At the Altar Live show, we strive to educate, equip, and empower our Altar Live family while navigating the digital church world.
The world is always changing and the digital realm is no exception. It seems like a new piece of technology is being released every few months (which makes us wonder: what’s the hold up on flying cars?!) It seems like one particular kind of technology, VR, is rapidly becoming a mainstream phenomenon that could soon be considered a common household object.
If VR is on the road to becoming a normal thing to own, what does this mean for the church world? Is there such thing as a VR church? Can VR church be considered real church? Last week, Andy and I tackled these questions; here are the highlights:
What Is VR Exactly?
If you’re unfamiliar with VR, don’t worry! Here is a brief introduction and history.
VR, an acronym for virtual reality, is defined as an “artificial environment that is experienced through sensory stimuli (such as sights and sounds) provided by a computer and in which one's actions partially determine what happens in the environment.” (Thank you, Merriam Webster!)
While this may seem like a relatively new concept, the earliest VR technology dates back to the 1830s with Sir Charles Wheatstone’s stereoscope, a device that angled mirrors 45 degrees to create pictures off to the side of the user's eyes.
From the stereoscope, VR evolved into the sensorama, StereoGraphics’ stereo vision glasses, Nintendo’s Virtual Boy console, and Oculus Quest 2, all with the intention to play with the different dimensions and create an immersive experience.
If you want to learn more, you can read the rest of the timeline here.
What Is The Main Purpose Of VR?
So, it seems the core intentions behind VR are to create an immersive experience and to allow escapism. We think escapism is key here.
The idea behind escapism is for one to leave their reality, routine, daily life, and go into an imaginative state of mind. While escapism takes many forms like watching a movie, reading a book, or even writing a story, virtual reality brings escapism to the next level by making the imaginative tangible.
With VR, you can actually be immersed in a virtual world and play a part in it.
The Future Of VR
The evolution of VR reached its next state with the recent announcement of Meta and the Metaverse. While the success of the Metaverse is still yet to be revealed, here’s what we know so far:
In the simplest terms, the Metaverse is a virtual world where people can connect, socialize, and work. It seems like it is taking all the elements of Facebook and creating a world from it.
The Metaverse is also likely to be bringing the real world and virtual world together which brings up a new conversation about escapism.
Learn more about the Metaverse here.
Why Should We Care?
As the church world becomes more technologically advanced, VR church has become a reality. Founded in 2016 by Bishop D.J. Soto, Virtual Reality Church became the first house of worship to operate solely in VR.
While it may seem unfathomable to some people, VR church is making an impact across many demographics of church-goers.
Below is the mission statement for Virtually Reality Church:
“VR Church is a spiritual community which exists entirely in the metaverse to celebrate God’s love for the world.
We believe church can be anywhere at any time with anyone…even in the metaverse. The metaverse is an immersive virtual reality experience where we can work, socialize, and even go to church.”
The mission of any digital church is to spread the Gospel to those who cannot be physically in person. No matter how you feel about digital church, it’s meeting a need, having an impact, and giving people a sense of belonging.
Is VR Church Really Church?
The validity of the entire digital church phenomenon has sparked debate in the church world, the internet, and beyond. VR is not an exception when it comes to the digital church world, in fact, it is probably the tech-focused vehicle to attend church.
So, is VR church real church?
Well, to answer the question fully, you need to define what church is. In the English language, the word “church” has many different definitions but it all boils down to the building and the people.
However, the true meaning of church, the church mentioned in the Bible, is not a building, but a group of people: believers in Christ.
In VR church, the avatars and screen names aren’t robots but real people with thoughts, feelings, and stories. VR church allows people who would not normally be able to be together to gather in worship.
Even though VR church is an unconventional form of worship, it has the power to make the word of God accessible to a certain audience.
When Jesus gives His disciples the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20, he says:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
We live in a technological age. Using different kinds of technology is how we learn, communicate, and connect. Technology allows community building
Through the power of technology, we can engage with people all over the world and have meaningful connections. By holding using the new technology of our generation, we are leaning into the communication tools of our age and going out into the world to preach the Good News.
