Virtual Church and Real Church

Virtual Church or Real ChurchToday we have a choice between virtual church and real church. D.J.Soto quit his job at a megachurch in Reading, Pennsylvania, in 2016 to start a virtual congregation, a “fully computer-generated religious institution.” Members of Soto’s church use virtual reality headsets and tap into Altspace VR’s social media platform that provides digital meeting spaces for avatars. The worship service includes a lecture with computer-driven graphics and pictures. The Easter service included walking into Jesus’ tomb and taking a tour of the cross. There is even a baptismal service in which avatars, which are icons that represent people, are baptized.

Other ministers are using variants of Soto’s methods. Jay Kranda of the Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, uses livestream services and apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook. Some of the people using these electronic church services call themselves “bedside Baptists” and “pillow Presbyterians.” Churchhome Global is another electronic church with Judah and Chelsea Smith using prayer emojis to engage congregational members.

For those whose concept of a worship service is to be a spectator with only a minimal personal involvement, virtual churche may be attractive. Not getting out of the house on Sunday is attractive, especially in bad weather. The problem with all of this, however, is that it misses the purpose of worship.

The biblical concept of the Church has never been that people come as spectators. Worship is not just one dimensional. We praise God and encourage one another. The communion we share is not only vertical as we thank God for the sacrifice of Christ and the cleansing nature of His blood. It’s also horizontal as we share our unity and love for one another as we participate together. The Church is not a social club. It is a gathering of people who share their resources, their lives, and their desire to serve. When you read Acts 2:41-47, you see activities that are not to entertain, but to serve people and God.

The virtual church may enable people to escape the problems of American denominational worship. However, it doesn’t begin to approach the biblical concept of the purpose and conduct of worship and living out the faith together. See James 1:27 and 5:13-20.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Data from USA TODAY, May 7, 2019, page 1B.

Virtual Reality Church

Virtual Reality ChurchThis past Easter Sunday, some church members walked into Jesus’ tomb, peered at the rock that sealed the entrance, and toured a replica of the cross where Jesus was crucified. They did this by using an internet connection and a VR (Virtual Reality) headset. They are members of VR Church, a virtual reality church.

The VR Church claims to be one of the first fully computer-generated religious institutions. Having roughly 150 members at present, the church uses the social media platform Altspace VR and is the product of D.J. Sota. The VR Church not only conducts worship services but also has special events, including comedy nights and cyber open-mic nights.

Another virtual reality church is Churchhome Global run by Judah and Chelsea Smith. Members on their site can pray for fellow members by pressing their thumbs against prayer emojis. Small groups are also associated with the Churchhome Global site.

All of this is intended to attract unchurched people, which is a fast-growing percentage of the American population. We would suggest that using a virtual church enables people to stay uninvolved. Lauren Hunter, who is the founder of ChurchTechToday, said: “In parts of the country, people are expected to attend Wednesday, Sunday morning and Sunday evening services. That’s a lot of commitment.” That is exactly right. Personal contact with other believers, having communion, getting involved in the struggles of brothers and sisters is all a part of the Church that Jesus established. Many people don’t want that kind of commitment.

If you want to feel like you are “going to church” and not have to be involved in the Lord’s work, virtual reality church is a great idea. We would suggest that it misses the whole point of what the Church is supposed to be about and what the Church is. Technology can help us communicate and can facilitate teaching, but it cannot be a substitute for meeting together as a body as the first century Church did. Read Acts 2:41-47.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Reference: USA Today, May 7, 2019, page B:1-2.