Pokemon Go is bringing the unchurched to your church building. Here's how you can leverage that for the Gospel.
Over the past two weeks, millions and millions of people around the world have started running around outside, using their phones to find and capture strange animals. They pause only long enough to make a well-aimed swipe--or several swipes, if the creature is particularly ornery--so as to capture it and add it to their collection, and then they continue onward, waiting for a small vibration to alert them to another creature's proximity.
I'm talking, of course, about Pokemon Go, a mobile gaming sensation that has breathed new life into a long-running franchise (and caused Nintendo's stock to surge). The premise of the Pokemon franchise is straightforward: creatures called Pokemon are all around us; our job is to find, capture, train, and evolve them, and then compete against other Pokemon trainers in dedicated spaces called Gyms.
The distinctive feature of Pokemon Go is geotagging. In other words, the Pokemon don't come to you--you have to go find them. (Some gamers are getting exercise for the first time in a long time. That's a win for public health all Christians should celebrate.) Additionally, there are power-up stations called Pokestops that have been automatically tagged to many local landmarks such as fountains, public art displays, historic buildings, and churches, and you've got to actually visit these to interact with them. The same goes for Gyms, where trainers compete against one another's highest-ranked Pokemon.
What does this have to do with my church?
LifeWay recently released research on the attitudes of unchurched North Americans toward local churches. One finding in particular is important: while many unchurched were open to attending something sponsored by a local church, such as a community safety workshop, they were much less open to actually attending a church service. If these findings are indicative--and I believe that they are--churches who expect the unchurched to come to them will increasingly be disappointed. The Spirit is always the one who draws people to Christ, and nothing we do or don't do can replicate His work. But it is still wise to pay attention to our context and respond in wisdom and love.
Churches are God's mission strategy for the Kingdom. Global Outreach always sends missionaries in partnership with local churches, and we continue to offer leadership development and missions education in churches. We often think of "going" in terms of faraway lands and different cultures, but the truth is that churches are sent--they are Spirit-bonded groups of sent people. Anywhere you are, you're on mission, whether you're paying attention to the Spirit or not. This means our local communities are ripe with mission opportunities every day.
What can we do?
As I mentioned above, there is a pretty good chance your church building has been geotagged as either a Pokestop or a Gym. (If you don't know, ask one of your middle or high-schoolers, because she's probably playing Pokemon Go.) Global's headquarters in Pontotoc is marked a Pokestop. For many Pokemon Go players, this might be the first time in a very long time they've had a reason to be near your church building. Here are a few ways you might take advantage of this opportunity:
- If your church is a Gym, host a scheduled Pokemon Go gym takeover--have people gather and battle out their Pokemon. Provide food and maybe small prizes for various things--most dramatic takedown, longest running team Gym capture, best all-around Pokemon, etc.
- If your church is a Pokestop, use social media to let people know that you've got coffee and/or snacks at certain times. Consider downloading the game and dropping a Lure module every so often--this is an add-on that draws Pokemon to the Pokestop for 30 minutes and benefits anyone who stops by.
- Consider organizing Pokemon Go group runs with church members. You'll find Pokemon and get in better shape. Set ground rules: run at a good pace until someone spots a Pokemon; everybody stops when one person stops (and everybody should be able to capture that Pokemon), etc.
If you're still skeptical, my best advice to you would be to download the game and try it out. Visit a local park or memorial and see if you can meet other players--ask them for their stories and compare Pokemon you've captured. This won't be everyone's thing, but the point here is that the Gospel message is so important, you and I should do what we can to meet people where they are. Because of Pokemon Go, "where they are" probably includes your church building for the first time in a long time. We'd be shortsighted to miss this opportunity.