For those who are unaware, the online virtual world industry is booming. As America recently hit the 300 million mark, Second Life, launched in 2003 reached it's 1 millionth resident. By the tens-of-thousands users are creating an alter-ego of their real self, they can choose to be ripped, lean and beautiful in another world. According to one article:
The population and economy of Second Life have grown so massive that major corporations are paying attention. Companies such as Sony/BMG Music, Nissan and Toyota have converted marketing dollars to Linden Bucks to buy virtual real estate. Nissan built a Second Life campaign around its Sentra car, hiring programmers to create a gigantic driving course and digital cars that players can drive, as well as billboards and other promotional spots throughout the virtual world. Retailers including Reebok, Nike, Amazon.com and American Apparel have set up shops to sell digital as well as real-world versions of their products. A few recording artists have used Second Life as a performing venue. (Source: San Diego Union-Tribune Second Life)
You laugh at the absurdity of this? Just last week Reuters news service announced that it would have a full-time “embedded” reporter covering the virtual news on a new Web site, www.secondlife.reuters.com. The economy of Second life recently reached $500,000 exchanged a day, and it's growing by as much as 15 percent a month.
How should the church respond? Most would agree that Christians living missionally inside this community should be a witness as they build relationships online. I imagine it won't be long until a church broadcasts a virtual service inside the game. This wll most likely create more controversy than the use of video venues. As the world embraces more and more virtual worlds, the church is going to be faced with many difficult challenges as how to respond. Being the church requires that we be in community, but could it be a virtual community?