Exploring Churches in the Meta Verse
There’s a big scary thing out there, to some, called… ”the metaverse!” That’s right, there are some that are fearful of it for various reasons…some good some not. But what I wanted to share was my experience of my first week in the metaverse. It’s a place I’d wanted to explore for some time and finally took the dive when purchasing a set of Oculus Quest 2 goggles.
I most wanted to explore it for ministry purposes. I don’t do much gaming these days…though I did join in some paintball fun in “Rec Room,” a metaverse platform. I’d watched videos of VR Church’s services and listened to the “Church.Digital” podcast for some time now and was always fascinated by the idea of church in the metaverse. This is what is scary for some… ”can we do/be the Church in the metaverse?” I’m not going to answer that here, only share my experience from my first week, and more specifically my first Church activities there.
Real quick, let me share with you that there are basically two ways to share your message for churches, on these platforms. Some basically stream their in-person events to their meta “world” and others actually use the avatar feature and inhabit the place themselves. The bonus of inhabiting the place as a “living avatar” versus the “streaming service” is it allows real interaction in real time. Some do have avatar “hosts” or “campus pastors” to fill that void as well.
My first day was Monday, and after getting my account setup and all that goes along with that and sharing the device with my wife, Allison, I was finally able to jump into the metaverse via the Altspace platform. (One of the most popular, created by Microsoft). It wasn’t long after getting my avatar setup that I found the first church event, “Living Room Church.” They describe themselves as, “Living Room Church is a safe space to ask difficult questions, find community, and share life together.” “Possibly my people,” I thought.
I joined Living Room Church right at the start time of 8PM EST. The platform doesn’t allow you to join events early, and I am usually a “get there early,” kind of guy. So, at 8PM I was there…. alone. I hung around about 5 minutes and gave up. I went out, and a few minutes later I saw people were in the room, (shown on the events page), and so I jumped back in. I was welcomed by a guy named Dave. He is a nice dude that actually serves in Life Church’s world in Altspace as a host. We struck up conversation with me explaining why I was there, and him telling me of his experience as well. I almost left early because my headset was dying, and he mentioned I could just plug it in and use it if I had a long enough chord. Yep, that worked.
Another lady came over and the three of us conversed. After a few minutes we went into the “living room” of the world we were in, (a normal Altspace template…not a full custom build as some do). There the pastor gave us the general welcome words and then invited the same lady I was talking with, “Bernice,” the cue to sing for us. And she did a beautiful hymn I believe it was…not one I was familiar with. Then the pastor, “Rev ZeeTee,” began the lesson by pulling up Scripture on the media player in the room. He read the verses, gave us his thoughts on them, and then asked what we thought about it. After some silence, you know that awkward silence, someone shared. Eventually, I shared my thoughts on it. And around the room people shared what they thought and how it spoke to them. Everything shared was truly from the heart, and eventually we lead into prayer requests. And we ended the “service” with prayer. After that it was general conversation, and I met with the Rev to talk about what he was doing there and learn a little from him while also sharing my own story. I ended the night with 4 or 5 new friends from around the states. A great, fulfilling, experience for me.
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The rest of the week I found little time to get on and explore, but I did hop into a few of the other platforms, make new accounts and avatars for them, and venture around a little in them. But I focused on Altspace trying to learn how to set up our own, “Innovate World,” most evenings as I had free time. It takes some learning for sure.
Saturday, I set out a plan to visit multiple churches on Sunday, as I have taken a couple weeks off to explore other ministry tools and avenues, including the metaverse. Unite 180 Worship, VR Church, Life Church, and Cornerstone were definitely on the agenda. A full day of church hopping.
I think it was 9AM that I joined Unite 180. They are a church out of South Africa…lead by a white English-speaking pastor. They were the “streaming” kind of church, making use of a template space. I was greeted by two hosts, one not so talkative and a lady that shared most of the needed information…one being that the service itself wouldn’t start for 24 minutes… (I didn’t come in right at 9AM as I had learned my lesson quickly). I walked up some stairs to the “balcony” space and was met by a gentleman that spoke to me, named Doug. He spoke and shared how he was church hopping too. He was a 57-year-old gentleman from Washington state. We hit it off good, as he was a kind gentleman and a talker. Dave, (from Life.Church), showed up here too. When service started, we went in. Because it was video, there was no real interaction after the initial introductions to the avatar hosts. The pastor on the screen also failed to mention the metaverse church when he spoke of the many other campuses, including “online.” I didn’t stay for the message as the intro, worship, giving, time took a while to get through, and I had other places to go.
