CHICAGO, IL (July 19, 2016) – Many Covenant churches have discovered that players of the wildly popular Pokémon Go can find Pokémon at their sites, and congregations are taking advantage of the opportunity to connect with the people suddenly appearing at their doorsteps.“We’ve been handing out ice cream bars,” said Abby Jones, pastor of the Covenant congregation in Stromsburg, Nebraska. They’ve given out more than 20 so far.
Journey Church in Wichita, Kansas, programmed scrolling words on its sign to say, “Come for Pokémon. Stay for Jesus.”
Catholic News Service describes Pokémon Go as an app that “uses augmented reality, a real-world environment that incorporates computer-generated elements, such as GPS data, sound and video. Users move around in the real world as they collect tiny virtual creatures called Pokémon—short for pocket monsters. The mobile app is based on the popular franchise that began with several Nintendo games in the 1990s.”
According to various tracking services, the game is now the biggest ever in the United States, with more daily users than Twitter. Those users are spending more time on the game than even Facebook.
The app uses players’ phone GPS to identify their location, then makes Pokémon appear on the phone screen in real-life locations so players can “catch” all 151 virtual creatures. The company has designated churches, businesses, and other landmarks as PokeStops and gyms.
Chad Smith, pastor at Simi Covenant Church in Simi Valley, California, learned his congregation had become a stop during their vacation Bible school. “I’ve seen numerous people stop out in front of the church. Love it!” Tongue in cheek, he called outreach to the players “Pokevangelism.”
Even though sites did not know until the game was released that they would be a location for Pokémon, they have been able to make their sites busier. PokeStops can purchase lures that last 30 minutes and cause numerous wild Pokémon to appear.
Some congregations such as Northwest Covenant Church in Mt. Prospect, Illinois, are literally luring people to their building by placing lures every morning. “There are loads of kids every day,” said pastor Paul Thompson, who credits the idea to Mark Peterson, the church’s minister to youth. “It’s a great way to meet students.”
Thompson also noted that it’s not just young people pursuing the lures. “Many of the people who stop by are in their twenties.”
Valley Covenant Church in Stillman Valley, Illinois, was designated a gym, which has drawn many young people in the small community. Chuck Potts has served at the church since 2014 and says lures placed by others in the community such as the local park have drawn numerous people together at a single time.
The people stopping by the church have given him inroads to talking with some who might otherwise not be inclined to talk with a pastor. “It’s been great being able to connect with people in a fresh way,” he said.
Just for fun:
To see just how popular the game is, appinstitute.com has been tracking downloads in real time.
In just 60 seconds today, the game had been downloaded more than 5,000 times. In the same time, through special purchases players can make, Nintendo made more than $11,000.
Other suggestions from various media outlets for churches include putting out water for players to drink and offering your church as a charging station—the game is a huge battery drainer.
The church satire site, the Babylon Bee, has gotten in on the fun with several stories, including one headlined, “Church Attendance Spikes Nationwide Due to Influx of Pokémon GO Players,” which includes one pastor saying, “We just open the doors and let them wander in unaware. Then, when they’re busy catching a Pokémon or taking advantage of our PokéStop module, we lock the doors behind them and fire up the worship songs. Poor guys don’t know what hit ’em until it’s too late.”