Editor's Note: Jeff here. I am excited to introduce Stuart McPherson to the THECHURCH.DIGITAL Audience here. Stuart is a Digital Pastor at Lakeland Church, a physical church that has been going HARD on Virtual Reality for a year or so now. Stuart has INCREDIBLE insights on Metaverse Ministry, and we'll get to that soon enough, but at the beginning here I asked Stuart to dive into his story... how he's evolved from a Pastor to a Digital Pastor now to a Metaverse Pastor in a very short amount of time. I hope you'll find his story and his insight influential as Lakeland Church continues to explore Ministry in the Metaverse. Welcome Stuart to the team, and listen to his story.
How the local church puts on a weekend service has had to change a lot in the past two years - a shift that many of us maybe didn’t realize we were unprepared for before it was too late. When the lockdowns came due to the Coronavirus, churches quickly pivoted to figuring out how to broadcast into the homes of their congregation. For some, the idea of these lockdowns seemed like a temporary disturbance, leading with the mentality “in two weeks we’ll be back to normal.” We know how the rest of the story goes.
About a month prior to the coronavirus first showed up in the United States, an article came out about a new and innovative way of doing church: church in Virtual Reality. When this article came out, some of the staff at the church I was working at during that time gathered around together to discuss whether or not we thought that Church in Virtual Reality could ever duplicate the benefits of meeting in a “real church.” This was a short discussion met with a lot of jokes made at the expense of the idea and, at the end of it all, we agreed that church in VR would never be a true expression of the Church. To be honest with you, because this was before lockdowns, we all agreed that Church Online could never be a true expression of church. And in full transparency, my voice was maybe the loudest and filled with the most objection to these ideas that day.
Fast forward one year. On March 28th 2021, the church I now work serve soft launched our first Virtual Reality service, and I was asked to co-lead the charge with our Next Generation pastor. To say I was hesitant to launch into this is a bit of an understatement, especially because of my feelings a year prior. But a lot had changed in that year and church online was not only a necessity, it was widely accepted with different levels of comfortability worldwide. This meant we were given “permission to play” and figure out other avenues of doing church on any digital platform.
So here I am, a Virtual Reality Church doubter, now spear heading a Virtual Reality Church (who says God doesn’t have a sense of humor?). A couple of weeks into being a Virtual Reality pastor, one of our IRL (in real life) church members asked me what I enjoyed most about doing church in VR. I hadn’t really put much thought to that at this point, but I loved his question. I thought about it for a second, and I told him, “I get the opportunity to be an international missionary all from the basement of my house.” Since putting on the Oculus Quest 2 (the VR headset I use), we have gone through a lot of different variations of doing church in VR; currently we are onto version three and in the process of working on our next phase. A lot can happen in a year. A doubter can turn into a believer but, if I were to sum up my past year doing VR church, I would do so by quoting Jesus, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.”
Maybe as you read this, you or your church leadership doubt the legitimacy of doing church in VR. My advice to you would be this: put on a headset, step into virtual reality, and witness the reality of the immense potential of winning Kingdom territory all over the world from your basement.