Investing in the Unknown

Ginghamsburg UMC

April 12, 2022

We live in a brilliant, spiral galaxy filled with stars, comets, planets, and a bit of dust. It is seen and unseen. While a camera can capture a small band of its magnificence on a clear night, scientists cannot tell us exactly how many planets are there. It is all around us but extends so far away from us it is difficult to imagine. The metaverse is like it. Instead of comets and dust, this digital universe is made up of augmented reality, virtual reality, blockchain, and a bit of social media. It stretches out not in lightyears but megabytes and pixels that we find just as difficult to define.

In this immersive digital reality, we expect to find gamers with incredible avatars and maybe even a new economy, but what about the church? Will the church be there too?

To explore this question further, TMF combined the available income from the Dr. Leighton K. Farrell Young Clergy Leadership, Dr. Gil Rendle Learning & Leadership, and the John Thornburg Innovation endowments to engage young clergy leaders throughout the South Central Jurisdiction to form the inaugural Digital Dicipleship learning cohort.

And if Ginghamsburg UMC in Tipp City, Ohio has any influence, the answer to this question will be a resounding yes. Ginghamsburg UMC has a rich history of experimenting with technology. They launched their website in the mid-90s and quickly added worship messages. By 1997, they were creating multisensory, multimedia-based worship experiences. Now, they are exploring the possibilities of the metaverse.

After attending TMF’s Digital Discipleship cohort, Ginghamsburg Senior Pastor Rachel Billups asked her team what excited them about digital discipleship possibilities. Following that conversation, her team applied for TMF funding to purchase seven virtual reality headsets and their application was selected.

“When I was at the Digital Discipleship event, I realized we, the leaders around the room, were going to have to do church differently. We were all in the same boat, coming to the table to listen to the movement of the Holy Spirit,” Rachel shared. “We were committed to using new tools to reach people. There was vulnerability and honesty in the room that was focused on helping each other and creating a culture of exploration.”

Since unleashing creativity in pursuit of God’s next is a core value for Ginghamsburg UMC, exploration is an intrinsic part of their DNA. With their new virtual reality headsets, they will experiment with ways to create meaningful ministry experiences in virtual spaces. Their prayer ministry, for instance, is already integrated with online elements, and the online prayer groups are more active than face-to-face options. This integration has been transformational and encouraging, so the next logical step seems to include exploring how their prayer ministry could find space in the metaverse.

Ginghamsburg UMC

Beyond this, their team has ideas about discipleship experiences and online community. They have the beginning conceptualization of a virtual reality library to expand access to the metaverse for their neighbors. Their team is also pondering what virtual reality church would look like and how it could be created.

“We are in an era of church history, where what worked yesterday is not going to work tomorrow. It is both exhausting and exciting,” Rachel said, pausing. “I love that TMF is willing to explore this unknown with us. It is very exciting that TMF is investing real dollars into something that is not concrete. I think it will move us further, faster. Plus, TMF has the funds to make these investments, so if not them, then who? If we could work together to infuse every church across the globe with a spirit of curiosity, then there would be no limits for the Kingdom.”

As the metaverse unfolds, the church will be there. In this unknown landscape, the church will offer a very real glimpse of Christ’s love to those who have not experienced it and an immersive community that explores what it means to share Christ’s love in the metaverse or the Milky Way. It is an unlimited vision for God’s work in the world, where the future is unfamiliar and worth the investment of expanded imagination.

Learn more about how TMF's Leadership Ministry connects diverse, high capacity leaders in conversations and environments that create a network of courage, learning, and innovation in order to help the church lean into its God-appointed mission.

Learn more about how an endowment with TMF can empower innovative ministry, like the Dr. Leighton Farrell Young Clergy Leaders, Dr. Gil Rendle Learning & Leadership, and the John Thornburg Innovation endowments funded the Digital Discipleship cohort and seed-money grants.