The Metaverse and Virtual Reality Church
Is Metaverse/Virtual Reality Church Really Church?
When we think about Metaverse Church/Virtual Reality Church, it’s important to remember the words of Jesus:
He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.”
– Mark 16:15
So we’re left with the question: Does “all the world” have limits?
“All the World” Includes Online
When asked why Life.Church was conducting church in Virtual Reality, Lead Pastor Craig Groeschel said, “When Jesus said, ‘Go into all the world,’ I think that means dark places. I cannot imagine Jesus saying, ‘Hey, share the Gospel everywhere. But don’t do it online.’”
Groeschel admits he has a strong preference for in-person church gatherings. However, as the first pastor to go online back in 2006, he’s quick to say personal preferences shouldn’t prevent you from spreading the Gospel where the people are gathering.
“I haven’t put on goggles and gone into the metaverse yet, so I haven’t personally experienced it, that’s not my preference. But just because it’s not my preference doesn’t mean that it’s not effective. And we have to be really careful not to let our preferences drive our theology.”
Now, that will preach!!!
Testimonies from Church in the Metaverse
Indeed, Life.Church has had incredible testimonies from day one in the Metaverse:
- Mardi from Indonesia had seen some of Pastor Craig’s messages on YouTube and followed him on Instagram, where he saw a post announcing Life.Church had entered the metaverse. Mardi had been into VR for a while and was amazed that a church would be there too. That’s when he decided to join a Life.Church service and share his story.
- Oscar from China found Life.Church because it was featured as one of the top events in the metaverse. He attended several services, but never turned on his mic despite being invited. They only knew he was from China because he grabbed a virtual sparkler and spelled out C-H-I-N-A when asked where he was from. It occurred to the online team that Oscar may be worried about the Chinese government discovering him activity if he were to type or say anything via the mic. This is an unconfirmed theory, but it shows the incredible opportunity of VR church to reach people who couldn’t be reached in other ways.
- Chad from New York joined the Life.Church VR experience. He hasn’t been to church his whole life, but he thought he’d try it this way. As he said after the service, he is desperate for a miracle. His Father is newly disabled, his brother is homeless, and his friend is terminally ill. That day, Chad cried out to Jesus and he became the very first one at the metaverse service on the very first week it launched to lift his hand, giving his life to Christ! And this is a guy who never would have been reached in any other way – there wasn’t another physical church anywhere that had reached him.
Entering Dark and Lonely Places
Pastor Greg Gackle, leading pastor for Life.Church Online and in the Metaverse, said that’s why they’re in the VR world. “Here’s what’s so powerful: For the first time in Life.Church Online history, we know for a fact that someone attending had to physically lift their hand in real life for his digital avatar in virtual reality to do the same. This is groundbreaking – there’s something different, something special about committing your life to Christ with a physical motion like raising your hand–which is something that no other online medium would actually require to participate. This is different from typing ‘yes’ in a chat. It’s declaring with a physical gesture that you’re committing to a life lived for Jesus.”
When Gackle first donned a headset in December 2021 and jumped into VR space, he ran across a group of artists creating murals, artists who missed doing graffiti in real life. Gackle challenged them to do work that was inspiring and hope-filled, and he felt the mood of the room change. “There is a real mission here, an opportunity for the Church to jump into dark and lonely spaces, to create exciting spaces for people who don’t have anything else to do. Can you imagine if the Church became the dominant influence in Virtual Reality worlds?” he asked.
Pastor, writer, leadership coach, and blogger Carey Nieuwhof agrees. “If there’s one thing the church needs today, it’s more innovation in our methods. The mission never changes, but frankly, the methods have to.”
Is Entering the Metaverse a Good Idea for a Church?
If you weren’t convinced by the stories above, the short answer is yes! There are so many reasons to be present in the metaverse as a church. Timing is everything – and the time is NOW!
In many respects, entering the metaverse acknowledges that we’re already living in a world of mixed reality, whether we realize it or not. Mixed reality, a blend of the digital and physical worlds, is taking over much of our day-to-day life and it’s time the church embraced that cultural change.
