[This post deals only focuses on the ways churches can use Pokémon Go. I wrote a piece for Washington Post with more nuance that discusses the positives and negatives: “Come for Jigglypuff; stay for Jesus: Church in the Age of Pokémon Go.”]
Pokemon Go has quickly become a cultural phenomenon and, whether you realize it or not, that’s a big deal for churches. Let me explain.
The app mixes the popular video game with an augmented reality form of geocaching. In essence, you travel around in the real world, trying to catch Pokemon that show up on your smartphone.
The game shot to the top of both iPhone and Android app charts, as millions of people around began their quest to “catch ’em all.”
Here’s a promo video showing some of the game’s current and future features.
Here’s why churches should care. Part of the game features going to PokeStops, which are real life buildings and landmarks that allow players to obtain needed items. Churches are often used this way.
In fact, every church we drove past this weekend was a PokeStop or gym—from a gigantic megachurch to a tiny fundamentalist church.
This has lead to some interesting situations for many unchurched gamers. Some exclaimed how this would be the first time in years they have been to a church.
My friend Chris Martin of Millennial Evangelical noted how he saw several young guys sitting on the steps of a downtown church because it was a Pokemon Gym. (He has also written a helpful post on why pastors and church leaders should care about Pokemon Go.)
— Chris Martin (@ChrisMartin17) July 10, 2016
These are the missing millennials churches have been worried about. Now, a smartphone game has them literally coming to your doorstep.
So what can a church do to capitalize on this? Here are some practical steps to hopefully move the gamers from your steps to your pews.
1. Check your church on the game.
Download Pokemon Go on your smartphone. Even if you never play it, you can see if your church is a PokeStop or a gym.
If it is a stop and you are in a more rural area, many people will simply drive by slowly. If it is a gym or you are in a city, you may have a lot more foot traffic than normal during the week.
Knowing how long the players will be around can help you make plans for engaging them.
2. Staff the area with a greeter.
Find the exact location of the PokeStop at your church and have someone around that area to talk to those who stop by.
Ideally, you would use someone who plays the game themselves so they could have a knowledgeable conversation. But even if no one knows much about the game, anyone can be there to say hello and welcome players to your church.
3. Place welcome signs on your door.
You probably don’t want your student pastor spending his entire day playing Pokemon on your front steps, so put up a sign to let players know they can come inside.
If it is hot, people will be thankful to step inside and hang out in an air conditioned area while they pick up some items, see what Pokemon are around or battle a gym leader.
You could also use those church signs for something other than horrible puns for once.
4. Offer drinks and snacks.
If AC won’t bring someone inside the doors, maybe some free pizza and a soft drink will.
Put signs near the PokeStop or gym location and advertise a Pokemon day. Players can come and hang out in the church, get free food, and talk about their latest catches.
Remember, these may be individuals who haven’t been to church since they were kids or maybe never at all. This is about hopefully correcting some misconceptions they have about Christians and the church.
5. Post about it on social media.
#PokemonGo has been trending on Twitter since the game was released. Get in on the social media action by tweeting from your church’s account about the Pokemon in your building.
An art museum in Arkansas took photos of Pokemon near different exhibits and blogged about it. Now people who may never have thought about going to there may show up to catch the Pikachu near the “Untitled” light installation.
The same could be true for your church.
6. Attract Pokemon to your church.
If you can get the Pokemon there, maybe you can bring the people in too. The game actually has a way to do just that. Players can purchase “Lure Modules” that draw in Pokemon to PokeStops for 30 minutes.
Invite those players hanging around to come back at a certain time when you will use one of the modules. Put it on signs at the PokeStop or gym, so those driving by will know.
You could also use it as part of the draw for a big event. Buy a Lure Module for your VBS Kickoff event or fall festival. Announce that you’re doing it on promotional flyers.
7. Have drawings for free Pokemon gifts.
As you have players become more comfortable hanging around, have them enter drawings for Pokemon themed gifts—like packs of trading cards or even a Pokemon Go Plus (a watch-like device that alerts players to events in the game and new creatures to catch).
If they fill out an information card to register for those drawings, you have contact information to follow up. Don’t spam them with every material your church sends out, but let them know about upcoming Pokemon events or age relevant activities.
8. Keep up with the game updates.
At some point, trading will be part of the game. Once that aspect of the game is released, announce you will have a Pokemon Trading Night at your church.
Provide refreshments for the players gathered to swap stories and Pokemon. The more you do these type of events the more these individuals will feel at home with you and your church.
Pokemon Go is providing churches with an opportunity to meet new, unchurched people from their neighborhood. You can form relationships with non-Christians just by walking outside your church.
Don’t miss out on this because it’s not something you are interested in. Paul said he became all things to all people so that some might come to Christ.
Pastors and church leaders can make fun of Pokemon Go and the players walking right outside their doors. Or they can take Paul’s advice and become a gamer to reach the gamers for the sake of the gospel. Hopefully, these eight steps can help you do just that.
Trevin Wax explains well the spiritual and philosophical reasons a game like this has caught on.
Pokémon Go taps into our longing for unity in a fractured world. For a moment, we are together, sharing the same physical space and playing the same game.
Pokémon Go also taps into our longing for something beyond the flattened, rationalist society of our age. For a moment, we feel the magic of the old mythologies and long for something beyond this present world.
He sums it up well by reminding us that “we should have eyes wide open to the pressures people feel in this fractured and flattened world, so that we can better tell the better Story, which, in the words of C. S. Lewis, is ‘the myth that became fact.'”
Also, if you are wondering: “Is Pokémon satanic?” that link will answer your question.
Have you seen any churches use Pokemon Go as part of their outreach? What other ideas could churches use to engage players?