Digital missions fields offer unique opportunities to engage in the work of evangelism in new and exciting ways.
The metaverse is a series of modern technologies currently being utilized and, in some situations, yet to be released. These technologies, often falling under the umbrella of “web 3.0,” include virtual reality, augmented reality, “mixed” reality, blockchain, cryptocurrencies, and more.
The most accepted of current metaverse technologies is virtual reality (VR). Virtual worlds, designed by people, exist in virtual reality; people wearing virtual reality headsets explore these worlds. VR is different from a video game because, for the most part, it requires wearing a VR headset, giving the wearer an immersive experience unlike anything ever seen before. Virtual reality also tends to be different from just watching a movie, as watching your typical movie is nowhere near as immersive as being placed in the virtual world. Approximately 52.1 million Americans (171 million users worldwide) use virtual reality monthly, and an estimated 23 million American jobs will exist only in virtual reality by 2030.
With the rise in popularity of virtual worlds, those of us who follow Jesus and want to make him known have new mission fields to explore in digital spaces.
If this appeals to you, follow these three steps recommended by my friend DJ Soto, Lead Pastor of VR MMO Church.
Step 1: Explore
Get that headset on and explore virtual reality worlds and communities. Meet people. Dialogue. Have shared experiences. Look (and pray for) your person of peace. Quite literally prayer-walk through virtual reality. See where God leads you as you’re exploring strange new worlds.
Find people in your church who are excited about virtual reality. Be transparent with them. Ask questions and listen. God may have already equipped people around you for this specific ministry. Release them to use their gifts and support them in all the ways you can.
Now that you have that headset, what do you do? Sit around someone’s fireplace in AltspaceVR and have a conversation. Talk with the weirdest-looking avatar you can find in VRchat. Party it up in a dorm room in RecRoom. Eventually you will stop seeing the pixels of the avatars, and you’ll experience the phenomenon that often happens in virtual reality ministry—you’ll start to see these avatars as the actual people they are on the other end of their headsets.
If your exploration is rewarded by a calling to reach and disciple people in the metaverse, proceed to Step 2.
Step 2: Experiment
What will your connection look like in virtual reality? Is it more structured, like a physical church service, or is it more organic? What will the culture of your church support? What is the role of volunteers? What does discipleship look like?
Start small and experiment. Get input from others. Be OK with failure, which gets you one step closer to succeeding—not one step closer to quitting. Make the commitment to reiterate, to try again.
Remember that culture is shifting because of the metaverse. It will be very difficult to develop a five-year forecast that predicts the destination and route of the Church in the metaverse. Experimenting gives your church a better understanding in the short-term to make long-term decisions and allows your church to take risks and to empower different voices to shape your strategies.
Step 3: Establish
Hopefully you are learning from the successes (and failures) of experiments, and you’re moving closer to understanding the long-term potential for ministry. Some churches will work very hard to align virtual reality ministry with ministry that happens in physical space. There is beauty in seeing things centralized, in seeing commonality among ministries.
Sometimes the opposite will happen. God can call us down roads that don’t make sense, and the opportunities of virtual reality may not always align under a singular strategy. Remember, if we’re trying to reach different people, then our church may need to literally do something different. This is where the beauty of decentralization kicks in. Our virtual churches should have freedom to explore something different without being limited to doing the same thing as the physical church.
If we experimented properly, we’ll hopefully see a reproducible model of “church” in virtual reality. We will see people meet Jesus, come to know and follow him, and then begin sharing the gospel with others. The multiplication of disciples will continue.
The digital mission field is ripe for the harvest. Lean into the opportunities in front of you, and prayerfully ask the Holy Spirit to guide you further into the virtual reality world.
Jeff Reed is the author of VR & The Metaverse Church: How God is Moving in This Virtual, Yet Quite Real, Reality, serves as the director of Metaverse Church NEXT at Leadership Network, and is the co-founder of Digital Church Network, an organization working with pastors, planters, and everyday people in starting metaversal churches and discipleship movements. If you’re looking for ways to establish churches and movements in the metaverse, swing over to http://fam.digitalchurch.network and get up-to-date information on establishing churches in virtual reality and other metaverse spaces.