Many people spend a large portion of their lives in a digital world, well-versed in the idea of immersion, virtual, and augmented reality. Professor, author, and storytelling/branding expert Mel McGowan asks, “What if faith leaders could draw them out from in front of their screens and into a digitally integrated physical environment that transforms how they commune with, or relate to, God? What if a technology-driven experience could help a nonbeliever step into a new faith?”
What if … Exactly!
Metaverse Church – The Logical “Next Step”
Future church growth is most likely to be in the further development of Web3 or Virtual Reality. Does the Church need to be paying attention? DJ Soto, the founder of VR Church, says yes, despite the fact that seminary and theology systems didn’t train any of us in digital and virtual platforms.”We’ve had to either evolve or adopt it, and many have rejected it,” he said. “But it doesn’t negate the fact that a radical shift is coming and that we really need to be prepared for that – it’s certainly coming, and sooner than we think it is.”
“The Zombie that won’t go away”
Life.Church first dipped its toes into the Virtual Reality spectrum back in 2007, but soon stepped out because it wasn’t effective. It wasn’t immersive and very early on, the environment was chaotic and much less controlled – they couldn’t create the safe place they wanted to ensure participants felt secure and at ease. Paying attention to cultural trends brought them back into the VR world in December 2021.
“VR is the zombie that won’t go away,” Gackle quipped. “Virtual Reality is becoming more engaging and meaningful – that’s what prompted us to get back into it. We serve an omnipresent God who tells us to go into the world; technology allows us to do that. We can go to places and to people who can’t be reached any other way.”
Soto and Nona Jones, Director of Community Partnerships, North America and Faith Partnerships Global at Meta, agree that VR is the next logical step for the church. They encourage church leaders and pastors to not reject the rapid development of new technologies and experiences out of hand, believing an outright rejection would be the wrong move.
Soto began preaching in the metaverse in 2016, originally thinking he was going to plant physical churches. He soon realized a more compelling and effective vision to plant churches across the metaverse. He is now the bishop of Virtual Reality and MMO Church, futuristic church expressions that are intended to be radically inclusive and consistent with Christianity’s long history of adapting to new forms of media.
Is Virtual Reality Church Real?
Soto, arguably the most experienced on what metaverse church is like, makes a case that it’s very like physically meeting in a building:
“It’s something that’s really normal to me,” Soto explained. “When I put on the virtual reality headset, it’s a 3D representation of my physical self – it mirrors my movement. So, if I turn my head to the left, my avatar turns his head; if I raised my hands, it would do the same thing. When I preach every Sunday, people are seeing that avatar and I’m interacting with people all over the world… I think our church represents what church is going to look like in 2030, where it’s going to be very normal for you as a senior leader, senior pastor, and teacher, to preach in your avatar.”
Jones agrees, saying in John 15:2, scripture directs us to invest where there’s growth. “If you’re leading with, ‘No, we don’t need to invest in this new thing because we’ve been investing in this old thing for so long, even though it’s not producing fruit,’ you have to remember that sunk costs cannot be recouped. We just really need to have a kingdom mindset, which is, if it’s not fruitful, cut it off.”
Jones elaborated further. “As pastors and leaders, when we are concerned about souls, we will go where the souls are. In Matthew 4:19, when Jesus was gathering his disciples, he wasn’t like, ‘Hey, come follow me and we’ll have a whole bunch of people come to a building.’ He was like, ‘No, come follow me and I’ll send you out to fish for men.’ The theology of this is in the Bible, we don’t have to make up anything new.”
How Did We Get Here and Where are We Going?
How did the idea of having church in the Metaverse even start? And what does the future look like for Metaverse Church?
It wasn’t that long ago when handheld computers, smartphones, and the Internet were simply figments of our imaginations or science fiction movie props. Doing things “online” just wasn’t a part of the cultural lexicon. Enter the 21st century.
