When Your (Virtual) Church Home Is Taken Away…
The virtual reality social space scene just got quieter: Microsoft, owner of the popular virtual world platform AltspaceVR, decided to shut it down. It doesn’t come as much of a surprise, though, because Microsoft is primarily a work productivity company and not one that specializes in virtual social spaces. Unfortunately, most churches operating in virtual reality were operating in Altspace… so there will be a lot of churches without (virtual) church buildings when Microsoft officially sunsets the software on March 10, 2023.
It’s worth noting, however, that this event is not society’s indictment of virtual reality; adoption rates are increasing, and technology companies continue to delve into new opportunities. In 2023, it is immensely hard for tech companies to do everything. Some will succeed at doing so, but most will fail. (Although Microsoft is cutting off its virtual reality social world, I’m sure you’ll see AltspaceVR technology baked into a future version of Microsoft Teams!)
You Find a New (Virtual Reality) Home!
In the months since the official announcement, I have to tell you I am proud of the churches in virtual reality. Truthfully, the majority of these homeless churches stepped up to the challenge. Rather than walking away from virtual reality ministry, they worked to find a new home, and many are taking this opportunity to plant not one but multiple campuses, not just one.
But where are these churches in virtual reality going? What worlds are currently out there? Take a look at some of the viable options.
Recroom boasts a bright, youthful aesthetic and features a variety of games and activities. Everything from virtual paintball to archery competitions can be played here with friends or strangers alike. Some churches have been successful doing virtual church services too!
Then there’s VRchat—an awe-inspiringly immersive virtual world with endless possibilities. Here you can crawl into the skin of a custom avatar and explore virtual landscapes ranging from futuristic cities to lush forests. This social space is also known for its vibrant virtual concerts and parties. Because the culture of VRchat is to talk to people, this is a great opportunity to be missional!
Meta Horizons Worlds
The team at Meta Horizons Worlds have created something truly special. Their virtual reality social spaces are designed to be fully customizable and feature interactive features such as avatars, props, and environments that users can use to create their own virtual worlds. With Facebook integration coming, this could be the big winner!
Bigscreen offers an exciting twist on the virtual reality social space experience. You can join virtual movie theaters and watch films or TV shows on big virtual screens. It’s a great way to socialize with friends without having to leave the comfort of your virtual home. If your church has strong video production, this is a great opportunity.
A relative newbie in this space, Spatial is connecting with creatives and artists, a really interesting demographic for churches to connect with. While this platform was not well known to churches in 2022, many are heading to Spatial now that AltspaceVR is transitioning.
What About Apple?
There’s been no indication that Apple will be entering the virtual reality social space arena, but one can only hope. The possibilities are endless—from virtual classrooms for online learning to virtual concerts and parties. An Apple-branded virtual world could be a huge success, buy only time will tell whether the company is up for the challenge! As of writing this article, Apple seems to be launching their virtual reality/mixed reality headset at their WWDC (Worldwide Developers Conference) in Summer 2023, so you should expect to hear some noise from them (and from users of Apple Developer kits) later this year.
So, virtual reality church fans—don’t worry! There’s still a lot of fun and excitement to be had in virtual worlds. Whether you’re looking for a virtual church service or an immersive opportunity to live missionally, there’s something out there for everyone—no Microsoft required!