Mega to Meta? Your First Step in Starting a Metaverse Ministry with Jason Poling

Welcome to the unSeminary podcast. Today we’re talking with Jason Poling, lead pastor of Cornerstone Church of Yuba City in California. For the first ten years of Jason’s ministry as a pastor, he felt like he had been living in “maintenance mode.” While his church was experiencing growth, some of which was due to brand new believers, a lot of the growth came from the already-churched crowd. After a bold prayer for God to increase his faith, in 2019 God opened his eyes to the massive, unchurched population in the digital world.

Listen in as Jason talks with us about the mission field in the Metaverse, how your church can begin to reach the lost, and even establish a campus there.

  • Ripe for harvest. // The Metaverse is a unique space where especially younger generations who are digital natives go to build relationships. No matter how cool or relevant your church is, there are some people who will never attend a brick-and-mortar church. Yet the Metaverse provides an easy entry point for them where they can check out a service and interact with the other people there in a safe, low-pressure way.
  • What is VR church? // The Metaverse version of services at Cornerstone Church are very much like being at the in real life (IRL) location. Instead of seeing physical people, you’ll see their avatars. As you walk toward other people in the Metaverse, audio is spatially constructed and you’ll be able to hear them talk and enter into conversation, just like IRL. The one thing you need to participate is a VR headset. In the Metaverse, Cornerstone streams their services, similar to how they would on other platforms like Facebook or YouTube. In addition to VR, you can utilize Discord (similar to a beefed up version of Zoom) and Twitch (a streaming platform that goes beyond YouTube) to create a robust experience in the Metaverse.
  • Keep a connection. // Cornerstone Church of Yuba City treats their VR church as one of their campuses and maintains a connection between their IRL site and their Metaverse location. Talk to your IRL campuses about what God is doing in the Metaverse location, and talk to your Metaverse campus about what God’s doing in the IRL locations. Hybridize training and offer opportunities for things like bible study or small groups for your people both IRL and in the Metaverse. Make use of Discord and its ability to use a two-way camera to provide opportunities for more interaction between IRL and the Metaverse. Share vision and prayer requests across campuses.
  • Build relationships. // Remember that people primarily visit the Metaverse to connect. Serving people in the Metaverse can look like approaching them and asking them how you can pray for them. While it might seem creepy to approach a stranger out of the blue IRL and do this, it’s normal in the Metaverse. Many people might be discouraged, lonely or depressed and hungry for relationship. Even if people might want to be anonymous at first, in the end they are much more open to conversation in the Metaverse. There are always opportunities to share Christ’s love and encourage others.
  • A world of its own. // Jason suggests thinking of the Metaverse as a world that has different continents. Each VR platform (AltSpace VR, Rec Room, Horizons, etc.) is a different continent with different tribes that have had very little exposure to the gospel.
  • Test the waters. // You can experience the Metaverse world first by logging into the 2D version to find what might be attracting people on that side. Then pick up a VR headset, which currently is about $300 and talk with people. Explore the world and Metaverse church services to see what you can do and what the Metaverse has to offer.
  • Try out small events. // When you’re ready to set up a church experience, Altspace VR is one of the easier platforms to try out your first Metaverse service. Set up an event and it will show up to others who log into the platform. It will start small, but keep showing up, don’t get discouraged, and persevere in sharing Christ’s love and the community will grow.
  • Diving deeper. // Curious about the Metaverse and the mission field there? Rich will provide an Oculus headset to the first church leader who emails him and takes time to explore the Metaverse, as long as they provide a 500 word write-up about their experience there—the good, the bad and the ugly—to be shared on unSeminary.

You can learn more about Cornerstone Church of Yuba City at and find information about their virtual services there. Jason has also provided a copy of his article about diving deeper into the Metaverse world for download. It shares his story and offers encouragement for people who might be skeptical of the value of starting a Metaverse ministry.

Help Taking Your First Steps Into Metaverse Ministry

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Episode Transcript

Rich — Hey, friends welcome to the unSeminary podcast. Man, so glad that you’ve decided to tune in. Every week we try to bring you a leader who will both inspire and equip you and today is no exception. This is going to be a conversation that’s going to push you in some new directions. Super excited to have Jason Poling with us. He is from Cornerstone Church of Yuba City, a fantastic church in California. They have a location there in the physical world, but then also one in the Metaverse. So super excited to have you with us today, Jason. Welcome to the show.

Jason — Great to be here. Thank thank you Rich.

Rich — I’m really excited for this conversation because I feel like everywhere we go, we’re talking about the Metaverse and I’m excited to actually interact with a church leader who’s taken a few steps ahead for us and is leading and trying a few things and learning. So this is going to be a great conversation, but let’s fill in the picture. Tell us about Cornerstone. Give us a kind of a bit of the flavor of the church that kind of thing. And then we’re going to jump into all things meta.

Jason — Yeah, so we’re we’re just north of Sacramento but we’re in a small agricultural area – I mean it’s a bigger, everything’s bigger to some degree in California, and Texas of course but I lived in Texas as well so yeah I can say that…

Rich — Sure sure. Nice. Yeah.

Jason — but um, we’re in ah in about 150,000 people and at the in the in the area we live. Um, I’ve been at this church about 4 years it’s ah it’s a sort of a medium, small to medium size church. Um, you know when I came it was just ah was kind of struggling and God has really done a great work over the last 3, 4 years – been so thankful for that. And we just ah, it’s a church that you would not expect that would go into the Metaverse at all. If you came to my church, especially 3 or 4 years ago that would not even cross your mind.

