Jeff Reed here. I am excited to introduce Stuart McPherson to our Leadership Network audience. Stuart is a digital pastor at Lakeland Church, a physical church that has been working hard on virtual reality for a year or so now. Stuart has incredible insights on metaverse ministry, but I’ve asked him to share how he’s evolved from a pastor to a digital pastor, and now to a metaverse pastor, in a very short amount of time. I hope you’ll find his story and his insight influential as Lakeland Church continues to explore ministry in the metaverse.
Evolving Past the Weekend Service of 2019
How the local church puts on a weekend service has had to change a lot in the past two years—a shift that many of us maybe didn’t realize we were unprepared for before it was too late. When the lockdowns came due to the coronavirus, churches quickly pivoted to figuring out how to broadcast into the homes of their congregation. For some, the idea of these lockdowns seemed like a temporary disturbance, leading with the mentality “in two weeks we’ll be back to normal.” We know how the rest of the story goes.
About a month prior to the coronavirus first showing up in the United States, an article came out about a new and innovative way of doing church: church in virtual reality. When this article came out, some of the staff at the church I was working at during that time gathered around together to discuss whether or not we thought that church in virtual reality could ever duplicate the benefits of meeting in a “real church.” This was a short discussion met with a lot of jokes made at the expense of the idea and, at the end of it all, we agreed that church in VR would never be a true expression of the Church. To be honest with you, because this was before lockdowns, we all agreed that church online could never be a true expression of church. And in full transparency, my voice was maybe the loudest and filled with the most objection to these ideas that day.
A New Perspective
Fast forward one year. On March 28, 2021, the church I now serve soft-launched our first virtual reality service, and I was asked to co-lead the charge with our Next Generation pastor. To say I was hesitant to launch into this is a bit of an understatement, especially because of my feelings a year prior. But a lot had changed in that year and church online was not only a necessity, it was widely accepted with different levels of comfortability worldwide. This meant we were given “permission to play” and figure out other avenues of doing church on any digital platform.
So here I am, a virtual reality church doubter, now spearheading a virtual reality church (Who says God doesn’t have a sense of humor?). A couple of weeks into being a virtual reality pastor, one of our IRL (in real life) church members asked me what I enjoyed most about doing church in VR. I hadn’t really put much thought to that at that point, but I loved his question. I thought about it for a second, and I told him, “I get the opportunity to be an international missionary all from the basement of my house.” Since putting on the Oculus Quest 2 (the VR headset I use), we have gone through a lot of different variations of doing church in VR. Currently, we are onto version three and in the process of working on our next phase. A lot can happen in a year. A doubter can turn into a believer, but if I were to sum up my past year doing VR church, I would do so by quoting Jesus: “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few” (Matthew 9:37).
My Challenge to You
Maybe as you read this, you or your church leadership doubt the legitimacy of doing church in VR. My advice to you would be this: put on a headset, step into virtual reality, and witness the reality of the immense potential of winning Kingdom territory all over the world from your basement.