The Internet clearly started moving our world into a new era, the information age. The first iteration of that is what is referred to as Web 1.0 – a one-way communications vehicle where companies and organizations set up websites mostly to provide information. In this “original” iteration of the Internet, most people consumed content created by relatively few content creators. In Web 2.0, we see the rise of user-generated content and platforms designed to connect people via content creation. Web 2.0 signaled the beginning of social media, blogging, and podcasting, and it’s the era we’re in now, one focused on community.
Web 3.0 (or “web3”), is expected to be continual democratization of the Internet. It will be marked by a convergence of technological innovations (like crypto, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence) to craft a more immersive and decentralized experience that focuses on the individual (as opposed to companies (Web 1.0) and communities (Web 2.0)).
Easier-to-use computing technology has helped support the development of Web 3.0. The first computers were in the years of the first desktop computers and DOS, an awkward, clunky and user-unfriendly interface. We graduated from there into the second computing paradigm, where our experience with the computer (information) became tactile and visual. This was the era of Windows and the mouse which allowed us to interact at a different level and with streamlined equipment. Phase three, the smartphone, was nothing short of a revolution, where we could carry computer power in our pockets and interact in all levels of our lives, something accelerated by the COVID Pandemic. (If you want more information on other strategies churches started employing during COVID-19, check out The Ultimate Coronavirus Guide for Churches).
Now we’re entering the fourth computing paradigm, which involves virtual reality, augmented reality, the metaverse, and blockchain. These unfamiliar terms and experiences may scare some folks because they have no idea what it means. But experts say it’s no different than what we’ve been evolving over the years throughout the evolution of technology. We’re also seeing a shift in culture at the same time, as we leave the information age for the experience age.
What is the Metaverse?
Jones says the best way to describe the Metaverse is like an embodied Internet where you’re not just looking at it but are actually in the experience. “So, that’s the difference. Whereas now you may whip out your phone and you’re scrolling through applications or maybe you are lying in bed and you’re watching a movie that you’re streaming. Well, the metaverse allows you to actually enter into the movie. You can share with your friends as well, maybe they’re at a concert and you can actually attend the concert with them from five states away. So, that’s ultimately what the metaverse is, it’s really about an immersive experience.”
The Metaverse is best understood as “a quasi-successor state to the mobile internet.” Why? Because the Metaverse will not fundamentally replace the internet, but instead build upon and transform it, moving it from an information resource to an immersive experience.
What does this mean for us? Bottom line, Web3 is taking the power from institutions and big organizations like Google and Facebook and giving it back to individuals. The world wide web is becoming a much more democratized, decentralized world. And that means institutions across all sectors will become more irrelevant.
It’s not just Computers that are Changing-
Soto says it’s not just the technology, it is the attitude behind the technology that’s changing, too. People don’t need banks or stores or churches – they can do all the things individually that used to require those institutions. “We need to be asking tough questions right now – what does the decentralized church look like? What does a decentralized organization that the church is a part of look like?” he asked.
Jones, who challenged church leaders starting in 2017 to ask themselves what would they do if they could no longer meet in person, encourages people to think about what happened to travel agents and real estate agents once Expedia and Zillow became household names. Now, individuals have access to databases that were once only available to a limited few. They can book their own travel or find out how much their homes are worth. We no longer need travel agents or even real estate agents or property assessors.
“If the church is a building, if the church is a place that you go to, not only are you missing 92% of the people in your community who don’t attend church, but you’ve missed what a church experience could be,” she said. “If that’s the extent of the paradigm of what church is, that’s a significant problem. Those are just two examples, even though it’s in Web 2.0, of just how Web 3.0 will show up. This is going to be majorly disruptive, more disruptive than the COVID pandemic.”
The Future of Church
Should churches be at the forefront of innovation if it opens up an opportunity to reach more people with the Gospel? What does it mean to be proactive (rather than reactive) as it pertains to the metaverse, blockchains and VR? Most churches, for example, wouldn’t think twice about having a website or social media presence—and yet, that very technology was unheard of just forty years ago. What will the future of the church look like forty years from now, or even 10 years from now?
