Ideas about using Pokemon Go as an outreach tool for churches.
I’ve been cogitating on this whole Pokémon Go phenomenon. The game probably wouldn’t have popped up on my radar had it not been for the fact that my three Pokémon crazed grandsons stayed with us for about a week. In that week I found myself not only schlepping them to places to catch the little critters but also being drawn into playing with them. After a week of playing and observing, I’ve concluded that it is fun for both children and adults and it can be a great tool for outreach by churches. Let me explain through a couple of observations.
My grandkids are geeks or nerds as some would say. That’s a good thing. Their dad, my son, Paul has his own IT company, so the boys are growing up with all the newest technology, mainly as hand me downs. Not only do they use it but they know it and understand it. Paul and his wife are good parents; they keep a tight rein on what the boys can and can’t do with this technology. As good parents, they set rules for use and the amount of screen time the boys can have each day. They also check to make sure that what the boys use and the games they play are age appropriate for each of the boys. They also make sure there is plenty of outdoor activity, otherwise, these boys would be parked in front of a computer or TV or handheld device all day.
To play Pokémon Go, you have to have a mobile device and a data plan. The two youngest boys tethered to my iPhone or their older brother’s phone to take advantage of my data in order to play. A nice thing about the game is that it promotes exercise. You get rewarded for the distances you walk. Those rewards come in the form of more Pokémon characters which hatch from eggs place in incubators. The fuel for the incubators is walking distance.
What I noticed while playing was this. It is a very social game. Total strangers stop to talk about what they’ve caught and where. They also talk about what level they are. There is a sense of community that seems to automatically exist around the game. It’s kind of like the comradery of standing in line for the opening night of a long awaited movie. Total strangers talked and shared and even bonded, if only briefly. And the community grew. Every time one of those conversations took place, some social barriers were broken down.
Secondly, it struck me that this could be a great outreach tool; especially a tool for what I call, non-confrontational evangelism. Most everyone knows I’m a retired United Methodist pastor. Acton United Methodist Church is now our home church. We love the church, the staff, the people and the wide variety of ministries this church offers.
While visiting with people and exchanging information about Pokémon Go I have been able to tell them, “Did you know there are three PokéStop (a very, very important part of the game) right in front of our church?” Which always (ALWAYS) prompted them to ask, “Where’s your church?” or “Where do you go to church?”
See the lead in? It would have been easy to simple say “Acton United Methodist Church” and leave it at that but it led to all kinds of responses depending on who I was talking to. I was able to tell a dad with two boys about our upcoming Vacation Bible School. When one young couple asked, I told them about our contemporary service. I was also able to share about what a great staff we have and what good preachers each of them are in their own right. And I was able to tell one couple about our preschool. So, you see, it was a lead in for all kinds of conversations and information.
Here’s the thing. No one felt pressured. No arms were twisted. I didn’t confront anyone with the question, “Are you saved?” Instead, I started by simply stating the fact that there are three Pokestops in front of our church.
When my grandsons and I were at the Granbury Square chasing Pokémon characters, we stopped at the Paradise Bistro to get something cold to drink. Because of its location, there was a Pokestops that was accessible in their shop. In very good marketing strategy, they posted a sign that said if you spend $5 or more, we will set up a Poke Lure. The boys noticed it first, of course. We were going to stop for something cold to drink anyway, so why not there.
A Lure is exactly what it sounds like; it lures Pokémon characters to you for 30 minutes. So, while we enjoyed our cold smoothies we captured Pokémon characters, as did at least four other tables of people of all ages. That’s when it struck me how this could be used by local churches as an outreach tool.
Now here’s how I think all of that can be used. I noticed that most church signs are designated Pokestops. So, the first thing to do is make the location of your Pokestops known. Talk about it in your newsletter, from the pulpit during announcements. Second, if you are having a special event, advertise and plan to put out a Lure 30 minutes before the event, or for the 30 minutes following the event. If you don’t know how to set up a Lure, ask a 10 year old. The Lure could even be set out as part of the lesson.
Incense is also a part of Pokémon Go. Incense is just like a Lure but for individuals. You can drop Incense anywhere, any time and Lure Pokémon characters to you for 30 minutes.
If you were to use this as a lesson, you could talk about what Paul says about being a pleasing fragrance 2 Corinthians 2:14-17 or how Jesus was a “fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Ephesians 5:1-2. How can we be fragrant offerings to God and FOR God? (Think about how good popcorn smells. Or brownies baking. They make your mouth water. You can’t wait. The anticipation is almost overwhelming. The question then becomes, how can we live out our faith in such a way that we make people’s mouths water for the love of Jesus we have experienced?
Also, you could lead a discussion about the difference between a Lure and Incense. A Lure is for the benefit of everyone which could be compared to the church. Incense is for the individual. In our spiritual life it is important for us to have a personal and individual relationship with Christ but also be a part of something larger, a community of faith like the church. Have a discussion about how personal faith and corporate faith go hand in hand. The difference between Incense and Lures could also lead to a discussion of selfishness and selflessness. The whole group benefits from a Lure but only you benefit from the Incense.