Rich — Right. Yeah.

Jason — And so I will will of course go into all the detail details on how that happened. But it’s really been neat to see the church really get excited because the church that I’m at, they definitely have a heart for mission. They want to see people come to Christ. And so that is really been the driving force and impetus and and so allowed this church to do crazy, I mean crazy things right? The Metaverse! So it’s it’s been great. It’s been a great great experience. Great church here in Northern California.

Rich — So good. Yeah, this is a part of what I’m glad you brought this up because I was as I was doing some research you know, look digging into the church kind of seeing who who you are. Um this is like a normal church like you are you know, which which again I didn’t know how to say that I didn’t want that to be ah you know demeaning. But ah, which I which hopefully actually motivates people to be like hey this should be something we should be be thinking about. So let’s tell this story a little bit. How, why did you end up in VR or or you know Metaverse? What did that… How did all that happen? Tell me that story.

Jason — Yeah, yeah, so obviously everyone knows the pandemic. We know that that that happened that’s a reality and of course that pushed everyone digitally, so that did have a huge part of in the whole picture but we were actually moving that way and God again – God’s Sovereign – so thankful. Were preparing and moving that way well before the Pandemic. So I’ve always been involved in technology, very interested kind of geek out like that I love gaming. I remember even back in the day… I’m I’m ah older than I look – of course you guys can’t see me the podcast, Rich can see me – I’m older than I look. Um, but I I would be very interested in VR. I remember going to malls and they’d have these little little booths set up and you could do like a game or kind of a Dave and Busters kind of place where they’d have ah a VR. Of course it was really generic. It was like diving into like Tron, if you remember Tron…

Rich — Yes, yeah, yeah, yep.

Jason — Tron-type of quality of of graphics but it was still amazing. And so VR just never quite took off, never got to the commodity pricing and the ability to kind of mass distribute it. And then of course Oculus, and then of course Zuckerberg and Facebook and he took Oculus over and then of course now the Meta right? .

Rich — Yes, yes.

Jason — But anyway, um I’ve always been interested in technology. So when I saw about VR coming out, I was really excited just from a personal level. But as a pastor, I mean as you are, I mean we I just want to see more people come to Christ and as I began to look at the statistics, you know that all, everyone listening this podcast knows that we’re not on an upward track right? The the movement is not going upward in terms of seeing more people come to Christ in the United States and and people being churched. And so I’m like man. How do we reach them? And so it just, a bunch of things came together I’m like, the meta versus huge.

Rich — Mmm-hmm.

Jason — There’s you know literally billions of people you know, communing on the Metaverse, fellowshipping in their own ways on the on the Metaverse, in the Metaverse, and I’m like, this seems like a hand-in-glove situation.

Rich — Yes. Yes.

Jason — We could get out there and start reaching. And that’s exactly what we decided to do. And we got a team, we got a team together. Some, obviously some, younger people to start, but you know believe it or not we’ve got some older members of our congregation that are now involved in in the ministry in the Metaverse. But we did start with some younger that were more digital natives and we just started doing it. Um, we basically started April of 2020. So right right there at the at the pandemic. And we’ve been doing it ever since.

Rich — That’s amazing.

Jason — And been it’s been amazing to see the conversations the connections we’re making with people. Especially younger generations that have no connection to the church tell us time and time again they would never have gone. They say it. We would never have gone to a brick and mortar church. No matter how cool it might have looked or relevant. We wouldn’t, we wouldn’t go. And so VR just provided this a little bit more easy entry point for them. It just it feels a little more safe so because you can pop out quickly.

Rich — Yes, yes, yes.

Jason — You know you go and you don’t you don’t get stuck at a service where you’re nervous they’re gonna, you know, sacrifice chickens on the on the altar or something, you know, they can get out quick. So…

Rich — Yeah, yeah, totally totally.

Jason — It’s just an easier entry point. And then once they’re in, and you develop relationship with them, begin to share the gospel with them, people get saved. That’s that’s what we’ve been doing for 2000 years, right? So anyway that’s we just did that and that’s what happened so.

Rich — Love it. Dude, I love it. So good. So give us a sense of, so I think, you know, folks that are listening in.… we were joking about this ahead of time… you know, I would say are in that like understand in a broad sense what VR is understand in a um, yeah, like get us a little bit of a sense of what that looks like. Fill out the picture for us though. What is VR Church? What are, what…what kind of… what is your ministry look like in the Metaverse? How, what are the kind of… you say you have a campus in the Metaverse – what does that look like what is the kind of scale and scope of the ministry?

Jason — Yeah, it’s great question. And it’s it’s really, it is at this stage in the game it’s kind of interesting to see because most people that they just don’t have any idea… but it’d be it… I love trying to get people into it if I could get them ah get to wear a headset, just to try it out and see they would actually find. And if they came to one of our services they would find that it looks pretty similar to what happens in IRL, or what we call IRL is In Real Life church – physical church. Um, and that may be just the way that I have chosen to do it just for my own bandwidth. I I realize you know I can’t create something completely new here. I know it seems crazy to go the Metaverse. I’m like, I’m already preparing a sermon preaching twice on Sunday morning. I just want to kind of do the same thing ah without having to stress myself out. And so I wasn’t sure if that would work. But again people are people, and people are hungry for truth. And so what I what I we basically do almost the same service in the Metaverse. So the only difference that you might, would experience would be you wouldn’t see physical people. You would see avatars. But when you’re in the 3D experience it’s very immersive, of course, the whole point of 3D and Metaverse…

Rich — Yep, that’s the point.

