Churches are starting to use facial recognition software as a tool to both secure their premises and, surprisingly, they’re using this tool to connect with their membership.
Already widely used in social media (been tagged in a Facebook photo lately?) and in a variety of security-related surveillance applications, facial recognition software captures and identifies images of individual faces from videos and pictures.
In a common scenario, a facility will use the software to examine live video of a crowd of people, and have it isolate an individual face from others in the crowd. The resulting image can then be instantly compared to other such images stored in a database in order to attempt to establish the identity of the individual.
Law enforcement, public safety, and business security have been the major markets for facial recognition software for some time. But churches and other faith-based organizations have increasingly become customers for this technology, according to Moshe Greenshpan, founder and CEO of Face-Six LLC, a global facial recognition software vendor.
The Las Vegas-based company's Churchix division is a provider of facial recognition-based event attendance tracking software that is "designed for church administrators and event managers who want to save the pain of manually tracking their member attendance to their events."
Churches are interested in two main features of the software, according to Greenshpan. Security-wise, it can be used to provide alerts to church personnel when "unwanted" individuals enter the church’s premises and appear in front of the camera.
The more popular use, though, is keeping track of church members and their attendance at events and services, Greenshpan says.
"Most churches already keep track of member attendance manually," he notes, "but that is a near-impossible task when it comes to big events."
Being able to identify and track individual attendance is an important element of member engagement and creating commitment, according to Scott Thumma, Ph.D., professor of Sociology of Religion and director of the Doctor of Ministry program at Hartford Institute for Religion Research.
In research for his book "The Other 80 Percent: Turning your Church's Spectators into Active Participants," he found that "The more aware church leadership was about member involvement, the greater likelihood they would be able to retain these members."
"Keeping good records of who attends and how often they are involved in ministry activities requires intentional attention, planning and record-keeping," he says, adding "Software such as this might make that task easier, even automatic."
Use of facial recognition software in the church setting isn't currently widespread, "but I could see the practice growing, especially in the largest churches," according to Thumma.
"As church size increases, the ability to track member involvement becomes a more challenging task," says Thumma. He adds that "The very large churches, where this is an even more onerous task, and where they already have cameras in place for security, might be inclined to turn to a solution such as facial recognition in order to automate the effort."