There’s a new fad that’s completely wholesome, brings people to church, and is 100% free. In that sense Pokémon Go is pure youth ministry gold.
But, like the 1849 Gold Rush, you’ll need to act fast because it won’t last long. I don’t see Pokémon Go lasting in the mainstream for very long… but it’ll be great while it lasts. (We’re talking weeks here… probably not months.)
What You Need to Know
Pokémon Go is a free app that takes Pokémon out of the realm of the Nintendo DS line of products, out of the trading card game, out of the holdover early-2000s geekery class, and puts the game into real life on your mobile phone. The game sends you out looking for Pokémon using augmented reality technology that’s been out several years but never truly taken off publicly in the way this game has.
- You have to walk around to play the game, finding characters and logging kilometers so your eggs hatch.
- You have to have the app open to play.
- In order to collect more Pokémon you need check in at Poké Stops to get more Poké Balls, the app has chosen millions of public landmarks, including just about every church.
Adults Are Kinda Freaking Out
Of course, since it involves kids/teenagers/game-loving-adults and phones plus being outdoors… adults are kind of freaking out.
For the most part people who aren’t playing it seem to fall into two camps:
A. Genuinely amused to see people wandering around playing the game. (This is from a high school friend’s Instagram feed, language warning…)
B. Dismissive & Issuing Warnings
- Pokémon Go is everything that is wrong with late capitalism (Vox)
- Cops warn Pokémon Go players: Please don’t trespass to catch ‘em all (Ars Technica)
- How crazy is the Pokemon Go craze in the Bay Area? (San Jose Mercury-News)
Here on my blog you know I write frequently about things to look out for with social media apps. And yes, I could point out the security concerns or the semi-obvious-COPPA compliance issues.
But you know what? Let’s just go with this one. It’s simple, it’s fun, it’s pretty harmless, it’s getting millions of people out walking around in our communities, (the absolute BEST thing you can do to make a neighborhood safe is people out walking around!) and people are enjoying it.
Let’s set aside the concerns and just enjoy it. I mean, we let small children play with sparklers on the Fourth of July, right? It’s that kind of dangerous. Yes, somebody is going to poke an eye out or find a dead body. But most people are just going to have fun with it… so let’s have fun, too.
[Literally, you grant so many apps with the exact same types of access to your phone’s private information, I’m a bit shocked at the backlash about privacy. I mean, you can probably trust this company more than you can trust the random free photo filter apps you’ve got that use your Google account to login.]
Some Ideas for Youth Ministry
I think this little cultural phenomenon is a great way for your ministry team to connect and get to know people. Think build relationships and not evangelism.
First, if you haven’t already, go ahead and download the free app so you know what the heck everyone is talking about. Spend an hour playing it, at least get to Level 5, you might as well do this as a staff since it’s not just a kid thing… pretty much everyone is playing it. (It’s the most popular iOS app right now. It’s user base is closing in on Twitter after just 6 days on the market.)
It’s kinda big right now.
Second, see if your church is a Poké Stop. You’ll probably already know that because there have been cars stopping in front of your church or people walking up to your church’s sign for a week.
Third, if you notice people are dropping by to visit your Poké Stop, grab a lawn chair and go sit outside for a while to watch and enjoy. Wave, have fun with it. You don’t have to understand it to enjoy the phenomenon. I mean, when was the last time this many people just randomly swung by the church?
Hack the system: You can combine the first idea with the third. Sit out by the Poké Stop and play the game… if you don’t understand something, ask one of the people walking by for help. (Nerds are helpful!)
Fourth, serve ’em.
Here’s a few ideas off the top of my head:
- Put out a candy dish. Get some Poké Balls, maybe an egg, and get a free lollipop? WHAT!?!?!?! I love that church!
- Buy a bunch of battery chargers and lend them out. (The app uses a lot of power, a little charger is like $10. Get 5-10 of them and lend them out.) Sure, you might lose a couple. But you might be surprised.
- Put out bottles of water. Did you know to hatch an egg you’ve got to walk 5 KM? (3.2 miles!) Put a cooler out with free waters next to your stop, or just a jug and some cups with ice water, pretty much free and a great way to communicate you like nerds.
- Offer something simple like a free tour of the sanctuary. Chances are these players have never been in a church! Show them all the technology you use or show them what everything is in your sanctuary. Keep it short and sweet, but also keep in mind they need to walk 5 KM to hatch an egg, so they need to walk around. Oh, you’ve got A/C? Even better!
- Offer free (side) hugs. We’ve even made a t-shirt for this one.
- Host a Pokémon Go meet-up. You’ve got space available, right? Get all the players together and let them nerd out. (Since your whole staff plays, they might even enjoy this!)