Jason — …is it’s spatially constructed right? So you actually can walk over to somebody and hear them more clearly and if you walk away, you can the the audio is even spatially constructed and so it really creates exactly what you feel like when you walk into your church on a Sunday morning in real life. And so it’s really not much different. Now, there’s other ways to do VR ministry. I’ve got buddies that just go straight up ah, go evangelize. Well, that’s not much different either just going street evangelism right? They just go into they go into VR pubs and just strike up a conversation. So it’s not it’s, virtual reality obviously is replicating, it’s mimicking what we experience in in reality and so it’s not that different. I think what’s hard for people to get past is the the currently the quality of the the graphic rendering right? So some of the, if you watch one of our videos we post, someone you can see them on Facebook, Youtube, or our livestream ah from our VR services…

Rich — Mmm-hmm.

Jason — …it’s 2D and you can do it 2D but you’re you’re not going to get the immersive experience. And so when you watch it, it’s going to feel, it’s going to look a little cartoonish. It’s kind of hard for people to get past that. But if you can get past the idea that it’s not about the the quality of the graphics, the cartoonish nature of of the avatars, it’s the people behind the souls behind those avatars. Then then you can start saying oh this makes, this really makes sense. So I think it’s just getting over those hurdles…

Rich — Yep. Yep.

Jason — …of the unknowns. So yeah, it’s very similar what we do on Sunday morning IRL.

Rich — Yeah that’s great. Yeah that’s fun. And what um so what networks are people like, if someone’s saying, I want to, actually, how do you invite someone to the the VR version of your church? What does that actually look like how do how do you… how do you actually make that happen? How do I get somebody to actually attend one of your services, you know, in the Metaverse?

Jason — Right. So I mean one one thing is just go to our website. You can go to… cornerstoneyc is for Yuba City dot com and then slash VR so pretty pretty simple to get there.

Rich — Yes.

Jason — And then they can see where we’ve got the links to the two the three platforms that we’re currently on ah, VR. And then we also have our Discord… which I don’t know how much your listeners know about Discord’s like a Zoom on steroids. Really awesome robust platform and then our Twitch channel, which again I don’t know if these might be terms no one knows what that means. But it’s it’s it’s a streaming platform ah you know more like Youtube but even beyond that.

Rich — Yep yep.

Jason — And so we have we have access you can get into any of those places. Of course our Facebook, normal Facebook page, and YouTube page will show the streams of the services. So you can you can actually go and see it really simply. Now to actually go in the immersive side you do, at that point, need a headset.

Rich — Mmm-hmm. Right.

Jason — So that is the one obstacle to entry. But again, we’re we’re really trying to reach people that are already there, already digital natives in the VR Metaverse. Um, but you can go out and get one for what $299. So it’s not it’s not cost-prohibitive for someone to…

Rich — Yeah, totally.

Jason — And I would encourage anyone listening, I mean, if just to, I mean most and probably a lot of people you’re you’re you’re talking to probably have the budget in their church to buy a $300 headset for the staff and then just kind of dabble just kind of experience it…

Rich — Just experience it. Absolutely.

Jason — …and see see what it is so it’s not. It’s not really a loss actually – 300 bucks is pretty, that’s pretty nice. I mean you could you could start a church in the Metaverse; church plant for 300 bucks.

Rich — Yes, yes, yeah, come on that’s amazing.

Jason — That’s that’s insane. It’s insane.

Rich — Yeah, that’s incredible. How have you been casting vision for this in the you know in your real life church in the on you know in the physical space? Ah, what does that look like how how do you talk about this with people in your in your you know the physical you know location? What does that look like how are you kind of helping move people you know IRL into you know the virtual world?

Jason — Yeah, yeah, great great question. Of course you know, um it all obviously the the senior leader has to be excited about something and keep it in front of people, so that that’s I think one of the reasons why obviously it’s taken off here is I just talk about it a lot. I’m so excited about it and we tell stories about what’s happening there and so we always talk to the in real life congregation, the campuses about about what’s happening, and vice versa. We talk to the VR campuses about what’s happening IRL. So there is, ah there is a beginning, and not just the beginning, it’s really come to some maturity of ah of relationship. And there’s a few things that have happened. Ah, one one thing we’ll do is when we do trainings – um like I’m right now doing a bible counseling training. Um, you know we got about 50 people in in process with that. We’ve got we we did life group training…

Rich — Totally.

Jason — …ah preaching trainings, all that kind of stuff – we always hybridize it. So that was one of our initial goals is make sure this is not just this separate thing…

Rich — So good.

Jason — …Outposts that they have no connectivity to the in real life church. No, it’s hybridized. And so when we train, we’ll have them on Discord and that’s, again, a wonderful platform for that. And two-way cameras, speakers – we got it all set up to where it’s it’s it’s really awesome…

Rich — Yeah, yeah.

Jason — …that we can interact very…And so there’s a lot of relational development that actually occurs there. We’ve gotten a lot of our members on Discord here IRL so they’re interacting with people. Um, we in a VR family reunion where about twelve people… or maybe not quite twelve – a couple couldn’t come… they came out to northern California from our VR family to hang out…

Rich — Oh that’s fun. Love that.

