July 18, 2016

By Kim Jenne

Above: Natasha is responsible for keeping six boys occupied all day. She visited Good Shepherd’s Pokéstop for a “real world adventure,” free pizza while there connected with the pastor and learned about the church.
Twenty years ago, Nintendo launched Pokémon for the original Game Boy and became the franchise of choice for kids. The Japanese-animated creatures are experiencing a come-back surge with Pokémon Go, a downloadable app that pushes people out into the real world.
You may have seen people walking around your community zombie-like in search of Pokémon. Heads down, intent on the game, you can find them walking into street signs and tripping off curbs. At first glance it may seem that the game does not foster social engagement despite being in the real world. Yet, there are heartening stories from around the country of people teaming up to go Pokémon hunting and of strangers helping each other find elusive Pokémon.
Dozens of Missouri churches have discovered that their church buildings have been designated as Pokéstops or “gyms” where players can practice their skills. Some of those churches have discovered being embedded within a popular app offers a chance to serve the community: making sure the location is actually safe for young players, providing refreshments for players who have been in the heat and sun all day, and offering genuine hospitality for strangers who wander onto church grounds while playing. One church planter took advantage of the designation as a Pokéstop and offered free pizza to players.
“I looked at it as pretty low-risk and super current,” said Rev. Adam Mustoe, Platte County Campus Pastor at Good Shepherd.
Over the course of the lunch hour on a Tuesday, Good Shepherd’s campus saw 20 Pokémon players, none of whom had a relationship with the church. The guests included four families, a young couple and a single, 25-year old man. The families with kids were very interested in VBS starting the following week. One family asked a lot questions about worship times. One woman, Natasha, brought six boys with her, seeing the augmented reality game as a great group activity.
“It actually does bring people together and I guarantee that none of these people would have ever stepped foot in my church,” said Mustoe. “I think it shows people that the Church doesn’t take itself too seriously.”
Grace in Lee’s Summit discovered it was both Pokéstop and a gym. Gyms can become “owned” by skilled players in the game. Gyms are also where the greatest potential for social interaction can happen as players train and even compete as teams against one another.
“I cannot wait for the youth to get back home from camp,” said Rev. Jeremy Vickers, senior pastor. “They are going to be so excited to try to take back their ‘gym.’”
The game has its critics. There are some safety concerns (see sidebar) and others have suggested that playing along with the game is taking the search for relevance too far. Vickers disagrees.
“Something that is bringing the next generation in droves to our church properties cannot be a bad thing,” said Vickers. “And, we should celebrate that an entity beyond us has recognized that churches are a safe place to interact and play. What are we going to do about it?”
Mustoe thinks churches interested in connecting with new people have to strike while the iron’s hot. “Eugene Peterson talks about the ministry of small-talk. Today, right now, it includes Pokémon.”

Pokémon Go Basics

Pokémon Go is a “real world adventure” that uses GPS and augmented reality to allow you to hunt and train Pokémon as you are out and about in your real world neighborhood. The game uses your smartphone’s camera to display animated Pokémon as though they are actually in front of you.
Pokéstops are like lucky spots for aspiring Pokémon trainers. Attached to places of interest – churches, memorial plaques, statues – you can pick up loot like Pokéballs, snacks for Pokémon and medicines for battle-worn Pokémon. Download the Pokémon  Go app on your smartphone to see if your church is a Pokéstop or a gym.
Pokémon Gyms
Players improve their game stats by training in designated “gyms” often assigned to public locations, like the front steps of a church, on athletic fields and in parks. You can practice your skills or meet up with other virtual team members and “battle” at the gyms.
Lure Modules
Lures can be placed on a Pokéstop to attract Pokémon to the location which in turn attracts players looking for Pokémon. Lures last 30 minutes and cost $1.

Use a Pokéstop to Make Connections