How the Metaverse Can Be an Opportunity for the Church

South American Division

How the Metaverse Can Be an Opportunity for the Church

A virtual world built for people will also need missionaries

Commentary | Brazil | Carlos Magalhães, manager of the Department for Digital Strategy, South American Division.

In quarantine due to exposure to Covid-19, Carlos and his family are unable to attend church services. So he plugs a headset into his Virtual Reality goggles and explores various worlds until he finds a church. Entering, he finds a place near Marcos, a friend he hasn't seen in a long time. Marcos explains that he is living in another country and suffering from social phobia, so he avoids physical churches.

The pastor's avatar appears and everyone falls silent. He explains that the sermon will be about the life of Jesus and that they will tour the city of Jerusalem in 3D. As they walk with him, the realistic images seem to bring the Biblical passages to life. The service ends, Carlos says goodbye to Marcos, removes his glasses, and says to the family, "I couldn't have had a more immersive church experience. I understood the scriptures in a new way."

This story is still fiction, but not for long. Technological trends have indicated that “the future will be increasingly digital and virtual”. Right now, the academic and corporate worlds are focusing on the topic of the metaverse, considered the next revolution in human communication. 

But what is the metaverse?

There are several definitions for the metaverse that, in some way, complement each other. For example:

  1. The metaverse is a virtual world that replicates the physical world on digital devices.

  2. The metaverse is an immersive experience that connects the physical and digital worlds.

  3. It is a combination of augmented reality and virtual reality.

  4. It's a virtual world where people are avatars and do everything, like work, shop, play, etc.

Some examples will help to make the concept clearer. Several games serve as examples of the Metaverse. Roblox, Fortnite, and Minecraft allow you to create virtual worlds and interact with other players in real time. In these games you can create your avatar, or your virtual “me”, with anatomical characteristics similar to those you have or would like to have.

Some say the metaverse will be the next dominant digital technology platform, even surpassing the number of social media users. Perhaps that is why the concept is gaining so much space in the media and investments of the corporate world.

What will the metaverse look like?

Although several companies are already exploring this concept and creating virtual worlds, the metaverse still holds much promise for the future. These virtual spaces are expected to serve not only for interaction between people, but also for advertising brands and products. 

Some believe that the future of meetings, conferences and events will be within virtual platforms that make use of avatars. In 2020, Fortnite users were able to experience the concept of the metaverse in a show that brought together 27 million spectators, who watched and interacted live.

But what about in the religious world? Can the metaverse be explored by churches? Does Jesus' command to preach the gospel to everyone include the virtual world of the metaverse? 

Opportunities for the Church

Christianity has survived several technological disruptions throughout history. During the print, film, radio, television, and digital media eras, Christ's message has taken on new forms without losing its essence.

Although it is too early to know if the metaverse will, in fact, come to fruition, as it has been announced, we believe that Christians will continue with their mission of spreading the gospel and being a positive influence, even in the virtual environment.

Expanding our imagination and thinking in terms of futurism, it is even possible to predict that, in the metaverse, virtual and 3D churches will be planted, that small groups will appear for Bible study, that pastors will encourage their virtual flock, and that old and new evangelists will use their avatars to draw crowds of people to hear the good news of the gospel. Perhaps we will still have a version of the Calebs, colporteurs and other missionaries willing to explore these new worlds.

Risks Also Exist

Despite the opportunities that the metaverse can present, some risks already present in other media can be expected. History shows that technology alone does not improve people.

The phenomena of mediatization and secularization, social isolation, the replacement of physical/face-to-face interaction with virtual and other things that we cannot yet imagine, can generate a new wave of unchurched people.

The fictional story of Carlos and Marcos allows us to imagine some of the communicational challenges that the Church will face in the future. But, in spite of all of the new inventions to come, certain things will not change for Christians: the challenge of living the gospel and sharing it with others.

These realities must be present in every Christian, at all times, whether in the physical or virtual universe. The Biblical advice is to be wiser in our generation (Luke 16:8), seizing opportunities and redeeming the time. The apostle Paul says, “Be careful how you live; not as fools but as wise men, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15,16).

This article was originally published on the South American Division’s news site.