Jason — …hang out with us for a weekend. And so they and they stayed at some of our IRL members houses just a lot of overlap a lot of fellowship.

Rich — Love it.

Jason — Um, just a lot of ways in which we, you know, we pray for each other all in the Facebook group together. So when a prayer request comes out, it’s VR or IRL. It doesn’t matter. It’s all the Cornerstone, as we call it, the forever family and and so we’re all in this together. So we’ve just really been strategic about making sure there’s ah, a connectivity, a hybridization between the campuses. So it’s not this outpost. Yeah.

Rich — Ah, yeah I love that one of the things I’ve been saying is I think ah, the our online ministry, you know so many of us have done, you know, church online. We’ve tried to figure that piece out and yeah, like we were… the pandemic…like gosh the ultimate, like man, we’re so glad we took those steps. But it’s still to me, and listen I started doing church online in 2009 – been doing it for a long time. We spent a lot of time, effort, energy, a lot of brain cells on it. Ah, but it still feels like we’re not quite there yet. It still feels like we’re um, it’s not quite. It doesn’t feel native. It doesn’t feel like it’s from the technology right?

Jason — Yeah.

Rich — It doesn’t feel like, it’s, it feels like we’re bolting something on. And I love that you’re trying to mesh the two to hybridize because I think there’s some magic there. What have you learned as you’ve tried to bring those two communities together? Any, kind of, steps that you would say hey you know we we should be thinking about these things if we’re trying to to take you know a step in that direction?

Jason — Yeah I want, well I should mention too one one thing we did do – and this is where you know your cost does go up if you want to go this far – and you know obviously to start you don’t have to do all this. It’s all 300 bucks and everything’s free…

Rich — Yep, yeah yes, yep.

Jason — …but we did hire a Metaverse pastor. So and I think he might be the first meta… like his title is Missionary Pastor to the Metaverse. Sounds so cool, you know…

Rich — Yes, yes, love it. Yeah, that is so cool.

Jason — …but he’s down in Fort Lauderdale so he’s the entire country away from us. I got connected…

Rich — Oh, very cool.

Jason — …I got connected to him through I don’t know if you don’t Jeff Reed in Stadia – Jeff, I think, is Exponential now. But anyway, ah so this guy’s Michael Uzdavines is a great guy and so he’s our Metaverse pastor. Um, but he comes out… we have him come out with some regularity to the church here and he’ll preach live. He also actually preached on our big screen to the whole congregation. That was really ,that was really an awesome experience too because he could see, he could see all of us right?

Rich — Yes.

Jason — …two-way camera while he’s preaching to the IRL congregation. So, anyway, that’s that’s one thing I forgot to mention that just kind of, again, brings the thing together a little bit. But um, you know I think we just, I don’t know if there was a strategy other than just constantly trying to bring the two together in every setting so in vision, visioning as well.

Rich — Yes, yes.

Jason — So we’re doing… I think I sent you this thing about in IRL… we’re trying to do this thing called our City on a Hill initiative to really kind of go to where the people are instead of trying to always get them to come to our church. Um, long story short, we’re like well how do we do that also in the Metaverse?

Rich — Mmm-hmm.

Jason — And so we’re we’re making sure that the the visioning that we that we cast, the vision that we cast, and the things that we’re doing, we try to replicate it both ways. And so we did thing called Love Yuba City,…Yuba City’s two counties that’s ah where we’re at, we’re just kind of on the line. So ah, we went out and and took a Sunday… a lot churches do this… we took a Sunday off and went and served the community in all these different ways. Well in the Metaverse we did the same thing.

Rich — Very cool.

Jason — So it’s not, you can’t do some of the physical things, but there’s a lot of ways that you can bless people believe it or not in the Metaverse. Um, and so we just kind of replicate those things make sure we’re all in the same page…

Rich — I Love that.

Jason — …when we’re doing ministry and so it all feels a lot more connected I guess. So I’m not sure we really I wish I could say we we mapped it out for years…

Rich — Yeah, yeah.

Jason — …and had this perfect strategy which I could say I wrote a book on it. No, we kind of just dove in and just had that concept of…

Rich — No, it’s good.

Jason — …IRL is so important. I do think still the physical, that’s how God made it it. It is superior. But it doesn’t denigrate or mean that we can’t do ministry digitally and try to bring the two together somehow. So we just had that as our kind of north star and and everything is kind of flowed flowed from there.

Rich — Love it. We’re going to come back that put a bookmark in that. Ah, but I want to talk about, I want you to flesh that a little bit more.. What were some of the things that you were doing to serve the community in the Metaverse? What did that look like? How did you again, you know you can’t… building wouldn’t necessarily be, you know, going and helping paint someone’s house is pretty easy – just click and you know change the color. So what, you know, what were you doing in in the Metaverse to help serve, you know, in those communities?

Jason — Yes, the first year we did we basically we started out and said, hey how about this Sunday morning – since we’re not gonna have service to this afternoon – go out into your local community and and serve in some way and then let us know, like tell stories, you love to hear story. What what did God do? So that was cool and of course they did that as well this year. But we also said why, in the Metaverse, why don’t we all go in together and we’ll go to all the different worlds together. And just, I think, they I was actually… I couldn’t be there because I was at the one here in in IRL… but Metaverse pastor had them all put on avatar, like their name, and then “how can I pray for you?” And so they go around to say, hey you, just want to know if…

Rich — Oh yeah, that’s cool.

