The metaverse is an online world where people can socialize, work, and play. When you attend church in the metaverse, you’re able to experience it in a way unlike any other digital platform. All the people you see are present with you at the same time in the service. You talk to them avatar-to-avatar and hear their human voices. You can even see their facial expressions and body language. conversations take on a whole new meaning in virtual reality.
Digital technology made it possible for churches to pivot and continue in the early, uncertain days of the pandemic. Many congregations have chosen to keep their live-streaming option on offer, to accommodate their older, more vulnerable, or physically distant constituents. Other churches have taken it a step or two further.
Some have opted for an online-only congregation, abandoning a physical building and physical gatherings altogether. Others are starting “churches” in Facebook’s new Metaverse, where people, or their avatars, can “come” to church from anywhere in the world with other people, or their avatars, who join from anywhere in the world. D.J. Soto, a pastor at what is called VR Church in the Metaverse, recently claimed, “The future of the church is the metaverse… in the church of 2030, the main focus is going to be your metaverse campus.”
On the one hand, such innovation is just the latest chapter in a longer history. Churches have long employed innovative technologies and methods to reach the sick or infirmed, particularly in times of crisis, and keep them connected with the wider Church. Evangelicals, in particular, have a long tradition of using innovative technologies in the service of evangelism, including the printing press five hundred years ago, the newspaper three hundred years ago, the radio in the early 1900s, and the TV in the late 1900s.
The means used to tell a story will shape what is said. When it comes to Church, it can change the nature of what kind of people we are. People aren’t just inviting the world into the Church through modern technology, they’re moving the Church into the new realm of that technology. Such a move can have unexpected consequences.
While there’s certainly cause for attempts to “reach people where they are,” what we reach them with is what we reach them to. We must make sure any effort to communicate the Gospel doesn’t reduce the Gospel to anything less than It is. Remember, Christ spoke of those who, in the Parable of the Sower, initially received the Gospel with joy, but, lacking root, turned aside when growing stopped being as convenient.
But there’s also something else to consider. A disembodied Church assumes that a disembodied faith is possible. A Christianity lived only online encourages America’s already existing “choose your own adventure” understanding of religion. Christianity is about more than content. Rather, its content cannot truly be lived outside of the context of real people in the real world. In contrast, a cyberspace “church” can become an imaginary relationship with an online persona that becomes preferable to the often painful and inconvenient nature of tangible reality.
The faith of our fathers is not simply attending a performance, or even embracing a set of ideas about God or Jesus. A church without doctrine is a mere social club or an arbitrary special interest group, but a “church” that remains doctrinally correct but only connects online is just a chat room.
A disembodied online existence makes it too easy to hide who and what we really are from those God has called us to love and be loved by. The Christian life cannot be fully lived online. God has called us to this time and this place, to times and crises that are uncomfortable and to people whose issues and ailments are unpleasant. The world in which God is making all things new is filled with real people and real problems, and these won’t be mended in the illusive world of an online existence.
God created us with physical bodies in a real, physical world. He did not design us to lose ourselves in an artificial, non-physical existence. Social media is a terrific way to connect with friends, but it does not replace present human contact. God commanded us to interact directly with His creation.
Genesis 1:28 NIV God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
Online dating services have resulted in many happy marriages, but couples must meet in real life at some point.
The metaverse isn’t cause for alarm or fear. God is still on His throne. It does present us with choices, however. We can make conscious decisions to attend church, have meals with friends, and go to work while still using the internet to augment experiences like communication, purchases, and banking. I have an online ministry and am a leader in that conducts bible studies and worship online, so I would be the last to completely discourage internet encounters. We just need to remember that we don’t live online. We are real, physical people who live in the physical world God created and commanded us to steward.
Jesus didn’t come to earth as a digital avatar; He came in a physical body to die a physical death to, in part, redeem our physical bodies. His followers will spend eternity in glorified but still physical bodies. The metaverse will be a tool, but it can never be the “abundant life” God intended for us.
John 10:10 NIV The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.