Now, will this ever replace going to church in person?
Of course not. But we have to realize that there are many ways to attend church we should not immediately write off different methods of worship. VR church expands the community and allows people to be together in a virtual space.
How Does VR Church Work?
Because VR church functions solely online in a virtual reality space, people who want to attend a VR church service need access to equipment and be able to navigate the online platform.
To attend church via VR, people use virtual reality headsets and create avatars to participate in worship.
So, what does the VR church space look like?
Some VR churches opt to create a space that looks like a physical church building like Life.Church, but with VR church leaders can get creative a build a space that perfectly suits and serves their community.
Safety and security is always a priority when it comes to building a strong community, especially on an online format. The importance of security has influenced VR companies including Facebook, to equip users with tools to report bad behavior and language.
Also, in the Metaverse, users will be able to go into a personal safety zone or “bubble” that will limit interactions and allow personal space.
How to Start a VR church
The world of VR allows churches to expand their reach by bringing in an entirely new demographic.
However, churches who are interested in introducing their church to VR, may not know how to get started. Here are a few simple steps to help you add virtual reality to your church body:
Choose a Platform
Choose a platform that best suits your community. Most VR churches use Microsoft’s Altspace VR because it specializes in virtual events that will foster community and help people create meaningful connections even when not in person.
However, if Altspace VR is not what you’re looking for, there are other options available.
Buy a VR Headset
For good or ill, to start or attend a VR church, you will have to get a VR headset. Luckily, nowadays it is relatively easy to find a VR headset for a low cost. However, some are better than others so weigh out your options and try to find something that works for you!
Many people gravitate towards VR equipment by Oculus, but do your research and find something that will best serve your community.
Plan an Event
Okay, you have your space and equipment. Now it’s time to plan your Church event. Planning an event looks like actually creating your meeting space. In virtual reality, the possibilities are endless so don’t be afraid to think outside the box.
You don’t have to build a space identical to a church building. You can make an island or make your meeting space atop of mountain!
On your selected platform you should be able to set up your space and customize the environment from templates or from scratch. There are many different resources online that can help you in your planning.
Build Your Team
They say teamwork makes the dream work, and being online is no exception! To create a vibrant, flourishing online community, you need to recruit a group of people that will create a welcoming environment and will draw people in fellowship.
Even though your team and congregation will be avatars, it is incredibly important to remember that there are real people behind the avatars and screentime. These real people want to make meaningful connections and find community in a VR environment.
How To Start A VR Church Using Altar Live
After doing a deep dive into the history, mechanics, and intentions behind virtual reality, the best of VR is brought to life on Altar Live.
However, Altar Live lets you see the real faces behind the avatars, screen names, and chats.
Altar Live is a conversation-first platform built for churches and with churches. Not only is that platform easy to navigate, but it is browser-based so you can use the tools you already have.
By using Altar Live in your church, ministry, or organization, you are given the tools to truly engage with people and make the digital church world a true community.
With virtual events, we have solved the problem of expanding our reach, but we are still struggling to go deep.
To live with people. To see their faces. To pick up on facial features and body language. To see smiles and frowns. Tears and laughter.
Altar Live gives you all of that and more. We give you the tools to see the person on the other side of the screen; to converse with them and engage with them on a deeper level.
Want to Join the Conversation? Check out this episode of the Altar Live Show!
How We Are Transforming Online Church Services
Altar Live is an online church platform designed for faith communities to stream and host interactive and engaging events and services. Our simple, intuitive platform gathers your people together online where they can worship together in watch parties, freely socialize at virtual tables together, and find private places to pray with each other.
With a church platform like Altar Live, anyone can easily create an engaging online church service that has the ability to bring people together regardless of location.
The Altar Live team is honored to be able to provide video conferencing software, consulting & training for churches, reach every person on the other side of the screen, and create a community online.