Moving into a Digital World
Groschel believes every church should be a hybrid model, being 100% committed to in-person and 100% committed to digital, insisting both platforms must be tier-one priorities. He says both need to be equally important – in your team’s motivation, vocabulary, and leadership.
He explains that churches need multiple platforms. What you can accomplish in both worlds is different, but they are effective in different ways. Understanding those differences helps you leverage each platform. “You can criticize all day long and say, ‘This isn’t right or real, or isn’t valid or whatever,’” he said, “But you’re going to miss an opportunity, I promise. You’re going to miss a real opportunity.”
In reflecting over his five years in the metaverse, Soto says VR’s effectiveness is crystal clear. “The experiences that we’ve had have been so compelling; the Spirit has just been alive in our community, and we’ve experienced God in our environment, within our relationships. Wow, this is such a powerful tool. God’s here. He’s with us. He’s not just in the physical, He’s sharing His love with people all across the metaverse. And it’s so powerful.”
While people attack digital platforms and focus on the limitations, Groschel says they fail to see the potential. There are a few limitations digitally, but there are also limitations to in-person platforms. And digital offers many more opportunities that in-person gatherings just don’t have.
Why Metaverse Church?
Obviously, the face-to-face in person physical gathering has something that no other platform does – physical connection in all its formats. But Virtual Reality platforms offer things that just simply are not possible at in-person gatherings:
VR Gives You the Ability to Reach People You Can’t Reach In Person
People living in persecution can participate without fear of retaliation from unfriendly or abusive authorities (like the man from China). People who are housebound or have other physical limitations can fully participate as well.
Just check out these stories:
- One woman who has been bedridden for decades is now preaching in VR, walking and interacting with people from all over. She’s able to fulfill her calling in a way she was not able to do physically.
- One Dad was excited that his son, who suffers from severe social anxiety, can now attend church in virtual reality. He’s actually comfortable doing something he just could not tolerate in person.
- A woman housebound and bedridden wept uncontrollably when she was baptized in virtual reality. She never thought that was possible for her because of her condition.
“Don’t let your preferences rob you from seeing the opportunities how someone else who has a different preference might be able to experience the Gospel,” Groschel emphasized. “Let’s gather together, let’s pray in the same room, let’s worship together. And if you can’t or if we can reach people in some other ways, there are options. It’s not an either/or; it’s both/and – and, and, and. There’s going to be a bunch more ‘ands’ in the future that will leverage and redeem technology everywhere we can to bring the message of Jesus to the world.”
Bobby Gruenewald, pastor and innovation leader at Life.Church and founder of the YouVersion Bible App and Life.Church Online, agrees. “If you’re for one you don’t have to be against the other.”
Metaverse Church Has a Unique Ability to Draw In Unbelievers
Because of the interest in VR, nonbelievers, atheists, people of other faiths, and those who have never stepped foot in a church in their entire lives are participating in VR church and finding Jesus.
Without exception, every Pastor who has worked in the metaverse says they have never seen so many nonbelievers in all their years of ministry.
- Soto, at his first VR church service said the first visitor who came in was an atheist from Denmark. And he said, “Hey, pastor, I don’t believe in God or anything, but I’m just really curious to what this VR church is all about.” Soto said, “That was like a light bulb moment. I’d never experienced that as a physical church pastor, of being involved in different ministries over 20 years.”
- Soto said no one who showed up to his VR church for over a year was a believer – all were people who either had no belief or claimed to be against God.
Worldwide Connection and Community
In VR, you’re able to have connection, conversation, and community with people across the world. It creates an opportunity for diversity – of thought and community- that is sometimes challenging to do physically. If you’re not in a truly urban environment, your ability to connect with people simultaneously that are of different backgrounds is limited. But in VR, you can be talking to people in Northern Africa, in Australia, and in the UK at the same time! Even more valuable, to have such a diverse a set of inputs into your community is something unique to the digital space. People from all over the world can join together at the same time in the same place and be the “church” in ways not physically possible.
