Pokemon Go to Church

Surely by now you’ve heard about Pokemon Go – this summer’s biggest new video game and one of the most popular video games of recent times.  Admittedly, I’m not much of a video game person.  My brother and I shared a Nintendo – the original – when we were young children, but I never played much beyond the original Super Mario Brothers.  So I’ve had to do some research to catch up on this Pokemon Go craze.  

The premise of Pokemon Go is rather simple: Players, using a smartphone (iPhone or Android), create an online/virtual “character” that moves through the real world to “catch” 151 different Pokemon creatures.  Players must physically move through the real world to move their “character” through the game’s map.  Along the way are “Pokestops” – real-life buildings and landmarks – where players can earn “bonus points,” increase the strength/endurance of their “character,” and interact with other players.  As a matter of technology, this is rather intriguing: the virtual gaming world and the real world are coming together as they never have before!  

The great news for us is that from the launching of this game in mid-July, our church has served as a Pokestop.  This means Pokemon Go players have to physically spend time at our church as part of the game!  If all of this seems too complicated for comprehension, don’t worry… here’s the simple real-world reality: Young people (mostly under the age of 30) are spending a LOT of time at our church because of this online game.  And while some churches are viewing this as a nuisance, I see an opportunity for ministry!

You may have already noticed (and are sure to continue to notice) groups of young people loitering, all with their faces glued to their phones, around our church building.  This is a good thing!  By God’s peculiar methods, we’ve been presented a valuable opportunity to connect with a demographic noticeably absent from our church.  Even before this game’s release, our church sees regular foot traffic and loitering, due in large part to our proximity to the library, MCT bus terminal, and nearby housing.  So how can you respond when you see people just hanging around the church?  In short, think “hospitality in the name of Christ.”  

Lots of young people are roaming the streets of America playing Pokemon Go.  And, by circumstances beyond our control, our church has become a part of the game.  How would you like our church to be remembered by these young people?  As the friendly place that greeted them with warm hearts, welcoming them in and showing interest in their activities?  Here’s our chance!


The Pokemon Go players are here!  Are you ready?


Things you can do to be welcoming: Things NOT to do:
Be polite!  Make eye contact, smile, and offer a genuinely friendly, “hello.”   Run off loiterers, tell them to move along, or be otherwise rude.  Remember, we want people visiting our church.
If they’re glued to their phones, odds are they’re playing Pokemon Go.  Ask about their progress in the game, even if you don’t understand it.  They’ll appreciate that you’re showing genuine interest in their activities.   Tell them about all the obnoxious things kids do these days.  
Be hospitable – Tell them they’re welcome to hang out as long as they’d like.  If the church building is already open for a public event, invite them in by telling them they can use the restroom, get a drink of water, or charge their phones for a while if needed.   Let a stranger into the building alone or unattended.  If the church is “closed,” you can still be hospitable by inviting them to relax in the shade or rest on the benches or steps outside the building.  
Understand they’re probably not interested in religious services. (If they were, odds are they would have already come on a Sunday morning.)  Be inviting and friendly, if for no other reason, because that’s how Jesus calls us to treat our neighbors.    “Preach” at them or tell them they need to get in church or try to engage in a religious conversation.  Our missionaries have a motto: Rapport, then religion.  Simple acts of kindness are always more effective in winning people over.  
Encourage them to come back anytime, that they’re always welcome here!   Miss out on this opportunity because it’s of no interest to you.  Remember, the Apostle Paul said he became all things to all people so that some might come to Christ (1 Cor. 9:19-23).

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