categories: LifeChurch.tv, Second Life, church, creativity, innovation, personal
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March 16th, 2007

by Bobby Gruenewald

28 comments (+ Add)

Come as you are, just put some clothes on!

I had a “first” last night. Someone walked into our lobby completely in the nude. She sat down in a chair in front of several other people in the lobby and did not speak to anyone. I received a phone call from a volunteer explaining all of this. I got there as soon as I could and sure enough…there she was. Completely naked sitting in a LifeChurch.tv lobby!

I politely asked her to put some clothes on and told her that she was welcome here, but that she would need to cover up. She continued to sit quietly with no response. I once again asked for her to cover up, but she simple refused and did not answer. I then told her that she would have to leave and quickly removed her from the property.

Now…all of this happened in our new virtual campus on Second Life which has been getting a lot of interesting guests since we opened the doors earlier this week for a “beta test”. There are people from all over the world who have visited. Some people from our staff and other churches, but several who have found out about it through Second Life and have no affiliation with church.

After ejecting the naked lady from our campus…I began to wonder if I did the right thing or if I should have responded differently. It may seem crazy to some of you, but I realized that we did have a “dress code” even though we often say we do not. I probably would have responded different though if she simply would have said something in response. We have rules on the island and it is clearly listed as a place that does not allow “mature” (adult) content. I took her silence as defiance and an unwillingness to listen. Maybe I was right…maybe I was wrong? What do you think?

FYI, this picture shows a little of how people are interacting and watching video in our Second Life Lobby (sans the naked lady)

SL-Lobby-People watching video

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there are a total of28
  1. Mar 16, 2007 at 12:10 pm

    Bobby, I understand the unchartered territory with this dilemma. It is indeed an interesting one, on many levels!

    From my perspective, you did the right thing. I was there from when she walked in and, in fact, she was sitting on the edge of my chair right before you walked in and I quickly moved!

    But interestingly, my wife was sitting next to me on the couch (in real life) and peeked over to see what I was doing. What does she see but this naked chick sitting closer to the virtual me than Deziray was sitting to the real me. Not a good thing to have happen!

    I don’t think the standards change just because the virtuality changes. I don’t imagine you would have done anything differently in a physical campus. Common decency rules apply in both worlds for the sake of those there for the right reasons.

  2. Mar 16, 2007 at 12:22 pm

    Jeff, I guess you have to learn to bounce your virtual eyes! :)

  3. Mar 16, 2007 at 1:10 pm

    Bobby, I would expect much more of the same if I were in your shoes. I feel for you… this is a difficult line to draw.

    Let me share from my experience … when I first participated in Church of Fools, I noticed that there were a lot of “trolls” who would come in merely to see what they could get away with. They’d move their avatars into sexually suggestive positions, whisper offensive things to people, and even pray to the holy water vending machine. (My personal favorite, imho… that was amusing.) As a result, team after team of monitors had to be around to keep kicking these people off. The problem continued to grow bigger and bigger, apparently without any signs of stopping.

    I ultimately realized that this was perhaps not the best way to handle this situation… it only encouraged the people to come back and try it again in a different way. It was an interactive game, and the monitors were the inevitable opponents. In fact, some of these people told a gaming forum about it, and members of the forum overran the place, looking for the coolest way to be kicked off so that they could earn bragging rights in the forum. I think the fact that this was a church, rather than any old chat room, helped add to that appeal.

    If, instead, we altered our standards to not be offended by these things, ultimately they would receive the message that we’re more interested in receiving them as God does - where they are… and if we didn’t kick them off or get offended, the wind ultimately fell out of their sails. Why do it if it doesn’t actually bother anyone? Is it worth trying to be offensive for hours and never be able to cross the line? The game would have no climax, and ultimately be no fun to play.

    This is the approach that we adopted at Infinitechurch.com. We made it clear to our regular visitors that anyone would come, and our job was to help them GET the gospel, not be offended by whatever they do. God had called us to this venue where this type of activity is all but inevitable. This was merely part of the job, and we should expect it and work with it. I figured that when you preach to a strange culture, you can’t let yourself be offended by their customs.

    If something’s going on that simply is beyond someone’s personal ability to handle, we ask our members, who already “get” the gospel, to excuse themselves. We also warned them not to ever assume that it was a kid-friendly place.