Metaverse Church is Fully Immersive
In VR, you have the ability to ask questions and unpack in real time, what’s happening in a sermon or in worship. People can go on tangential explorations of a question that’s asked. Whereas in a physical context, that’s just simply not plausible … there’s really no good mechanism to do that. It’s disruptive in a physical church environment. And just think of the possibilities of walking the streets of Jerusalem as you teach on the ministry of Jesus – they are endless and mind blowing!
The Metaverse Gives You 24/7 Availability
You can have community at really odd times or anytime in an online context, which is limited in physical venues because of time zones and practicalities associated with it. This is especially good for people who work crazy shifts or suffer from insomnia.
One-On-One Interactions in Real Time
Unique to church in VR is the ability to have one-on-one prayer, and one-on-one conversations at any moment in time with someone that can sit there and pray through what they’re going through. You would think that exists in physical church and environments, but oftentimes it doesn’t. Many times, there’s not a practical way of bringing that point of connection or facilitating that from happening in the physical world.
And those are just the highlights of several churches who’ve dipped their toes into the VR world. Only God knows what is truly possible when this new technology is fully leveraged for His kingdom.
Questions and Hesitations about Virtual Church
As with anything new, it’s natural to have some hesitations- but pastors who’ve tried it believe that the pros far outweigh the odds. In this section, we’ll address some common concerns and hear what VR pastors have to say!
The Great VR Facade: Isn’t Metaverse Church “Fake?”
Some people argue that “avatars” and VR handles make people put on airs and cover who they truly are in reality, but again, those involved in the metaverse say the opposite has been the case. They have found that people build their avatars to look mostly like themselves and they tend to be more open and vulnerable than people typically are in person on a Sunday morning. Gruenewald says people in VR church tend to be more open and “real.”
“I’ve found that when people have an avatar or have something that is a physical facade for themselves, they’re much less likely to have an emotional facade or a spiritual facade,” he said. ”You’re able to get to a conversation much deeper around spirit, much quicker around spiritual things whereas when we’re in person, we don’t have that. In a physical environment, people like to hold things in their hands. They feel more comfortable if they’re holding something that’s more of a protected posture because they feel vulnerable. So because of that, there’s definitely more spiritual facades in person. But when people have that avatar, they feel safer. And that one different dynamic, I think, creates a really unique ministry opportunity in that type of space.”
“Almost every time you watch the chat where people are actually talking and having a community and asking questions and answering questions and praying for each other and sharing scripture and having real community, what you’re going to find is they’re almost always more open, more transparent and more talky there than they are in a church lobby in a physical building,” Groschel said.
But Won’t People Just Stop Attending In Person?
Gruenewald understands some are concerned that offering alternatives to in-person worship will somehow replace the need to meet physically or change people’s desire to be together in some fundamental way. However, history has proven those tired arguments to be false. Any new technology, be it the telephone, the TV, even the VCR, all came with bold predictions that people were going to no longer gather together, no longer meet together, no longer leave their house. They’re not new arguments about the Internet or Virtual Reality, they’ve been around for many decades. According to Gruenewald, they simply haven’t come to pass because as humans, we inherently want to be physically connected and physically together. Don’t take his word for it, he says, just look at history.
“I was fascinated by how many people’s theology aligned really quickly when physical doors of the church were closed, meaning all of a sudden, it was theologically permissible to do Church Online when just three weeks earlier, it wasn’t,” he said, “I’m not trying to be sarcastic or flippant about it because there is a sincere concern, but it’s just not warranted. That’s simply not ever what technology has done – technology has never caused people to stop gathering together throughout history and it’s unlikely to do so now.”
What Is the Investment?
Unlike other technology advances, getting into the Metaverse is relatively easy and inexpensive, actually a lot easier than you might think. And according to Gackle, it’s easy to demystify the whole experience. All it takes are a few headsets, some people eager to learn and some stickers to help promote – everything else is free.
The biggest hurdle he says is just get into it – put your headset on, be open to learning, see mission opportunities, get your unique calling, explore, discover and see how it works for you. “When I first started in VR, I wish I understood the controls, the culture of who is there, what they’re looking for and what tools I have available to reach them,” he explained. “It’s really just constant discovery.”