Jason — …hey if there’s anything I can pray for you about. And believe it or not. It’s not as maybe creepy as it sounds because in the Metaverse people are there to connect. Like that’s why they’re there.

Rich — Sure.

Jason — And so usually people will strike up a conversation, they could pray for them, encourage them. There’s also things I don’t think anybody did this year, but what we want to do eventually is, there are, as you know, there’s a lot of digital, there’s a whole economy that occurs in the Metaverse. So right now we’re getting to crypto and blockchain and nfts, you know, so there are things that you can do that are tangible in that they’re economically related, ah to bless people where they’re at in the Metaverse. And so we’re kind of envisioning what would that look like to have something that was more tangibly beneficial…

Rich — Yep.

Jason — …to people to to the Metaverse denizens. You know what I mean?

Rich — Yep yep, Yep! Absolutely, love it. So good. Let’s pull back and talk a bit about the Metaverse. So I I was listening to, so I’m hoping, my hope is – because I’m gonna, I told you heads I’m gonna be a little bit of a devil’s advocate. My hope though, is exactly what you said – that people go out and buy a headset, and actually jump in, jump into Atspace, jump into… and and experience this. Because um, you know this goes back to Second Life ten years ago where we were, you know, Life Church was like, hey let’s put a Second Life campus on and it was like amazing.

Jason — Yeah, yeah.

Rich — Um, you know I think we’ve been scratching, culture has been scratching this itch for a long time, and it would appear like things are lining up and we’re going to actually end up in some sort of VR connected Metaverse here and so are, we’d be silly to not take these steps. So friends I think we should. You know we should do this. I heard recently, I heard ah a ah pundit talking about the Metaverse and said you… know like this year in 2021, so this is just going to go out in early 2022… but in 2021, it’s estimated that 16 million VR headsets were sold. In the same year 3 hundred million crocs were sold and this person was saying listen, like the the scale of this is still infinitesinally small…

Jason — Yeah.

Rich — …like it is it is… and I often joke about this… I know that a technology is reaching mass adoption when two things happen: when my when my wife, or my mom are interested. It feels like a long time until my wife or my mom will put on a VR ah headset…

Jason — Yeah.

Rich — I can’t imagine a day, but it it it seems like a long ways away. How far away from that kind of adoption do you think we are, or what will be some of the things that will need to happen before we see that kind of adoption, from your perspective, from someone who is working and living and playing in the Metaverse already today?

Jason — Yeah, the great question I do think it’s still and it’s it’s, you know, and there’s ah if you can do some research and stuff and yeah I’m not like heavy… and DJ Soto’s another guy is a great friend who started the first virtual reality church. He’s done a lot of this… I think it’s really interesting to see some of the trends of when something reaches a tipping point.

Rich — Yes.

Jason — And sometimes it gets, so VR is technically past this point where it it could, ah it could be a technology that goes the way of the dodo bird right now. It’s past that point but it’s still in the trough where it’s not taken off in a massive way but all all ah, all indicators point that it’s going to, like you just said.

Rich — Mmm-hmm.

Jason — I don’t know when that’s gonna happen, but one of the big players, I mean once Apple drops something then the game game’s over right? I mean it is, is that thing, that’s why I meant, I think because Apple currently is in development with, and of course top secret right? But it’s all, things get leaked…

Rich — Yes.

Jason — …but they do have some um AR/VR ah, glasses that they’re working on. It may not be something that is massively adopted because it’s probably gonna, you know, as Apple always does, cost a lot. Um, but they’re, Apple’s so good at creating a you know creating ah a a culture around some a product, creating an ethos, making something look good…

Rich — Yes.

Jason — …and work well. And so I think what I’ve seen in some of the early indicators it’s going to be not these clunky headsets, it’s gonna be real nice…

Rich — Yes.

Jason — …and trim. And I think once that happens… and I think that’s why Zuckerberg’s kind of trying to really get ahead of the game because he wants to be the guy who’s known as the Metaverse guy, not Apple.

Rich — Right.

Jason — …and and I yeah everybody else is gonna, once Apple breaks it, I mean I was in the cell phone industry back when the iPhone first came out and it’s crazy right? Like now it’s it’s ubiquitous. I mean like your your grandmother does have and ah iPhone now. And so it just happens so fast. I think once Apple does that I think we’re off to the races and it will just…

Rich — Yeah, that’s good.

Jason — …Will just keep accelerating. And of course you got to have on the other side—the software developers, the coders—as they get better at their craft and have more resources at their disposal, and it becomes ah just graphically rich, and it overcomes some of the obstacles that might be there, it’s going to be, it’s going to take over the world. Now some people, it can be a little dystopian when you start thinking about it…

Rich — Sure sure.

Jason — …and it might be, but you know this underview. We’re not able to you and I aren’t going to stop that and so we somehow have to not give over everything to it but yet reach into where people are at and that’s where they’re going to be so.

