As a kid I remember watching the movie Lawnmower Man. It’s not a great movie, but it has become somewhat of a cult classic. I remember the representations of virtual reality and thinking virtual reality wouldn’t ever be a household thing in my lifetime.
Boy was I wrong! VR headsets like the Oculus/Meta Quest 2 cost less than a video game console. Even my father who is in his 60’s has one, he loves the immersion it provides for his racing simulation.
But does that mean we should setup VR churches or that our church needs to buy virtual property to host a virtual church?
No. If you are a real, honest-to-goodness, physical church, then you should not setup a virtual church property or start holding virtual reality church services. Here’s why:
1. There are people in your backyard you are already poised to reach
Your church is probably already uniquely gifted and called to reach a subset of your community. You should be faithful to that calling and not get engaged in things that will pull resources, volunteers, and time away from that. If your church has been reaching musicians in the greater LA area, don’t start a VR church, go get more engaged in the musician community.
2. Crypto metaverses and virtual property is a sham
Whatever you do, don’t invest in virtual crypto property. Paying a premium for a fixed physical layout to a virtual world makes very little sense. It’s like saying “my church website is next to the Pepsi website!” The reality is that people won’t navigate virtual spaces entirely the same way they navigate physical ones. You aren’t going to cram your virtual (screaming) kids into your virtual car and drive 30 minutes down the virtual highway to pull into the virtual parking lot! 🤦
3. The the same backward thinking that has caused churches to fail Gen-X, Millennials, and Gen-Z
I’ve mentioned the Field of Dreams issue where churches think “if we build it, they will come.” Well, they won’t… maybe some… but very few. Don’t ask people to come to a virtual church, get involved in their lives, and share the good news of Christ and then they will come to church.
Furthermore, don’t open a VR/metaverse church. Empower your people to share the gospel in virtual world instead.
4. Digital should lead to physical, but VR church is the end in itself
Your digital strategy should be an on-ramp to physical connection. Great digital communities do this, whether you are in an iRacing group, listen to Taylor Swift songs, watch MMA fights, or follow a YouTube channel, there is a desire to see something in the real world. That’s what your church should capitalize on, having great communities and content that isn’t necessarily church that acts as an onramp to in-person Christian community.
5. Theologically, God placed us in the real world, he engages us in the real world, and that’s where we are at our best
Imagine a parrot trying to live in the arctic or a polar bear in the Amazon. Every creature has a natural environment and for humans that’s the real physical world where we live and thrive.
This quote from sci-fi author Ted Chiang makes an interesting point:
“There’s no way the metaverse is going to help with things like income inequality, or food deserts, people who cannot buy groceries, disparities and access to health care.”
There’s a real world that God has created for us to engage with where real people have real problems. Being a Christian means being intimately engaged with God’s real world:
So, in short, technology should never be the end result, it should always be part of a pathway that leads to human connection in the real world.