Story Highlights

This article by Susan Kleinwechter, communications and publications director at St.-Martin-in-the-Fields, Keller, tells how one parish in the diocese is using the wildly popular game of Pokémon GO as an opportunity for outreach. She also offers suggestions for how other congregations might engage. Pokémon  and PokéStops and Gyms are showing up at several of our congregations. For instance, St. Luke’s in the Meadow, Fort Worth, has a PokéStop right beside its front sign.  Check to see what’s showing up at your place.

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The July 6, 2016 release of the smartphone and tablet game Pokémon GO presents new opportunities for churches to engage with people showing up on their doorsteps, in their parking lots, and generally wandering about gazing at their smartphones.

What the heck is Pokémon and this new game?

Pokémon GO is part of a 20-year-old Nintendo-owned franchise that spans handheld game systems, trading cards, game consoles, television shows, anime novels, and now a smartphone app. Pokémon (pocket monsters) are animalian creatures that look like birds, rats, insects, or plants. The object of the game is to capture and tame and train them, with the general idea being to capture as many different types as possible and allow them to grow stronger and evolve.

The new game offers a new mash of technology: GPS, camera, maps, fictional places in real-world locations, plus the fictional creatures and items that have been collected through two decades of worldwide Pokémon gameplay. The game-makers seeded special gameplay locations in public gathering places – churches, landmarks, parks, other accessible public places – and players can see these places on the screen in the game. Players see nearby creatures moving over Google maps. Through the augmented reality of maps and a device’s camera view, Pokémon appear in OUR world on sidewalks, desks, lawns, etc.

So, you said something about this and church…

This video game is bringing people of all ages to church property, and that’s why even those of us who don’t play the game should care! At St. Martin-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church in Keller, we have seen an incredible number of people on bicycles, cars, and foot. They pull up in the parking lot near our large monument sign by Pearson Lane, where there is a Pokémon Gym. They capture Pokémon in our fields. They walk across our fields to and from the PokéStop at the pond in Chesapeake Park.

On the Sunday after the game release, St. Martin’s held a casual meeting for Pokémon GO gamers of all ages, parents, and inquirers. We explored how our church could form community around this new game, still in beta release, and how we can provide hospitality for gamers. The ideas our adults, teens, kids and parents discussed were welcoming gamers with signs, offering benches in the shade, having church information accessible to gamers, and hosting events.

An opportunity for hospitality

Anytime the public is drawn to your church, it’s an opportunity for hospitality, rather than a crabby “hey, you folks get off our lawn” or “what are you doing hanging out in our parking lot” response. We have opportunities to welcome new people. We don’t have to play the game to welcome others who do.

Your church might try this:

  1. Tell your church members about the gameplay so that they can be positive and welcoming if they come across new people walking around focused on their devices.
  2. Have signs near a PokéStop or Pokémon Gym to welcome people. Welcome them, so they don’t feel awkward.
  3. Can you offer real hospitality to players – things they need? Shade comes to mind on bright Texas days and in our summer heat. Can you welcome the public to an indoor space with water, restrooms, a charging station, and snacks?
  4. Is there a Poké Stop on your property? Publish times that you’ll drop a lure module to attract Pokémon that everyone can catch. Share your planned lure times on on social media.
  5. Plan some group activities once you learn who in your church enjoys the game. This game has some surprising social aspects, so schedule some public events, such as a walk from your church to a nearby Gym or Stop. Walking is an important part of the gameplay, both for catching Pokémon and for hatching an egg in an incubator. If you build a Pokémon community in your church, it can draw non-member gamers to comfortable, no-pressure activities.
  6. Look to the future; this game is only in beta release.
    • It’s anticipated that it will eventually offer more of the previous gameplay aspects, such as trading creatures. This would offer more person-to-person interaction, easily done at casual gatherings.
    • Many places hope that they can register a new location or move a location in the game. Is your church one of these places?
    • If you offer hospitality or community now, you can build on that as the game expands. Keep an eye open for shifts that you can capitalize on.

If a video game can help break down stodgy stereotypes that people have about Episcopal churches, or provide a comfortable introduction to a welcoming community, embracing this game is a piece of cake, right? The Episcopal Church welcomes you. And Pikachu.

Take a Chansey. It’s not Oddish. It would be hard to Muk it up if you go Slowbro.

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