Excerpt from Why Are Churches Using Creepy Face Recognition Technology? by Valerie Tarico:
Churches just got a new way to figure out who is sleeping in on Sunday morning: facial recognition software that scans the congregation and records who showed up. Churchix is a product of Skakash LLC, which sells Face-Six for law enforcement, border control, and commercial applications. According to CEO Moshe Greenshpan, in the 4 months since the technology launched, 30 churches have already deployed the software and service, which could be used to target members who need a nudge or to identify potential major donors among those who attend faithfully.
Make Disciples of Every Creature
Evangelical churches often center their theology on a New Testament verse called the Great Commission: Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel every creature. They do so with good reason. Almost 40 years ago, with the publication of Richard Dawkins’s book The Selfish Gene, the broad public realized that ideas can be viral self-replicators, just like genes are. A “copy-me command” is a powerful thing, whether it prompts its host to replicate a computer virus, chain mail, species or a set of religious beliefs.
Churches that grow fastest and biggest are those that put the “copy me” directive at the center of their priorities. They actively invest in recruiting, whether that means designing high quality print materials and websites, training “friendship missionaries,” launching social media campaigns, or conducting professional market analysis. By contrast with Europe, where religion often exists as a fading church-state monopoly, American churches are particularly entrepreneurial and many keep eyes open for business tools that can be applied to the business of expanding membership, offerings, and market share.
In churches that are on top of their growth game, greeters stand in the lobby to make sure everyone feels welcome. Guests are asked to fill out contact cards for follow up. High-production-value materials promote both theological benefits like salvation and concrete perks like childcare. Websites and social media advertise programs for young people. As in any business, good marketing is critical to sales and fiscal health, and that means keeping up with the state of the art.
High Touch, Soft Sell
Since the time of Billy Graham’s fire-and-brimstone tent revivals, many churches have moved tactically toward a more soft-sell social marketing approach. A form of evangelism called “relational apologetics” trains Christians to win converts via a slow cultivation process rather than the more traditional door-to-door witnessing or Sunday morning altar call.
One 2014 training for pastors in Seattle included a handout, “30 Ways to Create a High Touch Environment,” that included tips more commonly given to fundraising professionals or sales teams:
- Put energy into being likeable.
- Smile a lot.
- Make all the friends you can.
- Focus on their interests. Ask them questions.
- Follow the 101% Principle. Find the 1% that you agree on and give it 100% of your effort. Find common ground.
- Walk slowly through the crowd.
- Return all emails and phone calls within 24 hours.
- Remember names.
For churches investing in this kind of courtship, technology tools including customer relations management software (like Salesforce), and social media are common practice. Software that scans attendee faces during the Sunday morning service and enters them in a database is just one in a long line of innovations that churches have adopted from the sales, marketing, and fundraising sectors.Powerful Persuasion, Questionable ProductBut will it backfire? Facial recognition software is creepy, even when it’s just a matter of Facebook tagging us in pictures; and if early web response is any indication, Churchix strikes some people as particularly creepy. Why? Because the whole goal of Churchix is to help power-seeking, member-seeking, communities manipulate people more effectively…