If you’re active in your church, know this: Pokémon Go has come to you!
In all likelihood, your place of worship hosts one or more game checkpoints—a physical representation of a GPS point that gamers can ‘see’ via their phones.
Don’t laugh. This is the biggest craze to hit America since Slip’N Slide. And Christians have a chance to build bridges of goodwill with the players who stop by our churches in their quest to “catch ’em all.”
This suddenly popular phenomenon is not new. Pokémon, the card and video game is 20 years old, but the mobile game just recently went live. I’ll explain what all the hoopla’s about and then share how we in the church can be a witness to those who are voluntarily(!) stepping foot on our property.
What is Pokémon Go?
Pokémon Go is a smartphone app, a game that falls into the category of augmented reality. This means you’re not just playing a game on your mobile device, you’re utilizing a phone to play a game in the real world. The basic premise is to capture various Pokémon (fictional cartoonlike characters) you come across in the wild, so to speak. The goal is to catch as many as you can. Or, if you don’t work and have the energy of youth, you can try to “catch ’em all!”
Players can level up and advance in the game by accessing two kinds of GPS checkpoints—PokéStops and PokéGyms. These Poké-locations are actual places in the real world that a gamer must travel to. They’re all supposed to be in public areas (or accessible from parking lots, streets, and sidewalks) and are usually represented by signs, artwork, statues, monuments, plaques, or other cultural and community oriented artifacts.
So in the case of churches, your sign or cross or stained glass window is in all probability a stop on the Pokémon Go game board. (The whole world is, in fact, a game board, which allows players to participate in practically an endless gaming experience as they travel near and far.) Throw in the fact that there are three different teams—Instinct, Mystic, and Valor—and you have what one website calls a “war zone” out there as players battle over various Gyms. That’s one reason you see so many kids congregate as they play, they’re having a blast taking over your church!
What can local churches do?
For a traditionally churched person like me who has a tendency to want everything done “decently and in order,”1 this Pokémon Go phenomenon can provide quite a challenge.
- Kids are walking on our nicely manicured grass! Makes me want to mimic my grandpa: Get off my lawn. You know what I’m talking about.
- We have strangers using our parking lot for apparently no rational reason. What in the world are they doing?
- Doesn’t anyone work anymore? We’ve got people coming by our building at all hours, day and night. (Which does cause a legitimate concern about potential theft and property damage.)
But I submit these issues are not that significant in light of the goodwill we can create by welcoming and interacting with the players who visit our worship site (albeit for their own purposes, but remember, voluntarily). I see three general approaches we can take to build that bridge of friendship.
- At the very least, smile and wave to the players who drop by. Don’t scowl. Don’t shake your head. Don’t sigh. Say hi. Say have fun. Say see you Sunday at 11! (Seriously. A fun and simple tease about having a Poké-party Sunday morning in the sanctuary might draw a smile and plant a seed.) Our church has four checkpoints in our immediate vicinity. I put a sign out during the day when I’m in the office that says: “Welcome Pokémon Go Players. Have fun!”
- If you want to step up your game, a pastor friend of mine suggested that maybe on a hot summer afternoon offer free bottles of water or pop, or a room with A/C and outlets for people to charge their phones. Have some brochures available and invite them to other events at the church like VBS or Youth Nights or whatever.
- Organize your own Pokémon Go outing. Have your youth group invite their friends (and their parents too—lots of adults play this game!) and venture out into an area thick with gaming checkpoints. Or host an event at your church, especially if there’s a PokéGym on the premises.
In response to my sign welcoming players to Faith Renewal Church, I had one young person stop in wondering if we were hosting an event. I hadn’t thought about it until that very moment and said, “I think we may! Thanks for the idea. What would that look like?” And we chatted for a few moments. Here a high school student who lives down the street and has never attended our services was excited about doing something at our church!
There are tons of ideas that can bring goodwill to our neighbors and witness to the abundant joy of Jesus that should overflow from our churches. But these three general approaches seem self-evident. What thoughts do you have? What other ideas for welcoming gamers to your place of worship do you have? Please share!
Then maybe together, we’ll be able to fulfill Christ’s call to Pokémon Go into all the world …
- 1 Corinthians 14:40. ↩