Building a Church in Minecraft

A young and creative individual in my church, David Peacock, created this in Minecraft:

It is a rendition of the building where my church meets, Crooked Creek Baptist Church. Here is a photo, for comparison:

I am very impressed with the likeness, and the creativity in doing something like this.

It got me thinking about changing media and changing ways of doing things, and how it relates to churches.

In a sense, building a church building in Minecraft is not that different from building a church in the real world. If you have the raw materials, and the skills needed, you can build it.

The challenging part is whether anyone will want to spend time there, the forging of community.

Although churches were once the center of social life for entire villages in certain parts of the world, it was not always thus, nor was it ever thus everywhere. Where that was or is a reality, it happened over a course of time, and it began with one or more people first introducing Christianity to that region, and it providing something that became a hub for communal interaction. It provided rituals for marking significant events, a means of communication, and a sense of community, as well as a set of shared beliefs and values.

I have encountered a great many ideas about church planting and mission work over the years. But while people have been discussing and debating how to establish something that will have a lasting impact, new ways of being a community have been popping up, often without the older folks with their antiquated notions of church planting even being aware of it.

If you play Minecraft, you almost certainly do not do so in isolation. You find a server, you interact with others in that virtual realm, and community emerges. It isn’t always deep or meaningful or long-lasting. But neither is interaction in the real world.

There is no way of predicting when something will become a meaningful and longstanding part of communal life. There are ways to encourage and foster it, and ways to undermine it. But human interaction is not entirely predictable.

But it is happening, and increasingly it is happening digitally. There can be something very much like church in Minecraft – not merely in the sense that one can build structures that resemble church buildings. The word church meant a congregation before it meant a building where that group does its congregating. And if there is something that video game players do, even if not all in the same space, it is congregate – virtually.

It is unclear whether real-world buildings, walls, pews, or pulpits will continue to be meaningful to anyone in coming decades. But community will continue to exist. And I look forward to seeing how virtual communities develop. They already exist, and there are groups to which I am connected digitally which include people that I consider friends – every bit as much as people that I interact with in my local congregation.

How this will unfold I do not know. But those interested in Christian community – or any other sort of community – will want to not merely keep an eye on it, but be actively involved in participating and thus shaping the future of such interaction. In many cases, online interaction is providing things that churches are not. And I suspect that the most appropriate response of churches is not to try to compete by providing as much of the same things locally, in the same building where they have met for years, or decades, or centuries. Instead, churches need to provide the same things in the same digital “spaces” where increasingly we as human beings connect, fellowship, and either learn and grow, or are misled and cultivate antagonistic, petty, and malicious characters, depending on the sort of communities we form and participate in.

There are lots of interactions in cyberspace which are secular, and plenty which have a Christian label on them. But to be genuinely Christian and genuinely a community in cyberspace, with humility, caring, and love even towards those whom we have never met in person, seems to me as though it might have the same sort of long-term positive impact as Christian congregations with their traditional style of buildings had in local geographic communities in ages past.

  • markhh

    Many moons ago I attended weekly bible studies of a sort (more short devotionals) in Second Life.

    • http://irrco.wordpress.com/ Ian

      I was going to mention Second Life. There were quite a few churches there, with full worship services, and socializing afterwards. I’m not sure if any are still meeting, or whether any of them really got any momentum. I only read about them.

      I also remember back in the late-90s a ‘First Virtual Church’ that used Real Player and a simple forum to try to do church.

      I’ve been involved in a couple of chat-based communities that held services at specific times. Responsive readings were performed with the leader speaking then a couple of dozen people repeating the same thing after. I remember thinking that was quite interesting, actually, because even though the words were the same, everyone’s speed of typing, punctuation, spelling, capitalization, and pattern of typos were different, so even when you had a screen full of ‘And peace be with you’, you got a sense of people saying it.

      I’ve always had a kind of hankering for that kind of chat-based community.

      But I do think mapping a way of doing church that was optimized for pre-industrial communities onto modern congregations has deep problems. Let alone trying to map the same thing naively into cyberspace.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

        Yes, I thought of Second Life but I never joined it and wasn’t sure whether such things were still continuing. But it strikes me that what happens through this blog, and through some of the Facebook groups I am part of, is very much like (or better than) certain aspects of what church is like (or can be, or is supposed to be).

        • http://irrco.wordpress.com/ Ian

          I agree.

  • Gary

    Yikes! Minefield. Butler coach hired by Celtics. March Madness is mourning.

  • http://thediscerningchristian.wordpress.com/ Chris

    So I am a month late in reading this, but I actually ended up raising the possibility to my church. The idea would be to have the Minecraft church as a parallel church to the actual church, not a total replacement. I may be leading the charge on this, but it would be cool to make it into a shared space for multiple churches.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Fascinating! Let me know how it goes! I was talking in my Sunday school class today about the fact that forging community – including online – leads people to want to gather together in the same place. Please do share more at some point!

      • http://thediscerningchristian.wordpress.com/ Chris

        Sure thing! I have a simple plan and an elaborate plan… the simple plan is just to set up a church on an existing server. The elaborate plan is to try to host my own server. The goal in the elaborate plan is to be able to install mods onto the server which would allow me to do things like download the text of books/Bibles in the public domain onto in-game books to be stored in a church library.

        I wish, though, that I could do that on an existing public server. Making a server all for the purpose of church is hardly an example of the church existing “in the world.” I would rather be a small presence on a larger server. Maybe if I got chummy with the moderators, they could make my elaborate plans happen…

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          As you proceed you should blog about it and share how things go. You will probably be the first person to ever write about what happens when people encounter Creepers on their way to church! :-)

          • http://thediscerningchristian.wordpress.com/ Chris

            Don’t fear the Creeper… I suppose this means, though, that we will have to keep the whole church at a light level above 7. No dimming the lights for the worship set!


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