We live across the street from an Anglican church. Over the last week, I’ve noticed that it has become a gathering ground for groups of people, particularly young people. They didn’t seem to be going into the church, just simply congregating outside. I was really curious, and asked my husband Josh if he knew what was going on. “Oh,” he said, “I think that church is a Poké Gym.” At the time, I had no idea what he was talking about.
Chances are that you’ve probably heard about Pokémon Go, a new gaming app, which has become so popular over the last two weeks it is now more popular than Twitter. The app mixes the popular video game, Pokémon, with an augmented reality form of geocaching. As you use the app, you have opportunities to catch Pokémon. You can also visit Poké Gyms, which are usually situated at public landmarks, and battle with other players. Not only is the Anglican church across the street a Poké Gym, but my own parish is one, too.
Young people are flocking to public landmarks, like churches, to play this game. They might never have a reason to visit the steps of a church otherwise. For decades, churches have been trying everything to bring young people to their steps. Now, there are literally dozens of young adults showing up on any given day. As a church, we need to ask ourselves: are we prepared to greet these visitors? People are flocking to our steps – wouldn’t it be cool to use this game as a chance for an encounter?
Pokémon’s slogan, “Gotta catch ‘em all” reminds me of Jesus’ declaration for us to become “Fishers of men”. There have been some really great examples of churches around North America using Pokémon Go as an opportunity to display hospitality and welcome. Some have put up signs that a Poké Gym is located on their property, have invited people into their church to “catch” Pokémon, offered snacks or drinks, and even had greeters to invite players to a church service. A Catholic church down the road from me, Saint Benedict’s, changed their digital sign to say “Welcome Trainers”!
Millennials are amongst the highest users of this game. As a movement that is dedicated to reaching university students, CCO should be paying attention to this new cultural phenomenon, just as we should to everything else that grabs the attention of young people. Not that we should be swept up in the trends themselves, but we should recognize them as opportunities to connect with people.
by Mallory Brisson