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Have you thought about VR worship?

By now, it’s a familiar story: Many houses of worship have seen a marked decline in attendance since COVID-19 came to the United States. One big reason for this is that people became used to not attending worship services during the shutdown, and now their focus is on different things.

So, the onus is on worship leaders to figure out how to win their flock back. One possibility is to reinvent worship entirely by bringing services into the metaverse.

A growing trend

Even before the pandemic, virtual reality worship was gaining traction. D.J. Soto, an ordained bishop, founded Virtual Reality Church in 2016. The only requirement for participation? A congregant needed to have a VR headset to participate in the services. With the headset, participants enter a digitally rendered worship building and are surrounded by other worshipers, each represented by an avatar. Even if they are homebound, people can feel like they are truly part of a community.

Adding VR to your offerings

Fortunately, a VR worship experience is not an all-or-nothing proposition. A house of worship doesn’t need to be either all in person or all in VR. Consider launching a new ministry to specifically attract a younger audience—a weekly worship service that takes place entirely in virtual reality.

Such a ministry is not as far-fetched as you might think. For one thing, VR is no longer as cost-prohibitive as it once was. In fact, Google sells a VR headset for less than $30. And the people you are trying to reach are much more likely to be receptive to the idea than they would have been, say, 10 or 15 years ago.

All you need to do is look at the popularity of online worship. COVID-19 made it necessary for much of 2020, but even after houses of worship resumed meeting in person, many people decided to take advantage of the opportunity to stream worship in their pajamas. They have continued to do so, but some have said they miss the connections they had when they were in person. VR allows them to have the best of both worlds.

VR worship could also allow you to take your worship services where you’ve never gone before. Interested in worship on a beach? How about in a beautiful woodsy setting? You could do all of this and more, and your congregants would never have to leave their homes.

Using VR Safely

There are some standard precautions that should be followed to use VR safely. The space being used for VR is important and should be carefully examined as injuries can occur if a VR user trips, falls or strikes objects in the area. Make sure the activity area is clear of furniture, objects and other people, and that the user has a buffer area around them to move freely without collisions. If any cables are used to connect the VR headset, make sure they are routed safely out of the way to avoid tripping.

Once you’re in VR, it’s important to pay attention to how you’re feeling. Some people can develop dizziness, eye and muscle fatigue, and in extreme cases even seizures due to the flashing lights and movement. It’s a good practice to take a 10-15 minute break every half hour or so to examine how you’re feeling and immediately discontinue use if you feel dizzy, fatigued or uncomfortable in any way.

Finally, it’s vital that you read the VR headset manufacturer’s included documentation and safety information. These virtual or written documents provided with the headset will give additional usage and safety recommendations specific to the device you’re using. They’ll also include information on the Code of Conduct that users of the headset will need to abide by, so it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with this before planning any sort of group activity to make sure it’s all covered under acceptable use.

If you’re interested in the possibility of a VR worship service, it might be easiest to start small. Look into hiring a technologically inclined staff member who is willing to experiment. It just might be the ticket to bring in younger members!

For more tips for houses of worship, visit our safety resources page.