Can The Church Use V.R. Technology?

Can the Church use V.R. technology? Historically, the Church has been slow to adopt emerging technologies. With the possible exception of the printing press, technology has been viewed with an eye of suspicion by Christians.  Radio, T.V. and the movie industries were all seen as evil by nature and quickly abandoned. Predictably, with Christians removed from the marketplace, these mediums became increasingly secular. 

Now, I am not one of the “Technology is the Devil” type of Christians.  I’m a tech gadget geek!  I am fascinated with the latest and greatest innovations.  And I’m always looking for better ways to reach the next generation with the good news of the Gospel.  But I’ve come to discover that I am solidly in the minority in this respect. 

The Flannel-graph As High Tech

Have you ever heard of or seen a Flannel-graph? No, this isn’t a singing telegram from a messenger dressed in a flannel shirt! Flannel-graph were used as a visual aid to telling Bible stories for younger audiences. I imagine it might have been used in kindergarten for other applications, but I primarily remember it being used in Sunday School. And understand, I came late to Christianity, which makes the fact that I know about flannel-graphs even sadder.

Flannel-graphs consisted of a large piece of felt as a background.  You would then add fabric cut outs of Jesus, sheep, clouds, boats or whatever story elements you were incorporating into your message.   It was quite ingenious for its time, and added a very effective visual presentation to messages aimed at younger audiences. 

The Power Point Revolution

Flannel-graph were considered high tech for their time. And then Power Point came on the scene.  Power Point offered an easy way to incorporate visual story telling into a message.  When used well, it can far outshine the flannel gram.  But again, this technology was viewed with suspicion and unease. 

I think part of this was due to the way it was used in certain Churches.  Power Point quickly replaced a hymnal or written order of service.  We went from having a physical object in our hand to reading off a screen.  For people used to reading physical books and Bibles, I can see how this would seem odd or uncomfortable. 

Church On T.V.

Many Churches now have services live streamed on T.V.  This is a great option for those that cannot get to a physical Church building for one reason or another.  It allows shut ins to participate in worship where they otherwise might not be able to.  Or if a Christian is too far away from a Church, they can tune in as well and still enjoy Sunday worship. 

But it still isn’t quite the same as actually being there surrounded by other people.  And I think this is where the V.R. technology could be used to close the gap between watching a service and actually participating in it. V.R. is much more immersive.  You don’t just watch, you can interact.  If you want to move your line of vision, you can.  You are not stuck with camera angles you may not like.  The control is yours. 

Virtual Reality

David and I recently recorded a podcast on the possibility of using virtual reality in Church services. I must admit, I was skeptical that the Church would embrace this technology. I believe my first sarcastic thought was “They’ll probably make a V.R. flannel-graph!”. All kidding aside, I have mixed feelings about using this technology for worship.

I can see this being a great addition to those who are already worshiping by watching T.V.  V.R. technology would make the experience much more immersive.  It could allow for an even greater sense of worshiping with others that a standard T.V experience. 

Can The Church Use V.R. Technology?

I can also see great benefits for teaching and preaching as well.  Imagine if your pastor is preaching on “The Sermon On The Mount”.  As he begins the message, he asked everyone to put on their V.R. glasses.  When the congregation dons their glasses, they are transported to Israel to the very location this sermon was originally given.  How incredible would that be!

Or suppose you are new to town and wanted to tour the campuses of various churches before you visit. Wouldn’t it be handy to take a virtual tour before you got there?  You could explore the sanctuary, offices and classrooms, and not feel so lost on your first visit!  

Where Is The Line?

But as with all technologies, there is a line that probably shouldn’t be crossed.  There is a very spiritual aspect to most aspects of worship. I can see situations like communion or baptism being problematic. Could these actions be performed virtually?  Would they have the same spiritual impact or validity? How exactly would that work? 

The other thing I worry about is the anonymity of V.R. technology.   One of the major driving forces in V.R. tech is the porn industry.  Porn and V.R. are a perfect match mainly because the use of porn either on the internet or via V.R. is so anonymous.  

You don’t have to go to that sketchy part of town and sneak in the back door of the adult bookshop to get your porn.  You don’t have to worry that someone will see that package from “Nasty Panda” arriving on your doorstep.  It’s all hidden nicely on your computer in that file titled “Taxes 2013”.  No one will ever know what you’re doing or what you’re looking at.  

Underground V.R. Churches? 

This led me to think about the power of using an anonymous technology to worship.  As the social pressure against Christians increases, could this technology be used to create underground Churches? Imagine not having to go to a physical building to worship.  You could simply slip on your V.R. glasses, get your Christian fix, and then blend into the crowd again.  You could be an underground Christian.

While aspects of this could be appealing, it’s not the way the Church has traditionally handled persecution.  Christians have been known for not compromising their devotion to Jesus.  Even to the point of dying for that belief.  Would V.R. be a cop out?  An admission of shame in following Jesus? 

As with all technologies, V.R. is not inherently good or bad.  It is a delivery medium for a message.  What that message is lies completely with those that program the virtual world.  We dare not abandon this technology as we have so many others.  Christians should be leading the way in creative use of new technology.  And there is no richer medium to explore that V.R. technology. 

What are your thoughts on how the Church might use V.R. technology?  

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