By Haley Foster -May 31, 2019
A pastor that goes by the name of D.J. Soto left his church due to what he felt was a lack of inclusivity. Soto then founded VR Church (short for Virtual Reality Church) in 2017. Now, his services see about 150 people each week, ranging from believers to atheists. Just recently, Soto baptized a well-known VR YouTuber in…you guessed it…virtual reality.
“I feel like I had an experience. Wow,” YouTuber Drumsy said after his virtual baptism.
How Does VR Church Work?
Soto uses AltSpaceVR—a virtual reality space where users can talk or interact with each other—to conduct his services. His very first service included a small number, around five people. “Everyone is invited here to VR Church, no matter where you are from in the world, even if you don’t believe in God,” Soto says.
Soto talks about how “atheists regularly came to listen to him preach about divine love, and they talked openly about their own faith.” He also explains how many of the people that attend his church online are curious about Christianity, or are home-bound for various reasons, or have been personally hurt by previous churches they have attended. Soto proclaims that VR Church is a safe space for people to have conversations about religion and they are encouraged to ask questions.
For various reasons, this has sparked debate. In March of 2019, Andy Huette wrote an article explaining why we should not replace attending church with live-streams. He expresses that there are people who cannot attend church, whether it is for a job or for health reasons, and rely on live-streams. He then states that “church isn’t something you can get solely online.” In his article, Huette says that the word “church” describes the people, or a community. If we are absent, we are not investing in other people, or our family. Huette argues that we do not belong to a community if we are live-streaming, much less attending a virtual reality service.
How Did We Get Here?
In the late 1900s, the idea of “Virtual Reality” was born. Virtual reality is a computer-generated environment where users are able to freely explore and interact. In 2014, Facebook bought a headset, “Oculus Rift,” which was released in 2016. Ever since, virtual reality has taken off and has become extremely popular, especially among younger age groups.
Is virtual reality baptism the same thing as being baptized in person? The simple answer is no. It does, however, symbolize the same thing—cleansing our past self, repenting and living a life for God. While the actual act of baptism—submerging yourself under water—only happens in actual reality, who is to say that someone cannot have a genuine conversion experience in virtual reality?
Is virtual reality church a realistic alternative for church? Considering the Bible emphasizes the importance of fellowship and meeting with believers to do good works, maybe not. Although, how we define fellowship could be up for debate here. Is a virtual reality church a viable part of the future, with more and more everyday experiences moving online, potentially?. What we do know is that very real people are showing up to an online church, ready to listen to a sermon about God’s love, and quite possibly, being saved.