Those tools include creating zones in your space where people are muted, or you can amplify your “voice” into the whole world – so people who aren’t in the room can hear you. You can have a camera on you and run it much like multiple campuses of mega churches, with a campus pastor for the metaverse campus. Interactions in your lobby are person-to-person, avatar-to-avatar; so you can treat people like real people and try to help people connect to real life as much as possible.
“It took about 20 minutes to set up the service, and a week to move from a ‘portable’ theater to an actual ‘world’ where services are held. Right now, two of us on staff spend about 3 hours a week and that’s mostly before, during and after the service itself,” Gackle said. “It’s a low lift from a staff standpoint if you already have a volunteer team that’s serving an online audience.”
Life.Church is offering an unbranded and totally free Virtual Building design for churches to download and make their own. The link also includes a walkthrough on how to setup VR church to help smooth your journey.
Life.Church chose to use Altspace as its VR platform, because it’s a little more developed, more flexible and offers higher security than Meta’s Horizon World. They’ve created a campus and can have 50 avatars participate in any event, once the 51st person shows up they automatically overflow the same experience into a new campus (Metaverse is limited to 15 participants). Once service starts, they have complete control to mute anyone causing problems and people have the ability to put a bubble of protection around their avatars so they can feel as safe as possible. So far they’ve only had five instances of concern, and they were minor “funny” stuff, nothing major. Their biggest event to date had 1,000 participants.
While creating your “space” in the Metaverse should be unique to your own church culture and vision, understanding the platform and adapting to that will go a long way to being successful. Life.Church has the following components in its VR Church Campus:
- A “game room” just off the lobby for folks to gather before and after service; because the majority of VR users currently are gamers, this was strategic to engage them in the church experience.
- Enable Location – this indicates on a board where in the world people are connecting from which allows Life.Church to connect folks from the same areas into small groups; this allows the global community to interact more visually than is possible in any other platform.
- Information Wall – placed at entrances that allow people to connect and share before and after service.
- Family Photo Wall – where people can hang up photos of themselves to feel more at home.
- Baptism – while Life.Church hasn’t yet offered this service, they have every intention of doing so if someone is interested in it. VR Church has been doing VR baptisms for several years – along with all the other “sacraments” found in physical church services.
“It feels very similar to church in person, much more so than online services,” Gackle said. “The main difference from our typical campus to the VR world is we took out the office space and the bathrooms – no need for that in VR, but we have food like we do in person – for superbowl weekend we even toasted marshmallows! And when people ask for prayer, we ask if it’s OK to put our hand on their shoulders like we do in person – it’s a different experience but still feels familiar.”
Everyone involved in VR says the best thing to do if you’re thinking about VR church is to just try it yourself. “Maybe a church leader is like, what do I do, launch a metaverse campus? Do I sign up for the blockchain? Well, no, start experimenting,” Soto advises. “I think that’s really important to just start exercising those muscles, get some headsets to try out VR, and launch an experimental small group. Try that out as well. I believe the spirit of entrepreneurship, innovation and experimentation needs to come back to the church and church leaders need to make space for that.”
It may be as simple as launching a trial balloon at your next leadership meeting. “Hey, you guys, I would love to try a VR small group. What would that look like?” Then let your people experiment. You can almost guarantee that there are people in your church who would run wild with that or would be super excited to be a part of something like that.
Virtual Reality Set Ups
Soto and Gackle both recommend Altspace for your church VR platform. People can attend either on a desktop computer or VR headset. Follow these simple instructions:
- Go to www.altspacevr.com and create an account
- Spin up your own world there and edit it; if you are doing a service, you can create an event; worlds are available 24/7, events are specific time frame, the benefit in creating your own world is that it is permanent, the template is temporary and you’ll have to set it up every time just like portable church.
- Stream key id – process that walks you through steps
- Tie event to one of their templates or create your own – it’s recommended to use their template first to figure out what’s possible.