Rich — Yeah, totally. Well and I think it’s the same… listen friends, I for years, it’s amazing, like for years we were hounding people to get onto social media. It was like, friends, like your people are there and there are still a ton of communities… and these stats are like publicly available… there’s a ton of communities across the country where 60% of the population is on Facebook weekly which I know we all think like Facebook it’s old and it’s like, you know, it’s like old school that people aren’t there anymore. But when you think about that if 60% of the people in your town were doing something every single week, you’d be silly as a leader to not go and check it out at least – to say hey we got to do something there. And so where we seem to be I would totally agree with you on that I think from a future facing point of view, we’re headed here. This is not, to me, it’s not in the question of if, it’s just a matter of when…

Jason — Yeah.

Rich — …what, how are we and and folks like yourself, um, you know are leading the way helping us understand that. You know the other thing I heard which captured my imagination that I think I think is really true is in a lot of ways we’re already there. Like we are already layering over top of our physical existence a digital layer.

Jason — Yeah, yeah.

That’s ultimately what the Metaverse is about is it’s about layering on you know in a Ready Player One ultimately a sort of way, but we’re already doing that. If you own an iphone and you have a set of airpods with Siri connected you already are layering on a level…

Jason — Yeah.

Rich — …a layer, a level of data on top of your real world existence. It’s the same with with Amazon’s Echo – you’re layering in data in a way that was really inconceivable just a few years ago.

Jason — Right.

Rich — Um I noticed actually this this ah Christmas season that Amazon’s Echo headsets which are, it’s it’s a headset that you’re designed to wear all day long, so you never take it off and it’s an AR experience – that is trying to take Echo with you. And I I think those things all point in the direction of, oh this is where this thing is headed like we are, how do we use data to you know enhance our reality and I think there’s really something there. That’s that’s really what

Jason — Yeah, that’s wise. Yeah I think you’re right and and the Metaverse, yeah, basically it’s just trying to bring in other senses right?

Rich — Yes. Yes. Yep.

Jason — It’s trying to bring in the visual rendering of what you just described. I think you’re right on. We’re already doing it from the audible level right?

Rich — Yes.

Jason — …and and to some degree I mean I guess that’s probably the only sense that you’re necessarily getting in terms of the AR layering. But yeah, but what what VR is bringing or what Metaverse is bringing is is the visual I mean that’s all it’s happening.

Rich — Well yeah, and yeah, and you can see I think again I think on the audio side and I listen I’m not… you’re the expert in this area, I’m definitely not the expert… but to me it feels like that a udio is the back door ultimately to the Meta the Metaverse. If we can convince people or if as people get convinced, you know, what would be great would be to carry around the entire internet not just in my pocket, but in my ears, that I can talk to and have that thing either connect with other people, or play whatever songs I want to play, or you know in our case, hopefully you know recite this scripture verse, or you know connect with my friends…

Jason — Yeah, yeah.

Rich — …that it’s only one step further to a set of great glasses that help me connect you know with people who are in other parts of the world. It’s actually not a a giant step…

Jason — No, it’s not yeah.

Rich — …you know which is an interesting, I don’t know, interesting thing. Well so this is great, if people are listening in today I’m hoping again, they’re they’re convinced that they should pay, maybe take a take a run at this. They should actually take a step. What would be a couple of those first steps beyond the, okay so I’m, I’d like to I buy a headset and they’re probably on sale because it’s in it’s January when this is out, so I can get a good deal on one of those. What would be some of those first steps that that you know, kind of all of us should take?

Jason — Yeah, I mean definitely if you know you could check out like our website or or yeah DJ Soto’s VR church. You can kind of at least look at what it is. You could then go and see from a 2D experience the livestreams or what have you to kind of check it out. Then you could actually download, you can download most of the platforms and again think of the Metaverses in terms of this world that has all these continents and then there’s all these tribes on the continents, and basically it’s it’s a mission field. There are new tribes that have no, or very little exposure to the gospel. I’m always amazed at how little ah, the the folks the Gen Z-ers and Millennials on there just have no exposure. But anyway each continent is kind of like a platform. So for example, we jumped in first to Microsoft’s continent which is called Altspace VR. And then we also have one in VR chat which is not affiliated with any large tech company.

Rich — Mmm-hmm.

Jason — But Facebook’s got their Horizons now that just launched into -it was in beta for a while. You’ve got Rec Room which is massive. Rec Room is not connected to a tech, a large tech, well they’re large but they’re not known. But they but they’re great in that they have cross-platforming so you you basically reach everybody everywhere – cell phone, console, VR headset – everything.

Rich — Mmm-hmm.

Jason — But anyway any of those places you typically, typically… I know Altspace can do this… you can download in VR chat you can download um a 2D version so you can actually enter into the world, talk with people, all that stuff… kind of like what second life was basically that’s what it was… um so you could do that, you could experience if you if you didn’t want to spend any money you could do all that just to kind of expose yourself, go to go to a and I would encourage you get the headset, I mean it’s only 300 bucks and then go to some church services. Go to ours, visit us, visit DJ’s, visit the others, and and just kind of see what it feels like. Check out the world. Just kind of enjoy. Just have fun. Enjoy seeing what the Metaverse currently has to offer. And then from there if you’re like um, my goodness there is so much fruit in the harvest field out here, because I because I guarantee if you’re, if you even try to strike up a conversation, it so often happens within the first five minutes you’re gonna be in a deep conversation. I’m always amazed when I go in there because it’s not like the IRL. In that in the IRL it does feel like everyone’s on their in the Rat Race right?

Rich — Mmm-hmm.

Jason – And you might go to you go to church and after church you try to hang around talk, but people got things to do and they’re out.