    Admittedly, this sounds like we’re inviting anarchy, but generally it worked just as we had planned. People would come in naked, talk about worshipping Satan, ask if it was okay that they had lustful thoughts about their priests, etcetera. We’d ask them politely to change something if they were really pushing the limits. After a while, they realized that we didn’t respond like they thought we would. I can only assume that they ultimately realized that something was different about us, and I hope that it planted a seed in many of their lives. Two of these ultimately made decisions for Jesus, and one became an extremely loyal fan of our site for a long time, and brought his friends back. In fact, although his intention had been just to mess with us, he warned his troublemaker friends to be nice to the people here, because there was something different and unexplainable here that he liked. (*cough* Jesus *cough*)

    There have also been times where the approach didn’t work. I’d say that was about 1/10th of the time. There’s only so much you can allow DURING a worship service, for example. In those cases, we limited it to the absolute minimum to get them under control. In some cases, that was gagging them so that they couldn’t speak in public. In other cases, we forced them to wear a different avatar. Other times, we pulled them to another room that they couldn’t leave. It was a bit disappointing to me that we did occasionally have no choice but to remove someone from the server.

    Granted, we were dealing with situations involving one troublemaker and fiveish churchgoers that I knew fairly well. The line may need to be drawn earlier, or more clearly when you’ve got dozens hanging around on the SL venue. I don’t know if it’s possible, but I would recommend setting up a separate room to send these people to in a worst-case scenario. You’ll think of something.

    Hope that helps!

  4. Mar 16, 2007 at 1:13 pm

    Maybe you could build a box object to put over the naked people who show up? Or maybe a clothing optional section? (just kidding)

    Like I said, it’s almost impossible to avoid such things in SL. It’s definitely 100% mission field in a very different culture. Christians have to be very mission minded to exist there.

  5. Mar 16, 2007 at 2:20 pm

    I’ve been in a couple of times to check it out and it’s really pretty cool! Interacted with a few people. Great job on this, I hope it produces much fruit! BTW,once you buy land, do you have to pay someone to design the building or is it customizable, you can design your own, ?

  6. 7Eric
    Mar 16, 2007 at 2:58 pm

    Hi Bobby,
    First of all, I’m really excited that you all are seriously confronting sl. There’s so much potential for fellowship, conversation, arts etc, it’s just exciting. I think you probably did the right thing in this situation. I feel a lot depends on the visitor, if they appear new and unfamiliar with sl I would be more lenient on them than say if their profile says they have been around for awhile and they are wearing some graphically detailed skin.

    In the future, what I think might help you all would be a notecard on rules that would appear when people first arrive. This is a pretty common practice, particularly among places that function as sims. One example that I think might help is at the “Lost Gardens of Apollo.? This is a really popular sim and the managers are very outspoken about not wanting any nudity there. A card like this also gives you the opportunity to briefly introduce the purpose of the island and why nudity would detract from its function vs. telling someone that nudity in sl is simply annoying. Here you could also address other issues like weapons and griefing.

    A few other ideas (you asked for feedback on the other blog post).You may want to add some form of an away messenger. One thing I’ve seen at a company’s front desk in sl was a spherical shape for each individual in the office. It would be either green/red depending on if they were online/off. Visitors could click on it to send a message to that individual, or it be stored for later. Also, some terrain & background music could make a big difference. :)
    I can’t wait to see how the project evolves. You guys are awesome.

  7. 9Phil Rapp
    Mar 17, 2007 at 11:03 am

    Oddly enough the picture that you chose to use as an example is one that I was a part of. What you don’t see in the picture is that one of the people sitting down was not exactly dressed appropriately either. But what you may not know is the rest of the story:

    She came to visit the site at the invitation of a friend who had heard about the site through the creators of 2nd life (I may be a little off here, but I believe that this is correct). When they arrived on the site they were speaking another language. At the time I thought that it was German and I had a hard time trying to communicate with them, so I tried to find someone else on the site who spoke German to see if we could make contact. No luck there, but later on she and her friend were standing near the screens in the lobby, just looking around, so I triggered one of the screens to start it’s content running. It was an Urban Legends piece about sin. They sat down to watch and she began asking questions about sin and what our church believes. She was truly interested and is obviously seeking for a church that she feels can accept her for who she is, regardless of her past. Eventually we found out that she is in Austria, and wanted to know if we have a real world church there. They sat and listened all the way through the invitation at the end. We had some other spots of conversation before she and her friend left, and I do believe that there was truly a heart seeking. When she is ready to give up sin she will respond, if she has not already.

    My point is that although she did not fit the mold of what some may have prefered, she reminded me of the couple that Craig had as greeters at one time (many LC folks will know this story). We need to accept those who are seeking on this site as they come in the door and offer every invitation and opportunity to them that we can. I agree that we can not allow protests in the lobby, and we will have LOTS of them. Chris had some great insight into what we should expect! Given the fact that we have leaped into ministering to a world that thrives on Pornography, there is going to be virtually (no pun intended) no way to stop this kind of thing from occuring, and we do need to police the area carefully. What we need to be careful of is that we do not judge them solely on their appearance. Jesus chose to minister to this type of crowd first. I am excited that we have the opportunity to do the same! Maybe what we should do is find a way to force those who choose to protest in our lobby to have to sit and watch a video that speaks to their situation while they are protesting. I don’t see a reason why we couldn’t share the gospel with someone who has chosen to sit there.