I visited, “House of Grace,” on my next stop. They are using the same template space I have been working on for the Innovate Church space, but setup differently. I was late into the beginning of the service, again being video streamed. I think someone might have welcomed me, but we didn’t converse. Oh, and Doug was there already too. Here, the pastor did mention their metaverse world and said he had even been there the prior Sunday and how good of an experience he had. Props to that pastor for recognizing the people in the space as congregants of his church family.
After House of Grace, I took a break knowing Life Church would be on a little later. But I didn’t make it to Life Church as Allison and I had some good conversation, and we ate lunch. I already knew Life Church is a streaming church with avatar hosts like these others anyway. The problem with this, like Doug and I had been talking about earlier, is the fact we can watch a streaming video on our TV anytime we want. While we appreciate there are avatar hosts and “community time” following these video services, it just isn’t why we are in the metaverse.
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VR Church was coming up soon, and so I was excited to finally be in there with one of the originating, innovating, churches, that I knew was avatar taught…not video streamed. Sadly, DJ Soto, the pastor, wasn’t in this space today. I also got Allison to join me in this one as I thought it would provide the best “meta-church” experience… (i.e., what is possible). She anxiously joined me lol. (She’s not comfortable with the interaction just yet). VR Church custom builds their world. So, we started out in an outdoor space with a video screen and stage setup. Alena, one of the pastors, lead the service along with an 80+ year old gentleman, former traveling evangelist, “Mr. Pete.” Long introduction and welcome on the screen detailing much of their metaverse world, (they have worlds in several platforms and games), and a video of worship music. Then we were off to the “teaching space,” via walking through a water fall or teleporting by a button.
In the teaching area it was built as a small city, and the teaching was on Matthew chapter 6, the entire chapter verse by verse. We had to “walk” around the city to the various Scripture reading sets, and mostly Alena shared her thoughts on each section of Scripture. Volunteers generally read the Scripture for the group. It was interesting for sure, but more of a free flowing, “this is what I think,” kind of teaching versus a sermon. All good for some and not for some. You be the judge.
We took a little break after VR Church. That’s one thing about wearing the Oculus, you need a break after an hour or two for sure.
After about an hour I hopped back on and joined, “Faithbase VR Church.” I’m not sure where they are from, but the female pastor brought the heat for sure! Super good message, “Over the Hump,” about not giving up on various situations when you are truly almost, “over the hump.” This was indeed an urban style teacher/church with maybe a Pentecostal flavor. The world was created by them, and you spawned in the parking lot basically, and had to walk some distance to get into the church space. It was like walking up to and into a modern church building. The sanctuary space was rather sparse but had a large video screen in the center with two smaller screens on the outside edges. Seats were the typical cloth covered chrome seats. She taught as an avatar from the stage. And again, she taught with passion for sure! The message was so great I tried to find a recording on YouTube to no avail.
My last church to visit for the day was Cornerstone Church from California. A physical, multi-campus church, with the metaverse world as well. I think someone greeted me shortly after I spawned there, but I also joined there with Doug again as I had visited the world he’d created before the church time. Here they had a world they had fully designed themselves with a rustic open top sanctuary space. They had a “live” avatar host along with video music up front. They hold multiple group meetings in the metaverse as well on other nights/days. For the teaching, we had to go outside and walk to the outdoor teaching space. Again, similar “modern” style chair setup with large video screen up front. They did also have a communion table out, which to me was awesome. I stayed part way through the teaching but left early…even though I really wanted to see/participate in communion with them. I was tired.
All in all it was an interesting week visiting more than six different churches without leaving my home and interacting with multiple real live people in the process. There were a couple churches I visited, or thought about visiting, that didn’t have many people…or any in them…so if I entered, I didn’t stay. That would be one piece of advice I’d give the churches…if you are scheduled to begin at a certain time, make sure someone is there in that first minute. And for us visiting, it might pay to hang out a little longer than five minutes to join in with others. If I hadn’t checked back in on Living Room Church, I would have truly missed my best experience of the week with likeminded friends.
Stay tuned as I may have a follow-up post to this blog on some of my learning and expectations as a metaverse church visitor.