- If you’re creating a world, you can create the building or the space in architectural renderings in 4D – recommended to connect to Unity for the best quality renderings and upload to Altspace.
When you have a headset on, you have all the tools you need to to edit – all the template kits are available, there are color pallets you can incorporate into the design, signage you can use, furniture you can set up, basically you can create a whole world based on stuff others contributed, making it fairly easy to set up. The only requirement is that you need to be on Altspace. There’s also an Altspace App and once set up, your events are discoverable through the App. You’ll generate a code so folks can quickly join in your event.
You can go to other worlds within the Altspace metaverse and invite people to church as well. You’ll soon learn that people in the metaverse are willing to explore – throw out a blue orb and invite people to check you out – it’s much easier to invite and people are more willing to come.
What is VR Church Like – What to Expect?
In talking with those who conduct VR church, there’s really not much difference from in-person church. It’s still all about relationships, getting people connected with the church, being a part of the community and then realizing that there are volunteer service needs from greeting to prayer, to teaching, to small groups. Soto says, “When you create those relationships with people in the metaverse, which are very visceral, by the way, then you start to see the need, you see gifts. You start to empower people with those gifts and put them in places that they want to volunteer and help out with.”
He goes on to say there isn’t necessarily a reinventing of the wheel when it comes to church and VR. “It’s still about leading, shepherding, empowering and helping people to grow in their faith. And there’s nothing different in the metaverse when it comes to that. The expression and the technology might be very different, but the spiritual core elements are still there.”
When asked what’s been the most difficult challenge to overcome in VR, it is sad but no surprise to hear it comes from within the body of Christ. “We get mixed reviews on why we’re doing it and if the church should be in it,” Gackle said. “The church has never been absent of technology to spread its message – this is just the next iteration of it.”
Gackle went on to explain that while they would love to see the Church be the most dominant force inside the metaverse, he realizes that not all are called to this platform. “We are the body of Christ and some are called to be the hand or foot,” he said. “It’s not a prescription that all churches should be in the metaverse. At Life.Church, our calling is to leverage technology to reach people. If people are gathering in spaces we’ll reach out to them with the Gospel.”
Gackle ended his thought by saying they’re keeping the negative comments at bay and quipped, “Paul would have loved the internet!”
The “Metaverse” is a hot topic right now, but does the Church need to be paying attention?
According to Craig Groeschel and Bobby Gruenewald, the answer is a resounding, “Yes,” although they believe it may be a little farther off than Soto does. They believe the Metaverse is on the horizon, but it’ll need to change before widespread adoption becomes commonplace, mainly because they believe the interface system (clunky VR goggles, video-game graphics, etc.) needs to evolve before it becomes more widespread and influential. But that development need doesn’t mean church leaders should ignore the metaverse–far from it. Instead, they encourage church leaders to plug themselves into the metaverse and experiment with it (i.e. experience a VR church service for themselves) and brainstorm on ministry applications.
Gackle says the vision of VR church needs to be the foundation of everything a church does in the metaverse. “The heart behind anything we do online is, don’t let the technology overshadow the personal ministry – the latest doesn’t always mean greatest,” he said. “Being the church is so important to do in this environment – the hope they find, people are nice to them, they get recognized, remember their story – it’s less about the 3D-thing spinning and more about relationships. Let the heart overshadow the technology. We follow the same rules as we do in person – help people feel needed and known – the platform can facilitate that!”
“We know that when God wanted to spread the Gospel, he caused the Holy Spirit to enable the Galileans who were in the upper room on the day of Pentecost to speak with unknown tongues and in unknown languages,” Jones added. “Why? So that the people walking around outside could hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That is what technology is all about. Technology is about access. And so God has given us this model and I’ll champion it to my last breath.”
“The church is moving into this fourth computing paradigm. It’s moving into Web3 – not as a supplement, but as a major force coming into your church,” Soto elaborated. “Right now, you wouldn’t start a church without a website or social media presence. And it’s not too far down the road where people will want to meet you in your virtual reality experience or augmented reality. What are you doing to engage that? As church leaders we can’t, and should not, completely ignore it, because that’s certainly coming.”
