Pokemon GO…to Church!

Pokemon and Christians- together at last!

Pokemon and the Church- together at last!

Unless you have been living under a rock, it’s very likely that you have at least heard of Pokémon GO, an augmented reality game that brings Pokémon into the real world. This app is not only reviving the Pokémon craze of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, but it is poised to surpass Twitter in daily activity. Server crashes, horrible glitches, and real-life drama surrounding the game aside, Pokémon Go is presenting a massive opportunity to not only its players in terms of meeting new people and exploring their home towns, but to churches and the faith community as a whole.

Pokemon is not the devil’s work!

First off all, we need to address the elephant in the room: the church has done a number on itself in terms of the Pokémon fanbase. There was a time when churches would dedicate entire sermons and theme weeks condemning the franchise on multiple charges. I, unfortunately, attended one such church and honestly questioned my faith for a few months based on the actions of the people within the church. I know that I am not alone. Tweet after tweet is making light of how the Church, once an enemy of this behemoth of a franchise, is now home to millions of Pokestops across the nation. Rather than push the skeletons back into our closet, we as a faith-based gaming community should be front and center in the education of our church leaders in regards to this franchise and the unique opportunity that it has provided.
ProfessorWe need to begin with clearing up the many misconceptions surrounding the franchise within the church itself. For one, Pokemon does not promote evolution. The word is used, yes, but one quick look at the process of “evolution” and the context in its usage destroys this accusation right away. Secondly, there is absolutely no devil worship or hidden messages within Pokémon that would lead to secular thinking. I’ve been a Pokémon fan since the initial release to the US and have dug through every entry of every generation’s Pokedex, read every line of dialogue, and have done every side-quest available. In my case, and again, this is not a situation exclusive to myself, I was turned away from the church not because of Pokémon , but because of how the church reacted to such a harmless past-time. Educating the faith leaders is the first step.
The second step is to realize the landscape of this opportunity. Pokémon Go users are so numerous that they are literally crashing massive servers from a company that has poured millions of dollars into this project. Twitter is one of the largest, if not the largest, form of social media accessible from mobile devices and Pokémon GO is preparing to blow it out of the water. The majority of these users are my age. The majority of these users are millennials. By far, millennials are the largest “lost” demographic. If something as simple as Pokémon is all it takes to direct them towards the doors of the church, why not take advantage of this opportunity?

Like Any Good Tool, Learn How to Use It.

On the map you can see several Pokestops- one of them (marked with the fluttering heart "petals") has been upgraded with a module.

On the map you can see several Pokestops. One of them (marked with the fluttering heart “petals”) has been upgraded with a module.

Pokémon GO is a little complicated to lay out, and honestly half the fun is learning tips from your fellow players. Essentially, you create a trainer, pick a starting Pokémon, and run out into your neighborhood.
The app was developed with GPS satellite technology in line with Google Maps, so the over-world of the game is the literal world around you. On the map there will be two kinds of landmarks: Gyms and Pokestops. Gyms will be frequented by competitive battlers who will visit at least once a day to reinforce the strength of their gym by adding prestige by dueling against their own team or challengers seeking to take the gym for themselves. Pokestops are landmarks within your town, village, or neighborhoods where trainers can pass by and grab essential items such as poke’balls, potions, and eggs. Pokestops replenish every 5 minutes and can be charged up with an in-game item called a module. The modules will attract Pokemon to the Pokestop for 30 minutes.
Both Pokestops and Pokémon gyms have been routinely found at churches.
Churches can easily get a few dozen visitors every hour all day and night. Most of these visitors will be from individuals who would otherwise never darken the door of a house of prayer for any reason.

Pokemon Apologetics: Gotta catch them all (the Unsaved, that Is).

So knowing the dark history (or at least the tip of the iceberg version of the dark history) between Pokémon fans and the church, churches suddenly find themselves as a foothold to use this cultural phenomenon to spread the Gospel.
This is one of my local gyms- the CROSS in front of a Catholic church. This same church boasts 2 gyms and 3 stops.

This is one of my local gyms: the CROSS in front of a Catholic church. This same church boasts 2 gyms and 3 stops.

The first thing our church leaders can do is download the game—it’s free. Play it for a few hours and get the basic idea of it so they can easily and confidently approach players. If they want to go the extra mile (and if they’re blessed with a gym near the church instead of just a Pokestop) take control of the gym! You’ll get challengers and allies alike coming out to reinforce or challenge the gym. Wait outside to defend and confront anyone that approaches. Pick a fun user name! John316, Armor0fGod, PokePastor, etc. Seriously, there’s a LOT of fun to be had with this. While the gym is being challenged, you’ll be there to talk to those that are spending 5-10 minutes to challenge or reinforce the gym.
If the church has even one Pokestop (some in my area have three AND gyms!), this location will be frequented often by trainers needing to restock on their items. If you really want to bring a crowd to the church, purchase modules and activate them every half hour on your Pokestop. This will last 30 minutes and will essentially throw up a beacon (in the form of floaty hearts all around the stop on the map) that EVERYONE in the area will see. Users will literally cross town to hang out around a module-boosted Pokestop and hang out for the entire duration. If a church paid for its leaders or even volunteers to take shifts and activate modules, they will attract the entire town’s worth of Pokémon GO players to their doors.
Since you’re essentially attracting young adults and teens, why not have some food and beverages available? It’s the summer time and trust me, Pokémon GO players are out in the hot sun, walking for hours. We’re tired, hungry, thirsty, and darn determined to catch them all. If a church put out water, offered weekly snacks (like a Friday night pizza feed), etc. word would spread. QUICKLY. Have church leaders and volunteers out serving food, playing the game, and sharing the gospel. Show, don’t tell, this lost generation that not only are we welcoming and loving, but we can relate to them. We aren’t holier than thou, judgmental, finger-pointing jerks that social media would have them believe. Even if it’s just showing them that they have a place of welcome, we can do a lot of good for a lot of people.
If you activate one of these bad boys, trainers will drop everything and make a bee-line for it. If it's in front of your church- wait to meet them!

If you activate one of these bad boys, trainers will drop everything and make a bee-line for it.

Advertise not only using modules, but use your church readers! Print out fliers, tracts, create social media groups, etc. Open up youth groups, VBS, and college and career groups to Pokémon GO nights where they can sit out, get the benefits of a free module, and socialize. The church could even offer prizes like iTunes gift cards for $5 as prizes so players can buy their Pokémon GO goodies and have another reason to keep coming by.
Pastors, there is a lot of evil in the world out there, but Pokémon is not among the demons tearing at our souls. Remember that the devil is subtle and manipulative. Pokémon is anything but. It’s bringing people to our doors. God works in mysterious ways, it’s our job to know when to take an opportunity.

Kelly

I was born and raised in a traditional Christian household, educated privately, and brought up with a passion for Christ. The works of CS Lewis and Tolkien were my greatest influences. I aspire to become a published fictional author, hopefully illustrating my own work as well. Christ is the center of my universe and my faith is the lens in which I look through in regards to everything. As far as games go I am swayed best towards fantasy/action/rpg's.

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