luck to follow. Our first Confirmation night of the year is Wednesday at 7. Parents should attend. And our Men's Group is meeting Friday morning at 7 AM. Next week we'll be looking at Romans 14 during worship. Use this to generate 10 subject lines for our announcements email.


Finally, don't just use ChatGPT to generate ideas for a sermon. Ask ChatGPT to come up with ideas for what types of stories or illustrations could align with the scripture passage and the themes of your message.


Example prompt: This week we are preaching on Romans 14:1-12 and the theme of hospitality and inclusion. Generate 10 ideas for illustrations or stories I could include with my sermon.


While these systems will never be great theologians or caring pastors, they can serve the role of virtual assistant. Whether we are intrigued, afraid, or enthused by artificial intelligence, we can learn how to use systems like ChatGPT to communicate and create more effectively. When we practice writing better prompts, we can find use cases for ChatGPT far more expansive than what we initially imagined.


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@ryanpanzer teaches classes on religion and technology for Luther Seminary's Faith + Lead.

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