Virtual Reality's Place in the Plan

It’s always easier to be a critic then advocate. It’s simpler to dismiss than to seek to understand. It’s human for us to run from something different and hold on to what is familiar. We, being the church, are forerunners when it comes to hating whatever is new. Many church leaders embrace using the internet and things connected to the internet to only be cynics, which I do find encouraging. Why are they using the internet to echo their criticism? The internet is highly effective! 

Technology always has and will always be a tool. Even the extreme haters get this point in practice. Technology is not the means to the end. It’s not the thing that replaces all things. Technology will only enhance what you are already good at while highlighting what you are bad at as well. If you disagree then disconnect.

Now, let’s talk about virtual reality. VR has been around for a while now, but since 2014 it’s been mainstreamed with Facebook’s purchase of Oculus.

 
 

I’ve tried Oculus and VIVE. They are compelling experiences. This is one of those things you have to try before forming a full opinion. I recently spent some time at a VR arcade. The worker during the tutorial said to never lean on objects in VR. I chuckled when he mentioned it. Flash-forward twenty minutes, while playing Arizona Sunshine, I found myself starting to rest on a crate in the game and caught myself before I gave the arcade worker another story. It’s crazy how quickly you forget you're wearing gear and chilling in an empty room. I'll repeat. It's something you have to experience before truly understanding the power of.

When I was first introduced to VR I didn’t have an opinion. I thought it was cool, but it was costly (needed a gaming computer), not enough saturation of users, cartoonish, and too immersive. Some of these items are not negatives but were barriers for me at first glance. I explored the space a bit but didn’t think it was the right time to jump in strategically. What did catch my eyes a few years later, as a pastor, was Mark’s demo of Facebook’s Spaces in 2016. 

 
 

It still was a little Wii’ish, but as a person who spends hundreds of hours a year on Zoom.us meetings, I was intrigued. I didn’t go out and buy anything because of the need to have a gaming computer still, but Oculus’ Go might be the answer. Oculus Go will be $199 with no PC or wires needed. It doesn’t come out until later this year, but it should grow the market for sure. I’ll be looking to buying one. 

 
 

This leads me to VR Church. Pastor DJ Soto, of VR Church, was recently featured on Wired.com and Megyn Kelly TODAY. He has been pioneering in this arena using AltspaceVR. My friend Nils and I spent a morning with DJ. We went through Disney’s hyper-reality experience called "Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire” at Downtown Disney. It was some kind of Oculus-like experience with the ability to walk around and interact with options linked to the VR space. Afterward, another friend Holly Tate from Vanderbloemen joined us, and DJ showed off his church building in AltspaceVR. Holly streamed the whole demo, and you can see me in the back tweeting.

 
 

What I love about Pastor DJ's vision is his heart for the lost. He is not worried about the details, especially all those church people focusing on VR limitations, but sees the opportunity. My time spent with him for sure made me a believer in what is possible. I love getting behind visionary people with a heart to grow the kingdom and DJ is one of those people. VR is only a tool and a powerful tool it is in the right hands. 

I believe there are three ways most ministries can embrace VR strategically right now without any more waiting:

1. Support efforts like VR Church if you believe in the vision, but can't afford to explore at the moment. 

2. Offer online services that lead back to your local church through AltspaceVR. 

I love DJ's quote from the Megan Kelly TODAY feature nailing this point.

We believe that as people attend virtual reality church they will feel comfortable to go back into that physical space
— Pastor DJ Soto

3. A few actual forerunners with a focus on evangelism should be planting experiences like VR Church. 

I could see many apologetic ministries embracing it at a large scale because of the user base, but I hope more churches get on as well. 

 

It’s amazing what can be done online once you get beyond your fears. Thanks, DJ Soto for pushing forward!