Or the church could plan a family event or youth event around Pokémon Go. Make it fun and active. Set up a walking area (It could be a spiritual maze or just a walking track) to encourage the youth or families to walk so they can hatch their eggs. Youth could be divided into small groups where they could walk and discuss the Scripture and questions. A group within the church could host a 5K or 10K walk associated with a mission project and tie a fund raiser with the walk. Use the Poke Stop as part of the walk. Poke Stops reactivate about every 10 minutes. If the Poke Stop is in the loop, people will be able to both walk and collect whatever the Poke Stop drops. And everyone will be able to incubate and hatch eggs.
The focus of one lesson could center on Joshua and the Walls of Jericho. Start at the Poke Stop and walk around the church building. As you pause at the Poke Stop talk about the faith and trust it took to do what Joshua and the Israelites did. The discussion would then be about God’s faithfulness when the Israelites obeyed.
An event focused on families would work well, too. Set out a lure before and after. Then during the event that celebrates families give them some tools to use Pokémon for building their family. There are plenty of passages about treasure and family which could be applied. Proverbs 2:1-10 and Matthew 6:19-21 come to mind. Or focus on how the treasure is there to empower our lives of faith but is a gift from God and not of ourselves. 2 Corinthians 4:7.
Expanding the passage to include 2 Corinthians 4:7-10, it would also be a good vehicle for discussing topics like hope, patience and expectation. The group or family could focus on the power of God in the midst of both physical and spiritual struggles.
Pokémon God could be a vehicle for educating our children about the history of the community. Most historical markers are Pokestops. Parents and teachers could talk to their group about the importance of the different historical sites. Ask questions about why the spot is significant. Ask about the people or talk about the historical times related to the site.
Also, the game could be used to teach young families and children how to be wise and keep their focus on Jesus. The myths of deaths, accidents and nefarious uses of Pokémon Go are growing exponentially, so this is an opportunity to remind people that in the life of faith we have to be vigilant in maintaining our spiritual focus. It’s easy to get distracted by what the world has to offer and the promise of more. You could also use Ephesians 6:18 focusing on the “keep alert” aspect of both the game and serving God.
Pokémon Go also lends itself to talking about how God in Christ transforms us and how the Holy Spirit continues to transform us. Part of the game is “Powering Up” and “evolving” your characters into stronger characters. Is this not what the Holy Spirit does for us as we seek to grow in Christ? Are we not “powered up” every time we bow our heads in prayer or study Scripture or gather for worship?
The purpose of growing your character is so that your team can dominate a “Poke Gym”. Discussion around this could center on sportsmanship or competition and the Christian way of competing. 1 Timothy 6:11-12
Another way to use the Poke Gym would be to focus how to “run the race” of faith which Paul talks about. 1 Corinthians 9:23-25 and Hebrews 12:1-3.
Rather than focusing on the competition aspect of the game, you could lead into a discussion about spiritual warfare and how to prepare yourself to live out your faith and how to “put on the whole armor of God.” Ephesians 6:11-18.
My friends all know I’m wired a little differently, so these are just my thoughts and ramblings about how to use this little bit of technology for the work of the Kingdom. Would Jesus have played Pokémon Go if it had been available? I don’t know. But I truly believe God gives us opportunities to share the Good News of the transforming power of Jesus in every activity in which are involved and aat every stop along this journey of faith we call life. If the power of this Pokémon Go craze can be harnessed to bring one life to Christ, it will be worth it, no matter how weird it sounds.
I hope you find my observations useful. Or that they at least get you thinking about how to reach out with the Good News through Pokémon Go.
2 Corinthians 2:14-17 (NRSV)
 But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him.
 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing;
 to the one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?
 For we are not peddlers of God’s word like so many; but in Christ we speak as persons of sincerity, as persons sent from God and standing in his presence.
Ephesians 5:1-2 (NRSV)
 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children,
 and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Proverbs 2:1-10 (NRSV)
 My child, if you accept my words and treasure up my commandments within you,
 making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding;
 if you indeed cry out for insight, and raise your voice for understanding;
 if you seek it like silver, and search for it as for hidden treasures—
 then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God.
 For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;
 he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk blamelessly,
 guarding the paths of justice and preserving the way of his faithful ones.
 Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good path;
 for wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul;
Matthew 6:19-21 (NRSV)
 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal;
 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.
 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
2 Corinthians 4:7-10 (NRSV)
 But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.
 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair;
 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;
 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.
Ephesians 6:18 (NRSV)
 Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.
1 Timothy 6:11-12 (NRSV)
 But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness.
 Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
1 Corinthians 9:23-25 (NRSV)
 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.
 Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it.
 Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one.
Hebrews 12:1-3 (NRSV)
 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us,
 looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
 Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.
Ephesians 6:11-18 (NRSV)
 put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
 For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.
 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness.
 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.
 With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
 Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.