    In the last week I have seen a lot of visitors in the small amount of time that I have had to spend there. I have met people from all over the US, and even one from the Czeck Republic, who was also someone seeking for a more relevant relationship with God than Catholicism was allowing him to have in his country. I asked Terry to hop on line after I met him since I had to get somewhere, and he met them before I left, so Terry may be able to share more about him.

    One thing that we should also recognize is that we will see a lot of people from around the world who are living in different cultures and different situations, that we can’t predict. Prayer on our end is going to be our best tool to let the Holy Spirit show up how to procede when we don’t know anything about the visitors in this virtual world.

    What we need to encourage is that everyone take as many opportunities to share on the site as are available. The late night and early morning hours seem to be attracting others from around the world since it fits their time zones better. We should look for volunteers who can staff the site 24 hours a day to take advantage of every opportunity that walks through the virtual door. I would like to be the first to volunteer some time (if no one has already :).

    One thing to note if you try to use the video technique that I stumbled upon above: If you start a video you need to stay there or it will turn off when you walk away (someone in programming correct me if I am wrong, but that seems to be how it works).

    One other note on the technical side: discussions can be confusing if you are standing too close to another discussion. Just like in the real world when you overhear a conversation near you, this does too. The difference is that since it is in a chat format you end up reading each others’ conversations mixed in with your own. In real life your brain filters out the other discussions. Proximity is an issue and there is only so much space in the building. I can’t wait to see what happens on Easter if we have loads of people show up. Speaking of which we better plan for the possibility of a protest then as well since we are advertising the experience time. Is there a way to at least limit access to the stage?

    Sorry for the length of this. I don’t get time to do this very often, so I tend to unload a lot when I do have the chance.

  8. 10Phil Rapp
    Mar 17, 2007 at 11:06 am

    I just spoke to someone else here about this, and he had another thought that we should try to address. It wouldn’t take much for someone to come to the site pretending to be from LC and leading others in a wrong direction. Any thoughts on how to curb this problem?

  9. Mar 17, 2007 at 1:31 pm

    I was also in the lobby during the incident. Those of us who were sitting around the table with the “guest” did try to engage her (her one text response was in a language none of us recognized) until it became obvious that her intent was not to engage but to disrupt. It was weird asking questions to a naked female avatar, yes, but I think you have to expect some of that in SL.

    When it comes to expelling or banning people, I think the question will come down to that of engagement rather than intent. If the guest is willing to engage the environment (even in wacky ways) and is willing and able to at least respond to chat attempts, then you’ve achieved what you want with the SL campus–engagement. Even if the intent is to disrupt, I’d allow the guest to stay so long as there is a two-way conversation.

    I think you handled it well, Bobby. You threw out some questions and requests for clothing and got nothing back.

  10. Mar 18, 2007 at 8:52 pm

    Bobby:
    I spent all weekend in Second Life and quite a bit of time on the LC.tv campus. I must say that riding the tubes near the water was a cool experience. Nice touch, guys!
    While in SL, I met and prayed with disciples from all over the world. While attending one service, I met a person from my hometown (Saginaw, MI) and at another service, I met one from a town near my current residence (who I will be getting together with soon in RL). I found out it’s small SL world too! I even battled Satan in one church with other disciples - victoriously, I might add. :)
    All in all, it was a spirit-filled weekend - one that I will not soon forget. If I were a betting man, I would say that LifeChurch.tv on SL is about to blast off into hyperspace.
    Looking forward to Easter service in SL. Should be awesome. Hope I can get a seat!!!
    Agape,
    steve
    ps: Somebody mentioned that when you search churches on SL, LC.tv doesn’t come up. I’m not sure if that is true but you may want to check it out.

  11. Mar 18, 2007 at 9:34 pm

    Hey, so I signed up for second life, but when I try to visit the island, it either gives me an error message, or when I use Firefox, it says the protocol isn’t associated with any program. What up?

  12. Mar 19, 2007 at 10:32 am

    Hey, Bobby, pretty crazy story! I think I’d have done the same thing.

    I just saw that you have your new pic up on your profile. Looks great! It was nice to get to know you a bit and work with you on that.

    Hey, quick suggestion, would you be open to putting up a link to our new startup church, Providence Fellowship? It’s http://ProvidenceFellowship.org and you may know the pastor, Jason Gilbow. Great guy.

