The July 6, 2016 release of the smartphone and tablet game Pokémon GO presents new opportunities for churches to engage with people showing up on their doorsteps, in their parking lots, and generally wandering about gazing at their smartphones.

What the heck is Pokémon and this new game?

Pokémon GO is part of a 20-year-old Nintendo-owned franchise that spans handheld game systems, trading cards, game consoles, television shows, anime novels, and now a smartphone app. Pokémon (pocket monsters) are animalian creatures that look like birds, rats, insects, or plants. The object of the game is to capture and tame and train them, with the general idea being to capture as many different types as possible and allow them to grow stronger and evolve.
The new game offers a new mash of technology: GPS, camera, maps, fictional places in real-world locations, plus the fictional creatures and items that have been collected through two decades of worldwide Pokémon gameplay. The game-makers seeded special gameplay locations in public gathering places – churches, landmarks, parks, other accessible public places – and players can see these places on the screen in the game. Players see nearby creatures moving over Google maps. Through the augmented reality of maps and a device’s camera view, Pokémon appear in OUR world on sidewalks and lawns, in buildings and on desks, etc.

So, you said something about this and church…

This video game is bringing people of all ages to church property, and that’s why even those of us who don’t play the game should care! At St. Martin-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church in Keller, we have seen an incredible number of people on bicycles, cars, and foot. They pull up in the parking lot near our large monument sign by Pearson Lane, where there is a Pokémon Gym. They capture Pokémon in our fields. They walk across our fields to and from the PokéStop at the pond in Chesapeake Park.
On the Sunday after the game release, St. Martin’s held a casual meeting for Pokémon GO gamers of all ages, parents, and inquirers. We explored how our church could form community around this new game, still in beta release, and how we can provide hospitality for gamers. The ideas our adults, teens, and kids discussed were welcoming gamers with signs, offering benches in the shade, having church information accessible to gamers, and hosting events.

An opportunity for hospitality

Anytime the public is drawn to our church, it’s an opportunity for hospitality, rather than a crabby “hey, you folks get off our lawn” or “what are you doing hanging out in our parking lot” response. We have opportunities to welcome new people. We don’t have to play the game to welcome others who do.
If a video game can help break down stodgy stereotypes that people have about Episcopal churches, or provide a comfortable introduction to a welcoming community, embracing this game is a piece of cake, right? The Episcopal Church welcomes you. And Pikachu.
Take a Chansey. It’s not Oddish. It would be hard to Muk it up if you go Slowbro. (Yes, that’s Pokémon character name wordplay.)

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