Virtually There

Jason Poling, lead pastor of Cornerstone Church located in Yuba City, California, says his church is reaching people around the world without leaving their building. It all began because of his and his preteen sons’ pastime: video games. 

“There are a number of platforms or games that are more social in nature, and we started meeting people in the metaverse from all over the world,” he explains. “We found ourselves in conversations that would sometimes go deep quickly, where I was able to share my faith.”

The metaverse is typically defined as an emerging 3D-enabled digital space that combines virtual reality, augmented reality and other advanced internet and semiconductor technology so users experience lifelike experiences online. To make the experiences realistic, metaverse participants create avatars, or 3D representations of themselves, to move around the virtual world. 

When Poling discovered other metaverse enthusiasts among his congregants, they all decided together, Let’s see what the Lord wants us to do.

In March 2020, the church launched a third Sunday service in the metaverse. In the beginning, Cornerstone advertised it with a now-defunct app called Altspace VR that listed virtual events. Attendance started out small with around 25 people, but grew as more people under COVID-19 lockdowns searched for ways to connect with others. 

A major benefit of the metaverse is that avatars interact in virtual worlds in ways that are more immersive than video communicating technologies like Zoom, Poling says.

Now three years later, after conducting in-person services on Sunday mornings, Poling dons a headset to conduct metaverse services using the VRChat virtual world platform. Between 40 to 50 people attend weekly from various nations and religious backgrounds.

“We even had a Satanist from the U.K. come to Christ,” he says, adding, “The harvest is plentiful as Jesus said. It just is plentiful in areas that we didn’t expect.”

Gail Allyn Short
Gail Allyn Short

Gail Allyn Short is freelance writer in Birmingham, Alabama. She leads a nursing home ministry and teaches a Bible study class for new believers at Integrity Bible Church.