By: Christopher G. Poirier
By this point many of you have started playing Pokémon Go, and if you haven’t started chasing around the digital Pokémon, you have at least heard of or seen people playing. One almost cannot wander outdoors and not run into someone who has transfixed their gaze upon their cell phone as they shuffle along in search of that ever elusive legendary Pokémon for their collection.
To state that Pokémon Go is taking the country by storm may be an understatement as many reports now show that there are more people logged on and playing Pokémon Go, than those who use Twitter day to day.
So, yet another fad has come screaming into the world and many of you are probably asking yourself: “So what?”
Like most things in culture there are many things we as church leaders should choose to learn and understand about this new phenomenon, and also many things we can and should consider in how we can engage the culture.
What You Need to Know:
- Pokémon go is free to download and play. However, please be aware there are in-game purchases that can be made. Also, be aware that because it uses GPS data to drive the game, it also can require a lot of data. If you have data caps on your cell phone plans, be aware of how much data you use! Also, it is wise research any security concerns before installing.
- Pokémon Go is still growing. That means more and more people will possibly be playing in the future.
- Pay attention, be alert, and be careful. Because of the use of GPS data, and some out-of-date location data, many locations may not actually exist anymore or may be in locations that are not easily accessible. Please don’t trespass or leap any fences as you hunt Pokémon and scare your neighbors.
- There are people in your congregation who are playing. If you looked up from the pulpit this weekend and it seemed like more people were looking at their phones than usual, it wasn’t you, and you weren’t alone. There is probably a good sermon in this point, but know this: You have people in your church already playing.
- Your church is most likely a location in the game. As mentioned earlier, the game uses actual locations for in-game Pokéstops and Gyms. Your church is likely one or more of these things in game. If you have seen new visitors walk through your property in the last few days, they are likely looking for these locations!
So What Can We Do as a Church?
- Find out if your church is a location in the game. This does not mean you have to have your senior pastor playing Pokémon Go, but it does mean someone on staff should take a moment to download the app, and find out what game locations may be on your property. This allows you to know you will have visitors stopping by throughout the week.
- Find Ways to engage. If your church is an in-game location, that means people will be coming. Just the other night at a church event I watched three cars pull through a parking lot just to obtain the game resources at a nearby church. So, take advantage of the situation by welcoming Pokémon Trainers, providing snacks, and having staff or volunteers around to chat and get to know folks as they come through. Many of these visitors have never been to your church before, but they are there now. Even if you cannot have a physical presence, consider having signs that welcome Pokémon Trainers and make sure they include your church’s social media and/or website information. Welcome them and make and make sure that they don’t feel like trespassers.
- Be social about it. Many churches and local businesses have figured out they are game locations and are now advertising, placing signs, posting to social media, and even on their websites about being a Pokémon Go location. This lets people in the community know that you are aware and that you are open to people visiting for that purpose. Again, this provides a way for those around us to seek us out and engage.
- Stay up to date. Games can change as they grow and become more and more popular. So, stay up to date with the game content and your location so you can know how to engage people who may visit.
There is a clear opportunity here to engage people who do not typically engage the church. Pokémon Go and its lightning fast growth is pulling a large community of people together for a common purpose that is transcending lines of race, economic backgrounds, age, and religion. This a great chance to engage our community in something they enjoy, while also welcoming them to our churches. Though this may feel strange and confusing, if we set the course with the Kingdom in mind we can take this bit of culture and shine the light of Christ.
Even when a current fad seems strange, we should always be aware of what is happening around us and be willing to trust God that we can engage for the Kingdom in even some of the most unlikely of places and in the most curious of ways.
Chris studies North American Church Planting at Southeastern Seminary where he focuses on new and unique ways to engage culture. He and his wife Rebekah serve at Restoration Church in Wake Forest, NC. Chris also has worked in the technology start-up industry where he has published work in technology, disaster management and social media.