Shared Experiences: The Key to Understanding Digital and Metaverse Discipleship

July 20, 2022

As COVID restrictions continue to relax, most churches have returned to physical buildings. Did broadcasting church services work for your congregation? You had viewers watching your church services, but who were they? Did you know their names or stories? Or were they just a number on an analytics report? Many churches are glad this digital experiment is over and believe they are better off without an online church.

The idea of churches existing entirely in a digital or metaverse space is still a new concept. However, there is a consistency that could revolutionize digital and physical church ministry. Let’s not forget the ongoing success of existing digital and metaverse churches that want to do something different and are willing to experiment.

The Key to Effective Digital and Metaverse Ministry Is Relationships

This is not rocket science. In the preschool classroom, we observe the value of shared physical experience. From playdough to the playground, shared experiences connect kids. They built strong friendships that could last decades and spread across time zones.

We are also observing that people develop healthy relationships in digital communities. People are utilizing digital communication tools to connect with individuals across the street or around the world. They’re playing video games, meeting in virtual reality worlds, or jumping into Facebook groups or Discord channels to discuss familiar topics. The tools are neutral—the same platforms can just as easily foster healthy relationships as they can unhealthy ones.

Many churches are glad this digital experiment is over and believe they are better off without an online church.

Can digital and metaverse experiences create lasting relationships like physical ones? It may be too soon to tell, but we know that some people can develop relationships through digital means just as others do physically. So, while this idea of digital shared experiences may not be for everyone, it will connect with some.

What’s Working and Not Working with Shared Experiences for Digital and Metaverse Churches

Some churches struggle to see that an online church service can be an effective digital “shared experience.” The problem is that most online church services are designed as one-way lectures from the stage instead of two-way communication. Therefore, the typical online service becomes a product we consume, not a shared experience. We must create opportunities to interact and position ourselves to listen more than we talk.

Most online church services are designed as one-way lectures from the stage instead of two-way communication.

In many ways, “affinity” will become the new “vicinity.” Digital churches can connect more easily via hobbies or passions than a physical locality. Barbecue church? Sure. Millennial Filipino creatives church? Why not! Church for Nigerian refugees displaced around the globe? There’s no shortage of good ideas to connect with people via shared experiences online.

How to Apply Shared Experiences to Strengthen Your Digital Ministry

Online services can play a part. However, the front door to a digital church is not an online service, or at least not the typical online service broadcast we saw during COVID. Instead, try this:

  1. Recognize that you have people in your church with passions, and those passions probably connect to digital/metaverse communities in some aspect. Encourage them to develop their passions to point people to your digital communities. The “shared experience value” your people have will add value beyond what your church is doing. NOTE: Both digitally and in the metaverse, people connect to community before they connect to Christ. Maybe the next step after your shared experience isn’t an online church service, but a small group or something more relational-based.
  2. Reimagine your online church service can as a shared experience. Still, you’ll have to let go of some preconceived notions. Create conversations and relational experiences in virtual reality. It’s a dialogue, not a monologue.

How can your church develop shared experiences online? Learn how on Metaverse Church NEXT, Wednesday, August 10, 12:30 pm Eastern, at Exponential’s Multipliers Resource Center.

Jeff Reed

Jeff Reed

In June 2000, Jeff led his first online Bible study, taking 75 people from around the world through the book of James using a text-based system called Ultimate BB. He was doing digital ministry way before it was cool. Founding THECHURCH.DIGITAL in 2018, Jeff’s passions have evolved into helping churches (and individuals too!) find their calling through digital discipleship, releasing people on digital mission, and planting multiplying digital churches. This pursuit will expand as Jeff (and others) create the DigitalChurch.Network, an organic, decentralized network for digital expressions of church, globally. Jeff also serves as the Director of Metaverse Church NEXT for Leadership Network, and works closely with Exponential and other globally facing, multiplication-friendly, gospel-centric organizations. Jeff married his high school sweetheart, Amy, and has two kids and a dog. They live in Miami, Florida.
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