If yours is like most mainline Protestant churches in Southern New England, you've spent a lot of time and energy wondering how you can get those 20- and 30-somethings to come to your church.
What if I told you they are quite literally at your doorstep.
In case you haven't seen it on the news or in your social media feed, there is a new social phenomenon - Pokémon Go. This is a free game that you download onto your phone - and it has been downloaded so many times in just the last week that it is about to overtake Twitter in popularity.
In simple terms, Pokémon Go uses your phone’s GPS and clock to detect where and when you are in the game and make Pokémon “appear” around you (on your phone screen) so you can go and catch them. As you move around, different and more types of Pokémon will appear depending on where you are and what time it is. The idea is to encourage you to travel around the real world to catch Pokémon in the game.
So what does this have to do with your church? Well, the game includes PokéStops, where players can find virtual supplies and goodies, and gyms, where they can train their Pokémon to compete in battles with other Pokémon. The game developers used Google Maps to choose these locations, and reportedly have chosen public places: parks, historical markers, museums - and churches. LOTS of churches. One article I read said that 70 percent of PokéStops are at churches.
What that means is that people playing the game are going to stop outside your church with their phone and download some goodies. If your church is a gym, they may hang around for quite some time playing there.
Who are these people? Kids and teens, yes, But also a LOT of millennials, who came of age in the 1990s when Pokémon was at its height in popularity as a trading card game, video game and TV cartoon.
So, whether you want it or not, you've got a lot of young people showing up at your church. They are literally at your front doorstep.
The question is - how will you respond?
If you want to welcome them, the first step will be to download the Pokémon Go app, or talk to a teen or young adult in your church who is playing and can advise you on whether your church is a PokéStop or gym.
Then, consider the following:
Announce on your sign and your Facebook page that your church is a PokéStop or gym. This is a welcoming message that demonstrates that your church is aware of what's going on around you.
Consider setting up a charging station outside your church with a sign letting Pokémon Trainers (players) know that they are welcome to use it. (This game drains phone batteries.) Try something fun, like: "Recharge your battery today; recharge your spirit on Sunday!"
Find out from the technical folks in your church whether there is a way for your to share your church's wifi connection publicly, without jeopardizing the security of your own church's computers. If so, post the information at your charging station.
Plan a Pokémon event for your church's front lawn or steps. Invite people to gather at a particular day and time to play together, and announce that you will use a "Lure Module" to bring more Pokemon to your location during that time. (This is a feature of the game that lures Pokémon to your location, allowing players more opportunity to catch them). Consider setting up tables and chairs or blankets, serve refreshments, set up a charging station, and plan to have fun! If you've had Pokémon sightings inside your building, you could also offer guided tours for players to come in and try to catch them (but be sure to follow Safe Church Conduct Guidelines so you don't have any two people alone together in the church). You can publicize the event via social media, and by putting up flyers at nearby PokéStops and gyms. Offer the event as a safe opportunity for children to play Pokémon Go, as there is concern circulating on the Internet of predators using these lure modules to attract potential victims.
Last night, I took a walk on the town common across from my church, and couldn't quite believe my eyes and ears. There were a lot of young adults, with their phones out, playing this game and discussing strategies. There were dads with their kids, playing side-by-side. This is a phenomenon the likes of which I've never quite seen before. We don't know how long this fad will last. Why not become a positive part of it while we can?
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