An intrepid internet explorer does not have to journey very far in Christian-centric blogs to discover post after post that decry the decreased relevance of church in modern day culture. It seems nearly everyone has an opinion about why people in their twenties and thirties are mostly absent from churches. Many of these authors claim that they have a solution to bring back the millennial generation and make the church relevant again. A funny thing happened last week, millennials did return to church property and churches did become relevant in their lives. The millennials did not come back for a certain theology, a small group, or even an outreach program. They came for the Pokémon. Given how fast the Internet moves, by the time you are reading this you are either playing Pokémon Go yourself or you are oddly proud of the fact that you are the one person you know not playing the game.
Pokémon Go has a tendency to make churches either “Pokestops” (places where people can get items) or gyms (where Pokémon can battle). Pokémon Go reminds Christians what some congregations have forgotten. Church buildings by their nature are to be community centers. They are supposed to be a portal where the worshipping community of God meets the community that surrounds it. As society has changed at an increasingly rapid pace, churches have struggled to keep up with making this vital connection. Some have tried hard to keep up and others have given up by becoming very inwardly focused. Pokémon Go can give congregations a chance to reengage their community in small ways.
What is best is that Pokemon Go plays to the strengths of churches. Almost every congregation believes with all of their being that they are a friendly and welcoming group of people. A lot of churches tend to do a great job at being friendly towards the people who come to their buildings on Sunday morning. The great disconnect has been that non-church people have been decreasingly visiting on Sunday morning. Pokemon Go is the miracle that many churches have been praying for. Young people, without a previous connection to church, are now coming to us. The question is, what are we going to do about it? If you are part of a church who is curious how you can use this new game to the advantage of God’s kingdom then here are some do’s and don’ts.
People like to be acknowledged. In general we as people like to be noticed and we like to know we are known. If your church is a stop or a gym, then put a sign out. Welcome the Pokémon Go players. Let them know that you know they are there and let them know that you are glad they have stopped by to get new Pokeballs.
DO NOT JUDGE
If your church is a stop or gym then your church is a stop or gym. Players will be coming even if you do not acknowledge them. It is possible that you found your way here to read this, and you want nothing to do with Pokémon. You might think it is silly and even dumb. If that is true, then keep it to yourself and let people enjoy things. Younger generations already think that churches are out of touch and judgmental, the response to this game by churches should not reinforce that negative stereotype.
DO PRACTICE RADICAL HOSPITALITY
Putting out a welcome sign is a good start, but this is an opportunity for churches to go a step further and extend true hospitality to the community. Pokémon Go has something called lures. Once a lure is deployed Pokémon will show up in the area at an increased rate for half an hour. An easy way that a church claim its status as a Pokestop is to pick a couple of times a week to set a lure. Each lure cost less than a $1. People are playing the game anyway, so giving them an excuse to walk towards your Pokestop instead of another one should be all it takes. Churches can take it a step further. When churches have their lure scheduled they can have a hospitality team ready to offer free drinks or snacks to those players who come by. For the first time in years young people are intentionally coming to churches, and this is the perfect time for congregations to make a great first impression.
DON’T ATTACH STRINGS
The primary reason why churches should be welcoming and show hospitality is because it gives the congregation the opportunity to being Christians. It allows us to show people we care for them, practice kindness, and demonstrate generosity. If churches are going to try and utilize Pokémon Go as part of ministry, displaying Christian love should be the motivation. Churches should not delude themselves into thinking that this game will be a way to drive Sunday morning worship attendance. If you set a time to lure Pokémon, do not make it Sunday morning in an attempt to lure players into the sanctuary. If you provide snacks and drinks to people who stop by, do not give it to them along with a tract. Younger generations tend to be distrustful of churches, and this game can be utilized to help earn that trust back. It allows congregations to act in a loving way to the community in a way that has zero strings attached and no ulterior motives.
DO PLAY THE GAME
In addition to giving churches a chance to show hospitality, this game also gives congregations a chance to begin to build relationships with their community. This is absolutely a real thing. I spent ten minutes today talking with someone I never would have met if it were not for Pokémon Go. We were both walking around with our phones up, he asked me what I had caught recently, and we off in conversation. Pokémon Go creates an automatic social experience that people can gather around. If a church is going to welcome players and display hospitality towards them, then a few members of the congregation need to go a step further and actually know the game. If Paul encouraged disciples to be all things to all people, I think a Pokémon trainer can fit in there somewhere.