We are an Amazon household. We buy stuff on Prime all the time. Sometimes, it feels like a daily task! We also really love the Amazon Echo devices and using Alexa for a variety of things. My boys love to ask Alexa to play fart sounds and we use it for music, timers, announcements, phone calls, sound machines at night, you name it.
One thing I have wanted for a while is the ability to easily play our church’s sermons on the Echo Dots in our house so I can listen while doing other things. In the past, I’ve simply played them from my phone and set up the output with the Echo acting as a bluetooth speaker. That works ok until I walk out of bluetooth range, of course, and it of course means my phone is tied up playing that audio.
Amazon has made it super easy to create your own Alexa Skills, which are like voice-driven apps. You can enable and disable skills, using the Alexa app, similar to how you install and uninstall apps on your phone. Using Alexa Skills Blueprints, creating your own church Alexa app is super easy.
There are a wide variety of blueprints available, which are basically templates to speed up creating your own skill. This is especially great if you don’t want to or don’t know how to write in the programming language yourself to figure it out.
They have a pre-made template called “Spiritual Talks”.
To create your own skill, you will need:
- Your podcast audio URL. We already post our sermons to iTunes and generate an RSS feed automatically through our church management software, Rock RMS: https://www.fellowshipgreenville.org/GetChannelFeed.ashx?ChannelId=28&TemplateId=1116&count=110
- A Welcome message. When the skill is launched for the first time, Alexa will speak a welcome message. I used something simple: Welcome to Fellowship Greenville, South Carolina. Come and join us to worship every Sunday at 9am and 11am. Visit us any time to hear previous sermons.
- A Returning message. When the skill is re-opened, Alexa will speak a welcome-back message. Here is what I used: Welcome back to Fellowship Greenville’s Sunday morning sermons podcast.
- A skill name and logo. I used our church’s name and logo for this.
Once you’ve supplied all the information, you will want to publish the skill to the Alexa Skills Store. Someone will review it and once it’s approved, it will be publicly available. You can also privately share the skill if you don’t want to go through the publication process. I think they said to allow for 2 business days but mine was approved a lot faster than that. You can also make changes to the skill any time you want, but it will have to go through the re-approval process each time you make a change that you want made public.
Now, if people in our church want to use the skill, they just have to open the Alexa App on their phone, search for Fellowship Greenville in the Skills Store, and enable it.
Then, they can say things like:
- Alexa, open Fellowship Greenville”
- “Alexa, ask Fellowship Greenville for the latest message”
- “Alexa, Start Fellowship Greenville”
So far, it’s working pretty great for us! I am excited about adding this feature for our church as I am always looking for ways to make our sermon content more accessible. The nice thing about this is that it uses our existing podcast feed, so I don’t have to do any extra work each week for the skill to get the latest content! It just works.
Go check it out for your church! If you don’t have an Amazon account, you’ll need to create one. The skill will be tied to that account, so make sure it’s an account you own.