A virtual church has been launched for gamers, the pastor of which says he is reaching a people group for Christ that the traditional church does not even know exists.
The Washington Post published on July 27 an interview with Matt Souza, a 27-year-old pastor from Richmond, Virginia, who is licensed through the Assemblies of God denomination and utilizes video games and a live-streaming platform called Twitch. His church is called GodSquad, and he started it in 2016 to reach a community of individuals who tend to be atheists and dislike religion.
Viewers watch the livestream of him playing games while Souza fields questions about God and the Christian faith. He also weaves in moral and ethical principles into the gaming world, urging gamers not to cuss and advises them that they not play Grand Theft Auto because of the particular kind of killing and sexual content that game promotes.
He got the idea to start a church for gamers using Twitch upon realizing the influence and reach others had. And as of last month, GodSquad Church has 1,800 members and his stream has approximately 4,000 views per month.
Christopher Benek, a Presbyterian pastor from Florida who has written extensively on technology issues for The Christian Post, thinks Souza is onto something important, and argues that though his "church" may seem unconventional, it ought not be dismissed.
"In 1 Corinthians 12:14, the Apostle Paul writes about the value of having different parts of the body that makes up the church. Matt Souza is part of the body of Christ that articulates that he is trying to use tech for good. As a tech pastor, I think we should encourage more Christians to learn to use tech for good. I don't see where ministering to people in a digital environment is any less important than a pastor making phone calls or television evangelism," Benek said in a Thursday CP interview.
The idea of church taking place through digital connections and gaming is a bit of a stretch for many believers in Jesus but Benek believes that is because they are not seeing beyond its four walls and are missing the larger picture.
"Some may posit: Should the church be incarnational?" he said, meaning in the physical presence of other people gathered in His name. "Yes. But I think that traditional Christianity has framed a very limited perspective of what it means to be made a human being made in the image of God."
He continued: "For instance – when we say we want to be formed to be like Jesus most people don't talk much about trying to be like the resurrected Jesus who apparently was a shape-shifter (Luke 24:30-31), walked through locked doors (John 20:19-23) and ascended into Heaven (Luke 24:50).
This all begs the question of what it means to be made in the image of a Creator God, particularly in a digital age, he explained.
Souza told the Washington Post that he does not believe church should be reduced to attending services but that it is fundamentally about doing life together. And real relationships have been forged from his efforts.
This fall he will travel to North Carolina where he will officiate the wedding of two of his gamer congregants and later this month he will water-baptize a Houston woman whom he led to the Lord when she comes to Virginia for a gamer conference.
"[Jesus] always went to where the people were at," Souza said. "One of the huge [mediums] of how to meet people today is through video games — and I believe 100 percent that ... if Jesus were here walking on the earth, he'd be gaming with people because he knows that's where the people are at."
"Anywhere people gather, even digitally, with a common interest — there one finds community. Many members of Souza's community seek to follow the teachings of Jesus and thus by definition they are Christian Community," he said.
Over a decade ago the Florida pastor utilized a video game ministry in the basement of the church he was serving, connecting four big screen televisions together which gave them the capability to play 16 person games at once.
"There were nights when we'd bring in sixty kids to play locally networked video games with one another. Kids would form teams and wait in line for their turn as they cheer on their friend and fellowshipped with one another. Every one of those kids would hear the gospel message before they left. Many of those students' life-long connection with Christ were formed in those events. Students who would have never associated with one another at school became advocates and champions of one another," he recounted.
He says he has done similar ministry more recently with online gaming, reiterating that the universal church needs "to dare to live more fully into the creative power of the Gospel to be used through technological mediums" because "loving people in Jesus transcends all boundaries."
"I think that there is a theological assumption made when people assume that ministry shouldn't include screens or certain forms of technology. If we don't want screens then we need to invest in building better relational tech. But I think that it is a false assumption to assume that utilizing screens is a problem. Technology is the creative matter that we are called to shepherd," Benek explained.
"The real question is will we use tech for good/God or for evil?"