second life logo for SL church evangelism guide

Second Life Gospel

The potential for evangelism and church planting

The concept of a parallel universe – Second Life [www.secondlife.com] – within the already virtual world of the Web is quite fascinating. If you have already played ‘SIM’ games where you build an imaginary world (eg. Theme Park, Sim City), or multi-user games where you take on an assumed persona and interact with other players, then you have a sense of what Second Life (SL) is. Except there is no game, in fact no particular plan at all. It is literally another world to live in – an ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’ virtual reality experience, a ‘Truman Show’ construct of lush colors. And one which is being taken seriously by the secular world: countries are opening embassies within SL, universities and companies are establishing a presence too. It is rather like a second-time reprise of the situation c. 1995, when organizations were beginning to realize that the Web was more than just a network of computer hobbyists, and they’d better start building websites. (And yes, you actually buy land in Second Life, and build unique architectural designs!) It is rapidly beginning to reflect the realities of real life. How long before it starts having, oh everything: crime, law enforcement, politics and war?

Learn more about Second Life

Answers.com [www.answers.com/topic/second-life] provides a helpful brief introduction.
• For a detailed introduction to the history and ethos of SL, with a wide range of third-party links, see this Wikipedia article. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Life]
Benchmark article [www.benchmark.com/news/sv/2005/01_23_2005.php] – useful overview.
• There is a growing range of Second Life books to help you understand and live in this new world.
SLURL [http://slurl.com] is a service giving a direct teleport link to a known location in Second Life.
• The 4-minute amateur video below, produced by a British user, gives an interesting visual introduction to SL. There are other video clips which will give you a further sense of the range and potential of SL.

Evangelistic potential

As always, when a new innovation arrives, we should ask ourselves, “Can this be used to share the gospel?”

Models of evangelism, which operate in both the physical world and the Web, apply also to Second Life:

Both of these need similar gifts to those needed for chat-room evangelism. These are early days, and it will be fascinating and challenging to see how an SL faith presence will develop. Christians must resist the temptation to build little inward-looking ghettos in SL – an all-too-familiar pattern.

Of course, like any other sort of ministry, this is a calling from God. Some would rather watch paint dry than play silly virtual games. Others will really resonate with the relationships and narrative they can engage in. However, we must add a health warning. No type of evangelism is risk-free. Please read the warning at the end of this page.

Matt’s story

Matt, an experienced web evangelist, writes:
“The other day I went in to Second Life to have a look around and once I had mastered the controls, I searched for a coffee shop and picked one randomly to ‘teleport’ to. I wanted to find some where to sit and relax hoping to have a chat with someone who was enjoying an online cup of coffee. I arrived at a building with tables and chairs outside and comfy settees inside and so I went in and sat down with a few others. I chatted with someone there and it wasn’t long before our discussion had turned to spiritual things and we talked about whether there could be a God and who Jesus really was. We talked for about two hours and covered a lot of ground – including sin, forgiveness and Jesus’ death on the cross.

The talking part of the experience was very similar to that of a chat room except that there were less interruptions and no adverts for unwholesome web pages! But what was most strange was that the person I was talking to made their Second Life character respond visually to what was being said. Sometimes she would stand up and walk across the room to another seat or to perch on the edge of a table, whilst continuing the conversation with me.

The potential and opportunities for evangelism are huge and as the residents of Second Life are from over 100 countries – you never quite know who you will be able to reach with the Gospel.”

Terri’s story

“I'm wanting to develop ‘bridge’ evangelism ministry rather than an online church. Any SL member can paste my ‘slurl SL address’ into their web browser and be taken to a page where they can teleport to my SL location. I’m going to set mine up as a Sci-Fi themed place with a ‘transporter room’ which the visitor can use to go to various Science Fiction themed sites around SL and I'll have a ‘reading room’ where they can open various Christian fiction websites. I'm hoping to get more ‘land’ to build a drop-in, low-pressure place that people can just talk about religion, Christianity, God, etc. possibly in a commercial region and get some people to staff it on a regular basis.”

Debra’s Story: video seminar

This video seminar by Debra Brown, from the September 07 Web Ministry Conference, explains the potential of evangelism within Second Life, from the perspective of starting a church outreach. Note: this presentation only works in Internet Explorer browser:
WMPlayer icon View seminar [http://ong9d.rmxpres.com/Accordent/data/brown/msh.html]

Christian reaction to Second Life

There are increasing numbers of initiatives and discussions about Christian faith in this new cyberworld: If you have experience of sharing the good news in Second Life, please write.

warning iconWarning

No one should engage in any sort of evangelism without prayer backing – for instance at least one prayer partner, and ideally also the covering and prayer of your church fellowship. Just because web evangelism is essentially a solitary activity – just you and your computer screen – this does not mean you should do it alone. The Web has many bad places and dangers, yet we may feel deceptively safe because we are accessing it within the familiar territory of home. See also this practical advice from Urbana on purity [www.urbana.org/_articles.cfm?recordid=107] – an old-fashioned word, aka Not Messing Up Your Life, Ruining Your Relationships, Hurting Other People, And Damaging Your Faith.

In addition, Second Life is a place where people take on a new identity, their ‘avatar’. This may or may not be very different from their real life persona. In addition, because they are not identifiable by their real life identity, some may wish to live out all sorts of fantasies that social pressures or timidity would never allow them to in real life (just as people on holiday in a new environment can behave differently, without their normal restraints). And to many, an attraction of Second Life is role play where you can act out being someone different to your real personality. This is not necessarily dishonest, because SL is similar to multi-user internet games, except there is no actual game plan.

So (as Debra Brown warns in the video seminar above), you may see a lot of SL avatars having virtual sex. You may stumble across porn. You could find yourself engaging in conversations in which the other person only wishes to flirt, or worse. There’s gambling too. Only try SL evangelism if you are aware of these issues and can cope with them. A woman who went into SL and encountered problems, writes:

“I joined Second Life with the thought of it being a great mission field. However, being lonely in a marriage, I actually met someone that I began to spend a lot of time with. Even us Christians are vulnerable. Instead of sharing the good news of Christ, I actually (surprising to me) found myself in a virtual life of sin. Avatars in Second Life can do anything that humans do, including a huge world of sex.

My intensions were so good, yet as a human, I failed. I failed the Lord, I failed myself and failed my husband as well. In Second Life, I met many people who in real life are married yet have SL boyfriends, girlfriends etc.”

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