Soto wishes he could bring every church leader into his service, even for just 10 minutes, so they can experience the life change that is happening in the metaverse. “Look, many of these people are not of faith. They wouldn’t identify as a Christian. It feels like we don’t go a week without someone saying one of the following:
- ‘I’ve never been to church ever.’
- ‘I’m an atheist, but I wanted to check this out.’
- ‘I went to church when I was four or five and I’ve never been back since.’
“And so this tool, this opportunity is so unique and the technology, it’s immersive and if you marry that with an inclusive culture, man, that’s just a recipe, what I believe for God to do powerful things in the metaverse.”
Soto ends with one last thought for church leaders. “We’ve got to stop outsourcing our innovation to Apple and to Disney, and bring entrepreneurship, innovation and experimentation back to the church.”
Groschel is more direct. “If we’re ever, ever wrong and we get to heaven and God says, ‘Yeah, you probably shouldn’t have preached the Gospel online,’ I would so rather be wrong trying something than being a critic of something,” he said. “Let’s get down there and mix it up. Let’s try. Let’s take the Gospel everywhere. And if we are wrong, I promise you we’re going to be wrong attempting to reach people; not being wrong, sitting back, picking apart what might actually work. Don’t get me wrong, we want to be open to correction, okay? That wasn’t a good idea or that didn’t work or that’s not effective. We’re not saying it all is. What we’re saying is, let’s not assume it’s not without trying it to see if there’s an opportunity.”
He continued, “We want to leverage what we can in every way. And as we move forward, the big thing I would just say to pastors is let’s not settle on content delivery, that’s not the big win. Community and empowering people to reach a city, to love their neighbors, that’s where the real power is. We want to create community around whatever it is – worship content, mission – and then transform that community, called to make a difference in the world.
”As the church, we’re called to gather and scatter – to reach the lost, share the Gospel and then empower them to go all over the world and do the same. And that’s using online, in person, trains, airplanes, automobiles – do whatever it is, whatever the newest way is. Let’s recognize we have a really big God and a lot of different cultures and languages and communities around the world. And so, let’s not talk about what we can’t do, or a wrong way of doing it. Let’s look for a right way and opportunities.
“And the great thing is, being alive and doing ministry today, there’s more opportunities, more need today than in years past. What a great time to serve Jesus in the church! It’s exciting to cheer on the body of Christ with a diversity of ways to impact the world. Be great as God has gifted you.”
Gackle is even more direct. ‘`If I get to heaven and Jesus said ‘I gave you the Internet, what’d you do with it?’ I want to be able to say I used it well to reach the lost.“
Go into all the world and preach the Gospel … all the world … everywhere.
- Podcast interviewing Nona Jones and DJ Sota (founder/pastor of VR Church, a 10-year old VR church)
- How to Launch a VR Church in 3 Days Webinar replay link
- Notes from Launch a VR Church Webinar
- Podcast interviewing Craig Groschel and Bobby Gruenewald of Life.Church on why/how they got into the Metaverse
- How Will Metaverse Change Your World, Meta’s Let Me Explain Podcast
VR/Metaverse Church Links
- VR Church
- MMO Church
- Link to All things Metaverse with Life.Church
- Museum of the Bible’s (MOTB) VR tour of the Bible lands.
- The Changemakers Project from the American Bible Society (ABS) in Philadelphia ChangeLab
Articles About VR/Metaverse Church
- Can Religion Guide the Ethics of AI?
- This Pastor is Putting His Faith in Virtual Reality Church
- Can Silicon Valley Find God?, New York Times
- Embrace the Metaverse
- News story from one of our CMU churches’ VR campus!
- Meta Horizon World
- The Sandbox – more gaming applications
- Cryptovoxels – more gaming & selling applications
- Accurate360 can help you create a “digital twin” of your church’s facility & allow you to meet inside it virtually!
- Life.Church is offering an unbranded and totally free Virtual Building design for churches to download and make their own. The link also includes a walkthrough on how to setup VR church to help smooth your journey.