Rich — Right right.

Jason — In the Metaverses people, the whole reason they’re there, the whole reason is to connect and communicate. And sometimes a lot of people are very discouraged, lonely, depressed, and so, and they also feel at first a degree of anonymity that allows a little more freedom of expression, but quickly the and um the anonymity goes to the wayside. It’s like this cool entry point. But then you you begin to know this person, deeply. And and so anyway, you’ll you’ll find if you even just try to open up a conversation and you can say hey you’re you’re from a church. You’ll start having some… now you might get some trolls, that there are some trolls if you know what trolls are…

Rich — Yes. Yes.

Jason — …ah and and God, Jesus loves trolls too. So but they can be pretty that can be pretty brutal sometimes but at the same time there’s a lot of opportunities for for… anyway. So you get in there ah, if you’re like wow this is awesome. The next step you’d want to do is is just literally let’s say you start an Altspace which is probably one of the easier places. Not the most populated; it’s it’s it’s actually pretty small in terms of numbers. But it’s it’s easier to get into and try it out. They have all these already made worlds for you.

Rich — Right.

Jason — So you don’t have to craft anything. All the coding is done for you and you can actually set up your event just like you would on on Facebook events or something. Super simple. And and if you’re a pastor listening you’re like man I I am nowhere near a digital native. I guarantee you there is someone. If you’re a large church, on your staff…

Rich — Yep.

Jason— …There’s someone on your staff that’s digital native that can do it in their sleep. I guarantee you if you’re a small church. There is someone in your congregation. Probably a teen, a millennial, that that um, that is a digital native. If you just…[unclear]…mission and say hey I got a mission field for you. I I’ll come alongside you and disciple you along the way. But here’s a headset, go in there set up an event. It’s super easy and that’s all free. And then it shows up and when people come into the world at the time that you do your event—maybe it’s a service; maybe it’s just a hangout—um, they’ll see your church on the events page and a lot of times they’ll check it out. Probably some somewhat to troll. Maybe.

Rich — Yeah.

Jason — Somewhat just because it’s like hey, I’ll check it out; I’ll talk. And you will start to have conversations. And it will start small. We started with like I don’t know three or four people. And now probably on a given Sunday in Altspace we probably get, I mean it’s not like, we’re not megachurch, by the way, I mean, and you you are limited a little bit on the amount of people that can be in just just because of the the coding, and the and space that you can have, so we probably get thirty forty people on average in our Altspace…

Rich — Yeah.

Jason — …we probably get I’d say sometimes we have 70 in VR chat but, you know, probably forty/fifty. So I mean but these are all all souls that don’t know Jesus, we’re trying to reach them so…

Rich — Absolutely.

Jason — …and and some of them do know Jesus there’s plenty of stories I can tell you about that. So anyway you just start the event. And then just then it’s just the old the old way of faithfulness. Just show up every time. Just keep showing up. Don’t get discouraged if for several weeks or for a while you’ve got three or four people. Those are three or four people, I mean, that you can reach for Christ.

Rich — Yep.

Jason — And then just watch it as as they start talking and they realize that you you love them. And and you know right? Friends friendships happen. That’s why they’re there…

Rich — Totally

Jason — …and then it will grow. It’ll just grow. Just just be faithful just show up in those in a free world. You basically spent 300 bucks. It’s that easy. So.

Rich — Love it.

Jason — I think once they start doing that and they start having those robust conversations around the gospel with these unchurched people, then then it just takes fire people get excited. You can tell stories to your congregation, your IRL say… Oh my gosh, like like the one I always love telling is the is the “future queen of hell” – that was her avatar name – came in a year and a half ago…

Rich — Love it.

Jason — …She told us later – the story has a happy ending – but she told us later that she came in to troll, to mock us. And she was just overwhelmed by how welcoming we were – we’re like hey, we don’t care if you’re satanist. You know we believe in Jesus, but you’re welcome here. We love you. You know you know and so she came, befriended, became ah very regular, came to every service, every event. And even helped us build – because she’s ah a coder -helped us build our newest campus in Rec Room – beautiful campus. And then a few months ago she became a Christian, is being discipled now, and got baptized in the in the world that she built. She got baptized there about a month or two ago. So.

Rich — So good.

Jason — Like when you could tell those stories to your church, it’s like… And she’s she’s in the UK, 23/24, told us that she would never ever have gone to a brick and mortar church. All of her family. She’s the first Christian in generations there. Almost all of them are new age or wiccan or what have you. And and still those are stories that resonate with with your IRL people…

Rich — Totally. Totally.

Jason — …and and it just takes fire. It just takes fire after that.

Rich — This is so good. So good. You. All You also provided a copy of an article. Um that we’re going to link to in the in the show notes. This is all about, um really it’s about the topic we’ve been talking about. You dive a bit deeper, you kind of tell this story, you know. Anything else you want to talk about this this pdf? This could be a great resource actually for church leaders. This is what I thought when I read it – I’m like this could be a great resource for church leaders like to pitch this out and say hey let’s think about this together, um, read this article and then let’s come to a meeting next week and talk about what should our first steps be into the Metaverse.

Jason — Yeah.

Rich — But but tell us a little bit about this article.

Jason — Yeah, yeah, so I got selected to come to a ah ah shark tank is what they called it, you know the the tv show. But Exponential to this future church initiative, and I was at the first shark tank in Austin this last year, and they actually had ah about four of us, five of us from the Metaverse…

Rich — Mmm-hmm.

