Unless you’ve been on a deserted island all of July, you’re probably aware of Pokémon GO, an Augmented Reality game application that allows players to use their smartphones to hunt, capture, and train virtual versions of the fantastical “pocket monsters” that became popular as trading cards in the 1990s.
If you’ve seen increased foot traffic around your church, it’s likely that you’ve been designated either a Pokéstop, where players can gather Pokéballs, eggs, and other equipment, or a Pokégym, where players can train their Pokémon and battle other players. Many churches are seeing this phenomenon as a remarkable opportunity to welcome players, often millennials who tend to have a negative view towards organized religion.
When Pastors Liz and Ryan Radtke of Hope, Atascadero found out their church was a Pokéstop, they welcomed players with water, Gatorade, snacks and sunscreen. “It introduces people of the community to one another that may not otherwise have ever met,” says Pastor Liz. “It brings people to our church, and if they want to talk about God and theology, we’re more than happy to talk about that, too!” Hope’s welcoming of Pokémon-playing visitors was featured in the Paso Robles Daily News.
Meredith Gardner’s Middle School group from Mt. Cross, Camarillo planned to go geocaching at California Lutheran University, but when they found how many wild Pokémon were there they ended up having a bonding session of Pokémon GO instead.
“It might not be Gutenberg’s printing press, but Pokémon Go is the latest technological advance to have a significant impact on church,” says Aaron Earls in The Washington Post’s religion section. Many churches are finding creative ways to connect with those who might otherwise never consider stepping foot on church grounds, or including the game in their youth programs. Only time can tell if Pokémon GO is a fun fad or will have staying power. But for now it is not only game that is taking over the imaginations of people you want in your church, it’s an opportunity to welcome them inside. Don’t miss out on the chance!