Re-imagining church

22 02 2007


Philip Rosedale, the creator of Second Life (shown on the right) stated in a recent interview that Second Life (SL) wasn’t a game or a toy but the possible future of the internet. He created SL with two aims:

1) SL as an alternate existence, built by its residents, that strives to be better than the physical world. He notes, “If we create the world from the bottom up, it can be re-imagined.”

2) That SL becomes the platform for the internet. Philip states, “If someone in the real world needs a job, they walk up to people and ask for one,” Rosedale says. “You can’t do that on the Web. The Web doesn’t talk to you.” People will engage with business etc.. through the virtual world with all that this 3 dimensional platform has to offer.

The challenge for SL up until now has been the availability of technology for the user, specifically a fast broadband connection and graphics capability. Now this is becoming more widely available the new challenge is a good one to have: growth.

In Febuary 2005 there were 20,913 SL members, by Febuary 2006 this had grown to 144,830. Now it stands at 3.8 million. Linden Labs, the creators of SL need to make sure their technology keeps pace with the rapid growth. Right now their system isn’t handling the load very well (Bill Gates describes it as ‘clunky’).

I am sure it will only be a matter of time before the problems are overcome and the virtual world becomes the norm for interacting with the internet.

How then does Christian ministry fit in with Philip’s vision of a re-imagined world and Virtual Reality becoming the internet platform?

Roberto Salomon (SL name) sent me the following email recently,

There was a wonderful “Ecumenical Prayer Meeting” Monday Feb 19th at 7:15 pm SLT in Second Life (SL). Most of the leaders from the currently active SL Churches were there.

All of our Avatars knelt in a circle, and prayed in turn around the group. Lasted about an hour and a half.About 20 people total. I was encouraged to see that many, and very encouraged at the maturity evident in most.

I am convinced that Christ is calling us to use this tool to reach others with His Good News, and encourage each other in Christ. Both my wife and I are excited to see what can be developed, and to be a part of it.

One of the things we have been discussing with Unchurched and Churched friends alike, is the form of service. I was wondering what your opinion/vision would be for an actual “Anglican SL Church Service”. Some of those we have talked to are excited that in SL we do not have the constraints of the “Physical Laws”, and can possibly use this to advantage in visual example of “God’s Laws”. And some are concerned that just duplicating what we have in RL would turn others “off”. In other words, “Use SL to create a new thing, so that it is not “Churchy”, but remains a limb of “The Church”.

Those things said, I think that WEB2.0 in it’s interactive nature, is the perfect medium for a liturgical service, and that a liturgical service is possibly the easiest introduction to Christian Worship for the unchurched. The potential for “real” work of the Church in SL, i.e., Prayer, Evangelism, Counseling, Equiping the Saints, Providing resources for Spiritual Growth and (Real Life) RL needs, The fellowship of believers, etc…, is astronomical and has me almost exstatic in anticipation of what it will become.

Roberto embraces the first part of Philip Rosedale’s vision well when he states,

Some of those we have talked to are excited that in SL we do not have the constraints of the “Physical Laws”, and can possibly use this to advantage in visual example of “God’s Laws”. And some are concerned that just duplicating what we have in RL would turn others “off”. In other words, “Use SL to create a new thing, so that it is not “Churchy”, but remains a limb of “The Church”.

mark-ill.JPGThe church in the real world faces significant challenges in being relevent to the contemporary realities that exist today. So much of what is offered as church is out of the modernist stable with its maxim, though our offering may be boring or unpalatable it is ultimately ‘good for you’ . For many the culture of church is foreign.

Second Life provides a platform in which to create an expression of church that is more in tune with the post modern milieu that exists today. Within SL one can interpret reality individually, experience life in a unique way. My good mate Mark Illingworth has recently just joined SL and chose the the avatar on the left and the name Goin Homewood. It would be unfair for me to speculate on why he chose a mouse but I am encouraged to see that he has huge ears so as to listen to what others have to say!

So given the freedom that SL offers, what shape will church take? How do we engage people to address their spiritual life in a way that provides an individual experience? How do we communicate the reality of Jesus within the unreal world of SL?

What if we created a play based on a Biblical narrative and invited SL citizens to play specific roles? They could be provided with a loose plot line and then encouraged to interpret the story for themselves. So becobeacon.JPGming involved, experiencing the drama.

Tens of thousands are joining SL every day, what if church members committed to becoming a welcome friend to some of the novices as they negotiated their way through the early stages of understanding SL? Perhaps it could be called the Beacon of Light programme?

What if the Eucharist was celebrated with the liturgy supported through the story being acted out via avatars or other forms of creative expression moving in and around the worshippers? So where it says, God’s Spirit is with us a strong wind could move amongst the attendies move them gently. Or in another example when it says,

You are the source of all life and goodness; through your eternal Word you have created all things from the beginning and formed us in your own image; male and female you created us.

The creation is physically represented finally reaching out and embracing each worshipping avatar.

The above ideas are not meant to be exhaustive and may well turn out to be impractical, arkin-feb-26th.JPGbut they are intended to briefly show what is possible. I encourage you to allow your creative juices to flow and contribute your thoughts for or against below.


My new and improved avatar Arkin Ariantho on the left!




5 responses

23 02 2007

Wow, that’s really neat to hear about. Thank God that his word goes everywhere. Your right, the modern church needs to expand its methods of evangelism [but not the message itself.] Great [long] post.

23 02 2007
Mark Brown

Thanks bro. Any thoughts on how church could be done in SL?


24 02 2007
Bosco Peters


I hope your challenging reflections might encourage some in significant church leadership to look at how we might use web 1.0!
A quick look at the 71 parishes in my diocese and I can count only about 15 of them who have websites. Two without websites adjoin universities. Then there is the experience of going to a parish site and finding it is long out of date – the service time you are looking for is not there. Our diocesan office has just instigated a policy that they will not send out or forward emails with attachments because many parish secretaries do not know how to open them. Many parishes have not even taken up the offer of placing basic information (church times, contact numbers) on the diocesan site! What an encouragement for a youth group: “Here’s some money, run our website!”
The Reformation ran on the back of the information revolution of the printing press – but that has become our idol, and currently our church is distracted by pouring most of its leadership energy into how we might love homosexual persons rather than how might we engage with the new context in which we find ourselves.
I have been astonished at the reaction to my own site not yet a year old – with about 1200 visitors on Ash Wednesday.
Yahoo Groups have long had virtual Christian communities, cybermonasteries etc.
You are right, Mark, to make this clarion call. Make it loud.

In Christ


28 02 2007
Mark Brown

G’day Bosco,

Change comes slowly in the church. Part of me thinks this is a good thing. Like the slow careful filtration of water through stones, where it starts cloudy and impure and eventually becomes clear and fresh, the churche moves carefully ahead.

But the danger is being left behind.

I recall in highschool in one particular subject where in about week 3 I got stuck on a concept which took me till about week 6 to work it out. Unfortunately by then I was hopelessly in trouble!

Bishop Tom here in Wellington is very open to fresh expressions of ministry. Check out his Charge to Synod at:

He has recently invited me to do a presentation on Ministry in a Web 2.0 Environment to the Diocesan Mission Council in April. Be interesting to see what comes out of this.

So Bosco be encouraged that you are not alone brother!


25 03 2007
A fantastic beginners guide to Second Life « brownblog

[…] Re-Imagining Church   […]

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