Jason — …doing Metaverse ministry, so it’s really cool at there. Exponential’s getting really excited about Metaverse stuff. They’re they’re really pushing it. So we did the shark tank thing, and they you know did a podcast, did ah a thing on Outreach Magazine, and and of course this article they wanted me to write. And so yeah, that’s all it is is basically just to kind of tell my story, my journey. And I’m I’m not an author – I don’t have any books or – that’s about it.

Rich — Yes, yes yep.

Jason — So yeah, that’s my article, but I thought you know that is ah it just basically shares Ah what I think a lot of pastors will be encouraged by. And I think you’re right, if they just were to show that to maybe to the staff, or to the elders, you know skeptical people, and say, wow ah, maybe this is legitimate. Maybe it’s doable.

Rich — Totally.

Jason — So yeah, if they can use it to that end that would be awesome.

Rich — Love it. Well friends I’ve really appreciated… you’ve been just a huge service to us today, Jason.

Jason — Oh thanks Rich.

Rich — This has been so great, and in the spirit of what you’re talking about I’d actually love to offer anybody that’s listening in I’d love to offer up one Oculus headset. So…

Jason — Wow.

Rich — If you’re listening in, and you lead a church of less than 500 people, what I’d love you to do is to email me [email protected] and the first person that reaches out I’d be happy to send you one. But on this condition, you’ve got to tell us about your experience about it. So I’d love for you to actually do this, to take a step and actually see. And at least be willing to write a little bit – I don’t know – 500 words on what your experience was like good, bad, or the ugly. I’d love to publish that unSeminary and encourage people to actually take this step, because I think I’m with you, Jason, I do think that this is a is one of those areas that I think too many of us have been sleeping on. We were talking about this earlier I’ve heard this amazing statistic that one in three churches – 30% of churches – don’t have a website which is shocker to me that… none of these people that are listening in are in that… but um and we traditionally as a church have been really behind on these kinds of things and I want to encourage people to take that step. Anything else you’d love to share with us, Jason, as we kind of wrap up today’s episode, as we as we close things down here today?

Jason — Yeah, it’s hard, well I mean there’s is there is all, you know, there are the – and this isn’t really probably for today because we’re closing down…

Rich — Yeah.

Jason — but like obviously there are some issues people have obstacles with um, our ecclesiology are um, you know some of the traditions. Um, how do you… how do you do real church in the Metaverse?

Rich — Sure.

Jason — And so that’s another conversation and actually I always… again you know they can feel free to send your listeners to to talk to me if they have questions about how I process through that because that can be a real roadblock for people.

Rich — Sure.

Jason — They’re like how do you do communion? Baptism? is that even, does God approve…

Rich — Right.

Jason — …that in the Metaverse? And I understand there are different traditions that are listening even now that that’s just not going to work for them. And that’s fine. I got Lutheran brothers that that just not going to work. But you know there are other view views. You know like a Zwinglian view, one that’s a memorialist view, and so it works for us. So I just I think some people. Um I would love to help them think through without getting have the… sometimes the shock value of it all pushes us away from the opportunity to reach the lost.

Rich — Yes.

Jason — And and I understand there is legitimate concerns so we can’t yeah, can’t go into that detail, but I… that has been an issue, I’ll be honest with you, Rich, of adoption.

Rich — Mmm-hmm.

Jason — Many people are like. That’s just, I can’t even get past that…

Rich — Sure. Yeah.

Jason – And I’m like, I understand – I was there I struggled with it wandered through it. But I anyway, I maybe it can be of service to bring some some thought as I’ve of really processed through it theologically, ecclesiologically if that helps it all. So.

Rich — Um, yeah I love that. Listen I was in the same conversations 20 years ago when we were starting in multi-site and we started using video in in campuses and people were like, this is not real church. And and I would have never thought at that point…you know that’s estimated there’s there’s 5 million people today in the country who are at a video-driven campus of um of multisite. I would have never guessed 20 years later that’s where we landed – it felt like such a fringe thing. and in the same way I think that’s where we’re at with with VR church I think there’s lots of people are like there’s just no way. But we’re on the front end of what I think is ah is a change in culture…

Jason — Yeah.

Rich — …and and we’ve at least got to be exploring it as our churches. We can’t we can’t put our head in the sand on this one. So…

Jason — Good word. Thanks! Thanks brother.

Rich — Jason I really appreciate you being here. Where do we want to send people online if people want to track with you, track with the church, where give us those website addresses and all that again.

Jason — Yeah I mean just website I mean that’ll opening you up to… of course you can check where you can connect with me there. Ah you can go to the VR obviously slash VR… but all the headings are on the website. You can find the online church offerings that we have but

Rich — Great! Thanks so much for being here today.

Jason — Yeah thanks, Rich – appreciate it.

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Rich Birch
Rich Birch is one of the early multi-site church pioneers in North America. He led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 5,000+ people in 18 locations. In addition, he served on the leadership team of Connexus Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. He has also been a part of the lead team at Liquid Church - a 5 location multisite church serving the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. Liquid is known for it’s innovative approach to outreach and community impact. Rich is passionate about helping churches reach more people, more quickly through excellent execution.His latest book Church Growth Flywheel: 5 Practical Systems to Drive Growth at Your Church is an Amazon bestseller and is design to help your church reach more people in your community.