LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Don Lawrence preaches three times a week to an appreciative congregation at Life Baptist church. His sermon tapes often sell out, and this year he is leading the people through a study of Matthew’s gospel.
But Lawrence is not a real person. He is a virtual, on-screen pastor whose sermon topics, personality, even mannerisms are chosen collectively by his congregation.
"We’ve never been happier," says head elder Louie Francesca. "We finally got the pastor we all want."
Virtual Pastor, a UK company, began pioneering the "virtual pastor model" in 2005, and has created a dozen lifelike, on-screen avatars which preach, joke and give personal anecdotes as if they were real people. All their sermons and personal stories are scavenged from the Internet.
When a church subscribes to Virtual Pastor, each person in a congregation helps "shape" their pastor by entering likes and dislikes into a response box during services. This live feedback is fed into the company’s servers and helps to change the pastor’s sermon topics, hair style and more in following weeks. The result is a pastor perfectly tailored to the will of the congregation.