April 19, 2018 Peter McGowan

Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and Mixed Reality: What Does It Mean to the Church?

Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality Create No Limits, Only Imagination

On a warm morning in July 2016, I arrived at the studio to find a crowd of my coworkers standing in the parking lot. They looked like a group of paparazzi, with their phones out–but from my vantage point, I couldn’t spot the celebrity. To settle my curiosity, I decided to join them.

That day, I learned about Pokémon Go.

The world quickly became obsessed with the idea of searching for and collecting virtual creatures through an augmented reality feature on the Pokémon Go app. By the end of 2016, the augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) industry was over a $1.1 billion industry.

virtual reality

Our team at PlainJoe decided to jump in with both feet and explore the possibilities offered by these new media. Outside of the novelty, our biggest question was how to incorporate these technologies into expanding the layers in storytelling. We began experimenting with AR experiences in both our studio and at Restoration Roasters, a nearby coffee house our team designed.

How Churches Can Leverage AR/VR

AR/VR gives churches the opportunity to breathe life into what would normally be a static experience. The technology could be applied to:

  • Kids’ ministry themes
  • Vision casting
  • Wayfinding graphics
  • Video announcements
  • Special events
  • Storytelling (i.e., bringing Bible stories to life)

In kids’ ministry, for example, AR might be utilized to animate a flat wall with a fun graphic. Attendees can use their phones to bring the characters and landscapes to life right before their eyes. The scene could be as subtle as animated water, leaves blowing in the wind, or animals moving–or it could feature a person from the Bible coming out to speak with you.

Kids could enjoy interacting with the Bible characters that intrigue them most, or experience AR versions of Bible stories through an app. Books like the Fire Bible, an AR Bible published by the Assemblies of God, brings characters and stories to life.

AR/VR in Vision Casting

VR and AR can be utilized by pastors and leadership teams to cast vision to their churches, particularly when raising money for capital projects and planning for future ministry spaces. Church members are less likely to give because they can’t truly envision an experience from a flat picture alone.

AR/VR modeling is much more affordable than designing a scale model, and it can be used to give congregants a 3D glimpse at what their new building is going to look like. A simple 2D printout of the site map can be augmented with nothing but a cell phone.

The biggest advantage of AR/VR in vision casting is that it gives your church a chance to “try before they buy.” Giving them an augmented or virtual view of what things could look like helps to set their expectations, then helps you meet those expectations as you move forward. And, AR/VR has never been more affordable or accessible (in fact, it’s built into every Apple iPhone).

VR and AR can be utilized by pastors and leadership teams to cast vision to their churches, particularly when planning for future ministry spaces Click To Tweet

When Bayside Church in Roseville, CA, was casting their vision, our team helped them pre-visualize all their graphics and architecture in 3D. Their members were able to use Google Cardboard to take a look around the planned facilities to see what they would look like.

Pastor Greg Surratt at Seacoast Church in Summerville, SC, took things a step further. He crafted a sermon around the building campaign we’d helped them design, donned VR goggles in front of the church, and did a virtual tour of the building plans. A live feed projected to the members walked them through the space, room by room. To date, they’ve reached over 85% of their giving goal and are currently in phase three of their project. (Take a look at the virtual tour here.)

virtual reality

virtual reality

Why Innovate?

In the parable of the talents, the men who took risks yielded the highest returns on their investment. The goal wasn’t to save money; it was to multiply it. In order to stay connected and credible with cultural conversations, innovation is a requirement. The church doesn’t have the option to tap out and let everyone else use technology to engage their audiences. We’ve got a responsibility to look for ways to steward technology well to continually expand our perspective and increase our impact by solving old problems with new approaches.

Determining How Your Church Should Experience AR/VR

With AR and VR, there are no limits, only imagination. But before you develop an AR/VR experience for your church, you’ll need to determine the best ways to incorporate it. Your leadership team should answer these questions:

  • What platform(s) will be most accessible to your audience: mobile platforms like GearVR and Google Daydream, or wired headsets like the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive?
  • What applications will best serve your needs: universal applications with modular features that already serve multiple clients, or a custom app for the experience?

Partnering with experts inside or outside your church can help you imagine the range of AR/VR possibilities. Dreaming big is something you should never stop doing as you lead your church into the future. PlainJoe Studios has invested in researching and developing AR/VR experiences churches can use to change lives, and we can help you take baby steps toward implementing AR/VR in your own church.

To explore some of our prototypes or spatial projects in VR, visit http://pjsx.com/vr. If you’re considering an AR/VR experience for your next spatial project, we can partner with you to bring that to life. If you’re interested in learning about some of the technology shorthand and ways to get started, drop us a line here. We’ll give you a free 30-minute consultation.


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Peter McGowan

Prior to co-founding PlainJoe in 2001, Peter had a background in information technology. He worked for IBM, Johnson & Johnson, ThinkWare, and PMGX-a technology firm he founded and still owns. His background includes a Business/Information Systems degree from Cal Poly and years of experience in Information Technology, design production, brand development, marketing and advertising. Peter is also the co-founder of ethur and devotes much of his day-to-day time serving as the Creative Principal and Chief Evangelist of PlainJoe Studios. Peter and his wife, Jennifer, have three children and serves in leadership and ministry roles at Crossroads Christian Church in Corona, California.