Multiplication Center

The Strength of Anonymity in Virtual Reality

and Other Wisdom from the new book "VR & The Metaverse Church"

November 9, 2022

By Jeff Reed

Doing virtual reality ministry is, simply put, ironic. There are many things within virtual ministry that the average church leader perceives as a negative when in reality, it’s a strength. I love seeing churches explore virtual reality. It’s a joy to watch pastors, planters, and practitioners make virtual reality ministry happen, resulting in a physical reality.

My work, discoveries, and observations in virtual reality ministry have been such a beautiful experience that I want to share them with you. So, I put it all in a book. Leadership Network and Exponential recently published my VR & The Metaverse Church: How God is Moving in this Virtual, Yet Quite Real, Reality. This new book highlights the ministry and stories of the pioneering church leaders that are taking the church into virtual reality. 

Do your perceptions of virtual reality ministry align with what God is currently doing in VR? I’ve pulled a small section from the VR & The Metaverse Church book to give you a sneak peek and let you decide. Our focus here is on the anonymity and quality of relationships in virtual reality ministry.

Anonymity

PERCEPTION: Physical Church Leaders often struggle with the anonymity of virtual reality. We’re not looking at the real live person, instead a cartoony avatar. We don’t know who these people are, we know a made up name. We can’t minister to these people unless we really know who they are!

REALITY: As virtual reality ministry leaders will attest, not knowing the identity of the people in virtual reality is actually a strength, not a weakness. As we’ve learned from digital ministry, people can be very transparent, open and honest when they’re not in the same physical proximity as the church leaders they’re talking to. So it’s very common to have deep conversations quickly, because of the lack of proximity.

This is amplified even more by the anonymity of Virtual Reality. Because of the avatars, and the lack of public naming, conversations tend go deep, quicker in virtual reality than they do physically. The people/avatars talking rarely have anything to hide, because the church leader doesn’t know who they are. In a move that may not make sense to those who are not used to Virtual Reality Culture, the avatar actually lets people be who they really are… without pretense of being judged by others. This is a strength of virtual reality. People are maybe at their most authentic state when in avatar mode.

CHALLENGE: The challenge of a church in the Metaverse is to actually not discover who the avatars really are. Keep the mystery in play, because oftentimes once the mystery is resolved conversations shut down because the avatar is no longer anonymous, and there’s a perceived opportunity for the church leader to judge.

Relationships

PERCEPTION: Physical Church Leaders often struggle with the validity of relationships of virtual reality. Virtual Reality is essentially a video game. We can’t really know what these people are going through? Besides, Virtual Reality cannot impact the real world. Everything about Virtual Reality is fake.

REALITY: It may seem unlikely, but churches and ministries that are doing Metaverse ministry are reporting back a high level of relationships, somewhat deeper than even physical relationships. This seems counterintuitive to most church leaders, who see physical relationships as a necessity. There is validity to physical relationships, but church leaders need to recognize that relationships, even at the disciple making level, can happen in digital and Metaverse spaces. There is qualitative evidence at this point to affirm this assertion, and even in post-COVID society more and more relationships are being developed in the Metaverse.

CHALLENGE: The challenge of a church in the Metaverse is to actually look at these avatars not as pixels or cartoons, but human people. We need to see that there is a quite real reality in these virtual worlds. With that in mind, we need to pray for the Spirit’s leading, prompting us to see these worlds, these people, through Jesus’ eyes.

Thanks for checking out an excerpt from VR & The Metaverse Church: How God is Moving in this Virtual, Yet Quite Real, Reality. Grab the physical copy from Amazon, or download the PDF for free from Leadership Network.

Also, you are invited to the book launch party on Wednesday, November 16, at 12:30 pm Eastern. This online event is part of Metaverse Church NEXT’s live show. Stuart McPherson, who I’m pretty sure is the only full-time Virtual Reality Pastor employed by a physical church, will be joining us. We will discuss what it looks like to do virtual reality ministry for a physical church and how someone realizes they want to be a virtual reality pastor.


In June 2000, Jeff led his first online Bible study, taking 75 people from around the world through the book of James using a text-based system called Ultimate BB. He was doing digital ministry way before it was cool. Founding THECHURCH.DIGITAL in 2018, Jeff’s passions have evolved into helping churches (and individuals, too!) find their calling through digital discipleship, releasing people on digital mission, and planting multiplying digital churches. This pursuit will expand as Jeff (and others) create the DigitalChurch.Network, an organic, decentralized network for digital expressions of church globally. Jeff also serves as the director of Metaverse Church NEXT for Leadership Network and works closely with Exponential and other globally facing, multiplication-friendly, gospel-centric organizations. Jeff married his high school sweetheart, Amy, and has two kids and a dog. They live in Miami, Florida.

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