Getting your church ready to use Microsoft 365 Copilot

AI has been all the rage since tools like ChatGPT and Stable Diffusion have further democratized utilizing AI in everyday workflows. Microsoft has been heavily funding AI research and is the biggest contributor to OpenAI, the company which puts out ChatGPT, GPT-3/4, and DALL-E. This funding grants Microsoft use of OpenAI’s tools within the Microsoft Azure stack where it has been available in full to certain enterprise customers, and partially available to regular customers (via Microsoft Cognitive Services).

Okay… okay… so what? Well, this week Microsoft did what many of us were anticipating: they announced that OpenAI has been deeply integrated into Microsoft 365. So the Office suite, Teams, and Power Platform are going to be able to natively create content via large language model just like ChatGPT called “Copilot;” however, Copilot uses the data inside your Microsoft 365 tenant to make better content or give more accurate insights. This is huge, the biggest problem with AI right now is that the datasets are large public datasets that are of mixed quality drawn from websites, but Copilot actually learns how your organization communicates and does things.

Why Microsoft Copilot matters for churches

I want to move away from the obvious content ramifications. Everybody constantly talks about writing this thing or that thing via ChatGPT… all well and good, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The real power here is in expanding AI capabilities in Power Platform and Dataverse. I’ve mentioned in past articles like this one, that I think Church Management Systems (ChMS) will make less sense in five years because being able to use AI with a no-code database like Dataverse will allow for insight into your congregation.

Let it be known: I was wrong! It isn’t happening in 5-years, it’s happening in 2023! 😱 All our timelines are moving up a lot faster than anyone really anticipated. So this time next year, you might very well be able to chat in Teams “Hi pastoral assistant, I need volunteers who are passionate about art, do any of our members have a passion for art?” You will get a list that you can then say “for each of the people on this list, if they aren’t already serving in another ministry, please compose an email that acknowledges a post or activity they have done related to art and invite them to meet with me during one of my open calendar times about getting involved in a new art related ministry.” This is absolutely possible today as long as you have the ability to aggregate the information somewhere… like your no-code database!

Being ready for Microsoft Copilot’s release

At this point Microsoft Copilot is only being used by a pilot group of 20 enterprise customers. That being said, it’s a matter of time before it goes into a preview release and/or general availability. That means that churches will gain access to it via their Tech for Social Impact (TSI) Microsoft 365 donations! If you still haven’t applied for Microsoft 365 donations for your church, it only takes a few minutes to apply:

If you’ve already got your Microsoft 365 tenant, good on you for taking advantage of that! You will also want to get the Dynamis and Power Platform donations. For those you need to have a Microsoft Partner issue them. My company, Geekout Technologies, is a Microsoft TSI Partner and can issue Microsoft donations for the Asia Pacific region if your church is located there.

With those two things out of the way, now is a good time to start considering duplicating your ChMS data to Dataverse. Even if you don’t jump off of your ChMS immediately, this lets you start leveraging AI with information inside your church database. Eventually, you may just wind up migrating entirely to Dataverse and Power Apps… barring someone creating a ChMS that integrates with Copilot.

Closing thoughts

It’s an exciting time for churches. Let’s face it, we don’t get into ministry to do a lot of administrative tasks, we get into it to impact lives for the kingdom. Before I get the inevitable messages about the dangers of AI and letting it do things in your church, the strategy for churches right now is to keep a human in the loop (HIL). AI is going to assist you and help you make observations you may have overlooked, not do the job of ministry for you.

Isaac Johnson

Isaac has been in professional ministry since 2002, holds an M.Div. from Moody, and his goal is to equip churches to reach digital natives.

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