Posted by Barry Westman on 10 August 2016

Unless you’ve been living under a rock these past few months, you have probably heard about Pokémon Go – the game that is taking the world by storm. Based on the popular video game of the ‘90s, this mobile version gets players out of their house and leads them to various points of interest around their town to capture renegade Pokémon and store up on Poke balls and other items.

What does this have to do with church and worship, you might ask?  Well, quite a bit actually, considering that pretty much every church in your town, including yours, probably, is either a Poke stop or a Poke gym.  This means that random people from your community will be coming to your church to play this game. Since it is a GPS-based game, people actually have to be within a short distance from your church in order for them to be able to activate the Poke stop or battle their Pokémon at your gym.

Now, before you start locking all the doors, and putting a fence up, ask yourself – instead of keeping these people away from your church, how can your church turn this unique opportunity into a very cool and timely outreach event? People might not be coming to your church looking for anything other than a few Poke balls, or to battle their Pokémon, but they will be coming. Why not welcome them with open arms, reward them for stopping by your church, and perhaps even begin a conversation with them that could lead to much, much more.

Our church happens to be a Poke gym, which means that players come to our church lawn to train their Pokémon, and to battle them against other Pokémon from different teams. They tend to come back quite a bit to make sure their Pokémon are still in control of the gym. The people who come to our church are primarily the people who live right around our church, or at least in our area of the town. That means that people who live in our target community are coming to our church without any kind of advertising, door-to-door invitations, or any other kind of effort. It would be foolish not to take advantage of this unique opportunity that might not last forever, but is very popular right now.

For example, at our church, as soon as we realized what was happening, and saw the potential for making a connection with our neighbors, the pastors talked to the Outreach Board and explained what was going on. They were excited to jump on board with this, and planned an event for that weekend.  We put a cooler out in front of the church with some ice and water bottles inside, with a sign on the outside that said “Free Water for Pokémon Trainers”.  It had the iconic Pokémon symbol on the front so everyone walking by would easily recognize it.

Since people don’t need to actually walk into the church building, but just be near it, we didn’t see everyone who stopped by, but those first few days we had to refill the cooler several times!  Once when I was out watching, I saw a couple walk up to the church, pushing a stroller. They both were playing Pokémon on their phones. When the Dad saw the cooler, I saw him excitedly point it out to his wife, and they both took a bottle. Later that day our church Facebook page received a message from this man thanking us for the water bottle! That was their first interaction with our church, and it caused him to seek our church out on Facebook and send us a message. Now we have a connection with that family in our neighborhood.

That weekend we opened up the doors to our actual “gym” inside the church, and put some signs up outside the church offering free snacks, free Wi-Fi, and free battery charging stations to all Pokémon players.  We asked some of our teens from church to be there as well to interact and greet those coming. We had several players stop by and hang out for a while. They really seemed to appreciate our efforts!

However, we had several who saw the sign and were hesitant to come in. Next time, if we were to do this again, we would probably keep the event outside on our lawn, rather than in the church building.  We will set up some picnic tables and tents on our lawn, offer free hot dogs out there.

No one knows how long this craze will last, and you never know where a simple conversation you have with a player who comes to your church will lead. For some, this might be the first interaction they have with someone from your church, so be sure to be intentionally friendly, and welcoming. Have brochures and information about your church handy, and invite them to come back on Sunday! Be as creative as you can be in planning your events! Search for what other churches have done online, and you’ll get some great ideas!

Finally, take a few minutes to try the game yourself! If you know how it works, it will lead to more natural conversations when guests visit your church. Have fun, and be sure to “catch ‘em all”!


Barry Westman has been the Worship Pastor at Bethel Baptist Church in Janesville, Wisconsin for 11 years. He’s been married to his wife, Tina,  for 23 years, they have three teenage children, and they especially enjoy playing board games together.

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