Pokémon GO to Church

Date Posted: 7/14/2016

An interesting phenomenon caught churches off guard this week as people, seemingly at random started showing up on their property. Churches are finding new ways to connect with people because of a new hit game called Pokémon Go.
“At first, we didn’t know what it was all about,” said Allison Hicks, Communications Admin and  Young Adult Coordinator at Klein UMC. “Our young adult group had a kickball game at the church and we sat there and saw all these cars coming through our parking lot. I didn’t understand the impact of it until I learned we were actually a hub for this game and we would be having a lot of people come by that were just gathering.”
They decided to embrace it and put up a sign welcoming the pokémon players. “If you’ve got all these people coming in, why not make them feel welcome? Several of our church members have been getting involved and think it’s awesome. They have been meeting new people and I’ve received several messages via social media from people who want to know more about our church because they think it’s cool that we’re being welcoming in this community.” Allison said, noting that some businesses in their community have been unhappy about it.
She said that so far it’s been a positive experience. “We’ve had people come by and say how fun it was that a church was participating in something like this when we could choose to cut it off or not do anything or shut our doors. We’re welcoming them into the community.” Klein also put signs out with a hashtag #kleinumcgo that’s getting people to post pictures to their Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages. Klein UMC also has a family event coming up soon and are considering the possibility of inviting people in and having a specific area set up where they can charge up their devices and play during the event. “We think it’s a great opportunity to welcome people in to see our church home.”
Rev. Preston Morgan, a pastor at Clear Lake UMC, noticed his neighborhood was full of people walking around playing pokémon on their phones last week. “We live between two parks in Friendswood and I’ve never seen the parks so full,” he said. Then, on Sunday he found out their church was a poké gym. “One of our youth told me during worship. He had his phone out and I asked him if that was the new pokémon game and he said yes and waited a second. He then extremely excitedly said ‘And our church is a poké gym! ‘”
Clear Lake had a group of people show up on Sunday to play, using their phones next to the administration building and a staff member who plays walked over to them and talked to them about it. He invited them to worship and they came in, and afterward returned to the administration building to continue playing.
Preston said they’re printing out small 8.5x11 sheets inviting people to come inside to get some water and use their restrooms. “I’m asking people to check to see if I’m in the office and I’ll have Gatorade available and can visit with people coming in.”
He sees it as an opportunity. “If it means I have to download an app and get to know the language and lingo to connect, then yeah – I’m going to do that… We pray for people to come to church, but they don't always show up the way we expect."
“I’ve noticed people walking very slowly with their phones around our church,” added Rev. Jeff Gantz, Senior Pastor at St. John’s UMC in Richmond. “We’ll have a group of teenagers just walk by and their phones are in front of their faces and they’re looking for Pokémons everywhere… It’s been three or four or five kind of steady all day long. When you look out the window you see a group of kids walking by, or a car slowing down and you can see them with their phone pointed toward the church.”
He said it was kind of a funny surprise and wants to respond in an appropriate way. “I think it’s a great idea for churches to jump on this to connect with contemporary culture – but the danger is to make it a gimmick and we’re not into doing a gimmicky kind of thing here. Our hope is someone will come in and see that it might be an old church but that we’re good people… Our approach is to be open door.”
They put up posters saying “If you’re looking for pokémon, come on in!” – as anyone can come in. “We get that sometimes anyway from people wanting to take pictures of the old sanctuary because we’re a historical site… We can maybe engage in a relationship with someone who’s never walked into our church in a kind and hospitable way. Come on in and look for pokémons and give them a first taste of our church without being religious.”
Jeff added that he’s writing it into his sermon this week talking about the idea of keeping our eyes on the right thing. “This will probably be gone in a couple of weeks and we’ll have to figure out new ways to connect again.”
Other churches getting in on the pokémon craze include FUMC Quitman, St. Peter’s UMC in Katy, Holy Covenant UMC in Katy and Chapelwood UMC in Houston.   

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