Technology influences and shapes nearly all our daily experiences.
It’s not the most profound statement, I know. And as the CTO of Pushpay, the sentiment is coming from a clearly biased messenger. But it’s an undeniable dynamic and is especially true for the post-pandemic Church. Social distancing kicked off a stubborn dynamic of congregants engaging with ministry through their devices; many casual churchgoers still don’t appreciate how thoroughly they’re entwined in the life of their church through mobile apps, digital forms, posted content, online giving, and more.
That’s why our team is constantly developing church technology solutions to meet the evolving ChMS, giving, mobile, and streaming needs of today—but there’s more drive behind Pushpay’s innovative spirit than simply keeping up with the times. We pride ourselves on living in the future, which is why we’re actively investigating and exploring the next-gen technologies churches might rely on further down the road.
Looking Ahead, One Year From Now
Pushpay’s annual State of Church Tech report remains the most accurate barometer for the Church’s changing relationship with technology. In recent years, and especially during the pandemic, that relationship has fundamentally shifted. Never before have more ministries incorporated at least some type of digital tool; by necessity, COVID accelerated the adoption of tech solutions purpose-built for the Church, and their value has been proven time and time again.
Case in point: one of the questions asked to over two thousand participants this year was, “What types of worship services do you think your church will be offering 12 months from now?” While 89% currently offer both in-person and online services, that number fell only marginally to 81% next year.
That slight drop was predictable. Many churches are striving to re-establish in-person attendance after the pandemic, and as such are signaling a desire to move away from hybrid.
But that’s only half of the story, because while hybrid dropped in usage, “online only” spiked up to 20%, and “metaverse” more than tripled from its current 8% adoption, all the way up to 25%.
That’s a trend that can’t be ignored.
Defining the Metaverse
When the metaverse is discussed, the conversation typically revolves around interactive 3D environments, usually facilitated by virtual reality headsets. Some expand the definition to include all present and future Web3 tools—a broad concept referring to decentralized technologies like blockchain, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and more. But for our purposes here, we’re focused on virtual reality (VR).
The earliest and most common applications for VR were immersive gaming. As the technology’s been developed further and grown in popularity, common uses have expanded to include social media, facilitating business meetings, providing educational tools—and of course, hosting church services.
From anywhere on the planet, users can visit an online church through their headsets and enjoy a completely immersive worship experience. What’s more, they can interact with other users in the same virtual space and engage in many of the same activities they would if actually inside the building, such as tithing, hosting small groups, or participating in events like bible studies.
But if all that sounds a little too much like a science-fiction pipedream to your ears, don’t worry: you’re not alone.
Healthy Skepticism About Emerging Technology
We must ask ourselves: 15 years from now, will attending church in the metaverse be equally widespread and, in hindsight, seem just as inevitable?
The growing interest in VR adoption and its expanding use cases still haven’t impressed a large swath of naysayers. There are barriers to adoption; buying a headset and becoming comfortable using that equipment is a significant issue. Many metaverse communities currently lean on unintuitive user interfaces and lackluster visuals. And, not for nothing, the headset designs aren’t exactly sleek, and the latest products that reduce bulk currently sit at a startling price point.
This situation’s far from unique in the history of tech. Enthusiasm behind a new technology doesn’t always translate to widespread adoption. Plenty of tools promising to reshape our lives had a brief window of hype and excitement before quietly fading into obscurity. Remember Google Glass? Apple Newton?
And yet, Pushpay can’t afford not to explore. As leaders in the church technology space, we must track trends—e.g. a three-fold increase in metaverse interest—and proactively develop to meet the potential tech requirements of tomorrow so that we’re prepared to serve churches’ needs, if and when they decide to dive into VR.
A perfect parallel for this situation is the rise of mobile apps. When the iPhone first hit the market in 2007, many tech companies dismissed the sudden popularity of smartphones as a fad, and didn’t explore their ability to fundamentally change how people—and churches—engage with the world. Fast forward to today, fifteen years later, and 85% of Americans own a smartphone; accordingly, 91% of churches employ an online giving platform, while nearly 7 in 10 offer a mobile app.
The ubiquitousness of smartphones and church apps was impossible to confidently predict in 2007, but looking back from 2023, those patterns seem inevitable.
So we must ask ourselves: 15 years from now, will attending church in the metaverse be equally widespread and, in hindsight, seem just as inevitable?
Why We Innovate
Despite its mostly unearned reputation for not changing with the times, the Church has always embraced and leveraged the latest technologies to fuel its mission.
Whether individual leaders believe the broad ongoing shift to hybrid worship and engagement is a positive or a negative, digital church is inarguably here to stay. However, whether the metaverse will play a large role in that hybrid future remains opaque.
But if a shift to the metaverse does happen, Pushpay will be ready.
Already our team is tracking and experimenting with features that could become cornerstones of VR church in the future. We’re actively collaborating with the experts who are at the cutting edge of this new technology; we recently hosted a two-day event with leaders from all over the country to explore the wants, needs, and possibilities of a metaverse church—and even debated what that future may look like.
For example, churches might dip their toe into the metaverse by holding traditional services in a virtual model of their existing building. But the potential exists to go so much further, to create a unique, powerful, and immersive experience by hosting VR worship directly from, say, a digital Garden of Gasthemene. And who’s to say esports in the metaverse won’t become a driver for ministries, in ways we can’t yet imagine, as the concept of “church” evolves alongside technological innovation?
Just as the world couldn’t know where the iPhone would take us in 2007, nor how the COVID pandemic would radically reshape the Church’s relationship with technology, it’s impossible to confidently forecast how an emerging metaverse might mold what we define as “church” in the future.
Which is exactly why Pushpay innovates. We’re exploring the potential of the metaverse because, if the day comes when your church decides to adopt VR as an option for building faith, connection, and belonging in your community—in whatever form the metaverse eventually takes—we want to confidently provide well-founded guidance and the best-in-class tools you’ll need to make that vision a reality.
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