If you’ve managed to miss news of the latest craze of the Pokémon GO game app, you may be perplexed by the sight of people slowing down in front of your church, lingering in the parking lot or even standing outside with their phones as though taking photos.
If you do see this sight in front of your church, you need to inform yourself about the Pokémon Go phenomena and take advantage of it.
Because your church is likely part of the game.
Pokémon Go is a new game app released this week which encourages players to actually get off their couch and go walk around their neighborhood. As they walk, little Pokémon characters show up and they can catch and collect them.
Why should you care about this? Well, part of the game is that there are PokeStops, buildings, parks and landmarks, where players can obtain items they need to play the game. And lots of churches are PokeStops. Your church may very likely be one.
So the first thing you need to do is find out if you are one. You can ask or you could download the game yourself and find out.
So you are. Now, what?
Let folks know about it. Take a photo of a Pokémon on your property and share it on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
Show some hospitality.
Let gamers know they are welcome.
Even a sign letting them know that you know they are just stopping by to play a game will make them feel less awkward about coming by.
Invite them in.
If you are in town and people are walking by they may be hot and tired and appreciate a cool place to sit down and have some refreshments. Have a free charging station. Those games use up a lot of juice!
If you are a country church, folks are more likely to just slow down or park in front of the church. But if they see a sign inviting them in for some refreshments they may just stop in.
Already I am hearing stories of people coming in and saying “I didn’t know there was a church here” and coming for worship. Or the mother who brought her kids to play and then signed them up for Vacation Bible School.
What about safety?
There is no doubt it is easier for larger churches who always have a lot of staff around to be prepared to welcome walk-in visitors. Safety is always a more complicated concern for smaller, more isolated churches. It is always a good idea to have more than one person in the building. When I worked in country parishes I always kept my hours the same as the secretaries. (Assuming there was a secretary).
You may have to be more creative to be hospitable and safe. Put out some fresh water away from the building, so you can offer some hospitality even if you have to keep the doors locked if there is only one person in the building.
Designate and advertise certain times when gamers are welcome to come for refreshments and have church members come in during those times.
But what if we AREN’T a PokeStop?**
Well here is the bad news–you can’t make yourself a stop. Those designations were set and borrowed from an earlier game.
But you can still have fun with Pokémon!
Host a youth or even cross-generational Pokémon Night. You can buy modules that attract more Pokémon’s to your location in half hour increments.
Have a Pokémon scavenger hunt. Get kids to take photos of Pokémon’s by church items like the pulpit and pews and then post them. You could even print them out and share them on a bulletin board teaching what the various church furnishings are. Have the young ones show the grandparents how to do it.
Then you could all WALK to the closest church that IS a PokeStop. Who knows? Maybe they will invite you in for refreshments!
Yes, Pokémon is a fad that may not even still be a thing by the time you think about doing this for confirmation in the fall. But it’s a thing now. You can be all grumpy and “get off my lawn” about it or you can join the fun and show people that Jesus is wherever we are. Even on Pokémon walks.
** Update. Now you CAN request to be a PokeStop