Is the Pokemon Go Craze A Good Thing For Churches?

meme I play at church
Unless you have been living under a rock for the last week, you have probably at least heard something about Pokémon Go. It was released on both the Apple and Google Play stores last Thursday, and it quickly became one of the top downloaded apps on both platforms. The app has become a viral sensation among teens and young adults, already overtaking Twitter in number of daily users. Of course, all the 90s kids are geeking out over this app, but, surprisingly, this app has actually attracted an even broader audience than the original games ever did. However, you don’t have to rely on the amount of downloads this app has to judge its popularity; just head downtown on any given evening and you are sure to see twice as many people as normal hanging out down there, phones in hand. You might even overhear some talk about the different Pokémon that they’ve been catching lately!

I know, you might be groaning at yet another app that has got young people’s faces buried in their phones. But, this app is actually different! It is one of the first games that is actually forcing people to get out and about. There are a lot of features in the game that require the player to actually go outside and walk around! It is also bringing people together as people are walking around, gathering in ad hock groups and just stopping each other to start up conversations about Pokémon. If you don’t believe me, try it yourself! Take a walk downtown and start asking random strangers to explain the game and help you get started and you will be sure to meet some great new people.

I think that, with the increase in people walking around in fresh air and interacting with other members of their communities, there is a big possibility that this game could have positive effects on mental health issues likes depression. I am also intrigued to see how this app might even begin to bring people and communities back together again. Serious gamers are stereotyped to stay holed up in their homes, by themselves, playing games in front of a screen for hours at a time, but this app is forcing them to get up and start walking!

before and after pokemon go

In case you haven’t already checked the game out for yourself, the Pokémon Go app turns the real world into a massive Pokémon hunting ground using your phone’s camera and GPS. Players use little red and white balls, which are called Pokéballs, in order to catch the Pokémon and build their collection. This app also transforms local landmarks, businesses and, here’s where it gets interesting, churches into Pokémon Gyms and PokéStops. Pokémon Gyms are places where higher level players can train their Pokémon and battle against other players and teams, while PokéStops are places where players of all levels can stock up on Pokéballs and other necessary game items. This might explain why you might have noticed more people hanging out around your church building recently, all with their phones in hand.

While this phenomenon is cool and all, what does it mean for churches? Simply put, it means that many churches will see an influx of people visiting and hanging around their church buildings on every day of the week. Theses churches can either act like the stereotypical grouchy old man yelling “Hey you rotten kids! Get off My lawn!”, or they can embrace the fact that this app is literally bringing young people to the church’s doorstep, and use it to their benefit. In fact, I have read a number of interesting articles about how businesses who happen to be PokéStops or Gyms, or are located to fairly close to one, are utilizing this craze to gain more business. Now, not every store is going to be a PokéStop or Gym, but what I have found interesting is that almost every church building is one or the other! So, while many church leaders are wringing their hands in worry about the millennial generation leaving church, they should be thinking about ways that they can use this app!

Here are some ways that churches can utilize this opportunity:
  • Download the app and take some time to check it out, so that you know what it is all about. If you are unsure about some of the games features, or how to play, you can always ask some of the young people hanging out at your church to help you out. It is a great way to start a conversation, and maybe even a friendship. Downloading the app yourself will also allow you to check out any Pokémon that are lurking around your building.
  • Check out what PokéStops or Pokémon gyms are located at your church building. If your building happens to be a gym, that is doubly awesome!
  • Be there! An empty building isn’t going to do anything for them, or you. If you can’t commit to being there yourself, ask some people in your congregation to be willing to hang out there at different times. Lawn chairs and lemonade optional.
  • Use lure modules! If your church is a PokéStop, you can buy a “Lure Module” that will attract a bunch of wild Pokémon to your church for 30 minutes. All players nearby will be alerted and will most likely start to gather to your church to catch the Pokémon.
  • Find out who in your congregation is playing the game and get a group together to walk around the neighborhoods surrounding your church building. If you don’t want to play yourself, you can always designate yourself as the person who makes sure the players don’t run into anything while playing!
  • Start a weekly or monthly activity where members of your congregation go to popular Pokémon Go locations to catch Pokémon and meet other young people. While there, you can hand out flyers about upcoming church events. This would also be a great opportunity to just get out there and meet some more people.
  • If your church is Pokémon Gym, people will probably spend more time there having battles, so what about allowing them to come inside? Set out refreshments and turn the air conditioning up and let them come play in a cool place. You could also allow players to connect their phone screens to the TV during battles, so that everyone can gather around and watch. The app tends to drain phone batteries and use up data pretty quickly, so you could even allow people to come in and charge their phones or use your Wi-Fi.
  • If your Church isn’t a Pokémon Gym or a PokéStop, you can still use this app to your benefit! Get out to your downtown landmarks and parks and strike up some conversations. Instead of poking fun at the craze, why not see it as a gift and use it to start conversations and get to know people?
If you are still reading, I have to acknowledge that these ideas might be a little crazy, and that they are just that: ideas. They have not been tested and tried, nor can I point to any examples of churches successfully using Pokémon Go. However, it has only been a week, and anything is worth a try! Historically, churches are not early adopters , they aren’t usually the first ones to jump on a new craze, well, except for that group of 12 men who decided to follow a carpenter… But Is it worth it to try and use this app to bring people to Christ? Will others laugh and poke fun at you for trying to use this as a way to reach out? Well, yes. They might laugh at you, but it is definitely worth a shot. God has a history of using strange means and working in mysterious ways.

If you have seen a business or a church using this movement in interesting ways please share in the comments.


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