Pokémon Go to church?

Since its launch on 6 July, augmented-reality video game Pokémon Go has acquired more than 30 million users. The game where players walk around their neighbourhood and ‘catch’ monsters that appear on their phone screen is still being released across the world, yet has overtaken many popular apps and is on the verge of surpassing Twitter.

Public response to the new game has varied, with some people injuring themselves during play and two deaths already recorded (two Guatemalan Pokémon seeking teens were shot dead earlier this week). However, users are crediting it as a valuable tool for overcoming depression and social anxiety. Surprisingly, another benefit has also arrived with this new age of virtual reality—the ability to lure Pokémon Go users to church.

Niantic, the creators of the manga game, has built-in landmarks for users based on their GPS location, and have labelled many churches as ‘Poké Stops’ and ‘Gyms’. These are hotspots for Pokémon Go users, where they congregate to collect more items, catch monsters and virtually battle each other.

The Washington Post has reported that Pokémon Go has drawn many people to church for the first time, and pastors are utilising the ‘lure’ module, to bring more millennials to church.

In Melbourne there is a Geodude who frequents the stairs of  homelessness centre at 69 Bourke Street under a large ‘red shield’ installation art. Hundreds of players have made their way into the building and, after catching their Pokémon, leave with an understanding of some of the Salvo’s frontline work.

Other public venues are also listed as hotspots, including community centres, libraries, parks and post offices. However, church-goers have found a way to utilise this fame in a whole new way.

Instead of just promoting their church as a place of worship many are also advertising it as a Poké Stop, where users can nourish their Pikachu and their soul at the same time. Slogans like, ‘Jesus died to catch ‘em all!’ have been shared across the internet, and the phenomenon has become a form of out-reach for churches who want to connect with the community.

The pros and cons of this new phenomenon are all too real for local churches. While it draws people to the location, it provides a tempting distraction for churchgoers who want to catch a Sandshrew when it appears mid-service.

It remains to be seen whether this will have any long-term impact on church attendance, but as Earls says, ‘Thanks to the game, [players] know the location of our church. Maybe that’s a first step to [them] coming inside, or maybe it’s just the next step to evolving [their] Pokémon. Time will tell.’

It may be unconventional, but it seems like the world’s favourite new video game is now a legitimate way to share the Christian faith. It puts a whole new spin on the catch phrase, ‘Gotta catch ‘em all,’ doesn’t it?