  13. Mar 21, 2007 at 4:19 am

    [...] Конечно, благове?тие в виртуальном мире имеет ?вои о?обенно?ти и ?пецифику, например не?колько дней назад женщина пришла на ?лужение в их виртуальную церковь ?овершенно голой! ?ово?ть ?ообщил Paul Steinbrueck из OurChurch.Com на форуме IECG. [...]

  14. Mar 21, 2007 at 8:41 am

    [...] LifeChurch recently opened a 'virtual campus' on the popular online virtual community Second Life, and already has had to hammer out what to do when someone tried to disrupt things. [...]

  15. Mar 23, 2007 at 2:08 pm

    [...] Come as you are, just put some clothes on [...]

  16. Mar 25, 2007 at 4:46 am

    Bobby,

    Quick suggestion - I know that in Second Life, a lot of newbies will look for ways to accumulate a few extra linden dollars. Some of the more popular ones are “Money Trees” and “Camping Chairs”. Perhaps with the traffic we’re getting, we could also place highly on the searches for those items if we had a couple of those on campus. We could put a few thousand linden into the pot at the money tree (about $6 in real life) and probably attract a good handful of people by doling it out 10 linden at a time. If our camping chairs were in front of some on-demand video, people would come for the buckage and be exposed to the gospel, at the cost of about a penny for every ten minutes that someone sits there. (I suppose you could argue that there’s something fishy about paying people to listen to the gospel, but then, if it works, it’s just a good investment.)

    Just my $5 linden. (that’s my 2 cents to the rest of us)

    -Chris

  17. Mar 28, 2007 at 10:50 am

    [...] See this follow-up post: Come as you are, just put some clothes on! [...]

  18. 22Jimmy Hankins
    Apr 2, 2007 at 8:18 am

    Well, did you offer to clothe her? Who knows what her or his reasons for showing up like that were, but does it matter? Show up she or he did. On the technical side, maybe there’s a way to teleport new people who show up in some way that might cross the line of what children who aren’t old enough to be “come as you are” ministry greeters age into a “service lobby” with a servant greeter that can help them put on an acceptable outfit. Or pop them into a default clothed avatar. You are going to find all the same problems in Second Life that you find in a message forum only much worse because of the 3D aspect and the popularity of it. If you shine a light in the dark, those in the dark will see it and react. I guess you have to decide how you will respond to them. At least you don’t have to worry about feeding them. I mean, what possible food could someone need in a virtual reality? (grin)

  19. Apr 2, 2007 at 7:19 pm

    I don’t know whether you can do this in Second Life (I don’t use it), but perhaps someone could have offered to give her a LifeChurch t-shirt.

    But I guess if she has no idea what you’re trying to say, that would be difficult.

  20. Nov 30, 2007 at 7:30 am

    [...] me start by saying this is not a Second Life story. Though I am sure it could [...]

  21. Nov 30, 2007 at 9:08 am

    [...] me start by saying this is not a Second Life story. Though I am sure it could [...]

  22. 26Steve
    Nov 30, 2007 at 9:56 am

    Awwh, you kicked Eve out of the room!

  23. Dec 3, 2007 at 5:45 am

    [...] me start by saying this is not a Second Life story. Though I am sure it could [...]

  24. 28Pauly Poppins
    Feb 21, 2009 at 5:37 pm

    I joined Second Life just so I could see the Lifechurch campus, and see the experiences from there, totally cool! I just had a few suggestions…
    Through the week, and during times when there isn’t an experience, there is nobody around. I always start and finish at lifechurch because then I won’t find myself somewhere I don’t want to be, but usually, I end up wandering around somewhere other than experience island, because there’s nobody around and nothing to do that you can’t do/see on the Lifechurch.tv website (IE: watch content, etc.)
    Suggestion #1: I’m sure many of the pastors and employees/voulenteers of the real life Lifechurch are at a computer for much of their workday and at home, you could have second life open and minimized, and simply park your avatar somewhere on the campus. Sitting in a chair, or standing somwhere prominent. That way, if someone comes along on a Wednesday afternoon at 1, and they have questions, or want to talk about Jesus, there’d be someone there. I know I’d love to touch base with some of you fine folks! :^)

    Suggestion #2:
    Have some more things to do on the island. The inner tube is fun, but someone might not find it. I was expecting to find some fun things in the kids areas. I dunno, bumper cars or something. Just having things for people to do other than read or watch videos, they might hang around longer, and they might just learn something.
    I just thought of another suggestion: I was somewhere (in second life) and I saw a billboard type sign that simply had text messages in a loop. You could have scriptures, inspirational sayings, God’s promises, upcoming events, you name it. I stood and read what was on the sign just because it was looping messages. Keep up the GREAT work!