Digital Church: Our New Virtual Frontiers

Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality are making lots of headlines these days. After all, there is bad potential for an algorithm which controls weapons or large amounts of financial assets to make unilateral decisions that could cause much damage. The “Godfather” of AI has recently come out and denounced much of his own creation, seeing its potential for exploitation by “bad actors.”

Many are pointing to Skynet in the Terminator movie series where computers became sentient and attempted to annihilate humanity. Others bemoan the millions of potential jobs that could vanish as computers gain in competency. It is hard to deny the incredible potential of how well–or how poorly–things could go with computers becoming intelligent and self-aware.

In a related vein, Virtual Reality has come to the forefront in recent years. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and founder of Facebook, is so convinced that it will become an integral part of our future, to the point that he has renamed his entire company “Meta.” He believes we are likely to abandon the real world we live in, to the full extent we are able, in order to reside primarily in a virtual world of our own making.

Beyond Streaming

I think a major upside of the COVID season in the last few years is that suddenly many churches were forced to take digital platforms more seriously. If people wanted to stay connected to their church, in many cases, utilizing social media platforms was their only option. Complain as they might about them, it was either adapt or remain in total isolation. Churches that hadn’t wanted to budget for streaming possibilities were forced to take this step or otherwise have nothing to offer. I personally will never forget the sudden overnight change when I had to begin broadcasting from a makeshift video production studio in my spare bedroom. Fortunately I had already been dabbling in podcasting, but it was still a large shift.

I believe that churches are wise to view many of these shifts as permanent, necessary options. Your Digital Platform is your new front porch. It’s where people meet you and receive their first impressions. Importantly, it also isn’t just about producing good content for consumption. It is now also about interacting with people who engage with your content. The digital platforms have transformed churches from 1-way communication producers (I preach it, we mail it, you listen to it, you read it) to where now almost everything can be 2-way communication. You watch it, but you can also share it or comment on it. Everything has changed, and so in everything, we must become more intentional and more aware of what’s out there.

Bringing AI and VR to Church

Most of us on the consumer end of new tech products are powerless to determine whether or not they exist, much less all the potential ways they are capable of being utilized. But I believe both of these new digital frontiers have enormous potential for use in churches. I wanted to create a small series of posts explaining how some of these technologies work, and imagining what it may look like for churches to harness their potential in service to the Kingdom of God.

In upcoming posts I will explore:

  • The potential of Artificial Intelligence to aid preachers and teachers in research, ideas, and preparation
  • The potential of Artificial Intelligence to generate useful visuals for presentations and communication
  • The potential of Virtual Reality for creating third spaces where groups can view shared content together
  • The potential of Virtual Reality for creating immersive, interactive learning spaces

I hope you’ll continue to stay tuned and to engage with me on both the potential blessings and risks of these platforms.

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