When I was in elementary school, Pokémon was more than just a craze; it was a way of life. We filled up our backpacks with our favorite Pokémon cards and traded them on the bus. We snuck our game boys into school so we could battle each other and train our Pokémon to be more powerful. We even brought in our pre-internet strategy guides to discuss methods of better training and hunting for Pokémon. If you got the full force of the Pokémon movement as a child like I did, you don’t just remember it as a ton of fun, but also a nostalgic representation of childhood itself.

what is pokémon anyway?

Now Pokémon is back, it’s bigger than ever, and it’s taking the world by storm for the second time. It’s already the most popular mobile game of all time. Before we get into that, though, let me offer our friends who are over 35 years old a glimpse of the Pokémon world. Put simply; it started as a fun, family friendly TV show that also had a card game and Gameboy game to accompany it. While the story has ‘evolved’ quite a bit since I was a child, it essentially features a boy and his friends who head out into the world to capture and train the most Pokémon.

A pokémon, if you didn’t already know, is basically just a fantasy animal. They’re creatures, usually based on real animals, which are a tad more interesting than their real life counterparts. For instance, a turtle in real life is kin to something called a Squirtle in Pokémon. They both have shells, they both swim in water, but Squirtle can also tackle bad guys and protect the world from evildoers. Does it sound crazy yet? It is, but we loved it as kids, and we’re getting another chance to love it again. This time, with our own kids.

the game is fun, healthy, and something we can all get behind

If I were going to describe Pokémon Go in one single term, I would call it ‘geocaching.’ Since the game is an augmented reality app, an app that mixes the digital world with the physical world through your phone camera and GPS, you can’t just sit on your couch and play. When you download Pokémon Go from the App Store, you are asked to login using your Google account. After doing so, you customize your in-game character and pick a name for him or her. After a brief tutorial on how the game works, things get really interesting. The world your character is in on your phone is a map of our real life world. So if you plan on moving your character somewhere else on the map, you need to go there in real life!

For instance, I was sitting in my Virginia Beach apartment when I first downloaded the game. Once I finished the tutorial and got my ‘starter pokémon’, I saw something interesting down my street a few blocks in the game. Since the game is just a mirror of our own real world, I needed to physically get off my butt and walk down there to see what it was. So phone in hand, I hopped off the couch, walked down the steps and proceeded to find a point of interest called a Pokéstop where I got some items to help me advance in the game.

On my way back, I ran into a wild Pokémon while walking down the road. Using my phone, I was able to see him sitting out in the middle of a grass field by me. So I approached him, and I caught him! He was a mouse-like pokémon because he was in a grass field. If I had been on a boat in the middle of the ocean, I might have found a fish-like pokémon. This is where things get interesting. In order to catch all the varieties and species of pokémon, you really must travel the world via both land and sea. So regardless of whether or not you’re into the whole idea of Pokémon itself, it’s really a fun concept for girls and guys of all ages.

However, my favorite thing about Pokémon Go that differentiates it from other games is the simple fact that it makes you leave your house and go exploring to advance in the game. This is going to get a lot of people moving about for the first time in a while; I bet Michelle Obama wishes she had thought of this first.

pokémon go could be awesome for your church

This may seem impossible, but I assure you that this game could be great for your church. Sure the game has nice health benefits, and it gets people off the couch, but the effects of Pokémon Go could be quite a bit more wide-reaching than that.

Since the game is based on a real-life map of the world, points of interest all over your local town become virtual Pokéstops and Gyms on the game map. For instance, there’s a tractor down the street from me. I guess Google Maps identified it as a point of interest at some juncture since it has probably been in this spot for a good 50 years. Another example is a big fountain outside of our neighborhood; the 20-foot tall water spray is actually a Pokéstop in the game itself.

This is where your church comes in. Many churches, perhaps even yours, has been automatically included in Pokémon Go as a Pokéstop or Gym. This means that the insane Pokémon craze could send people your way because there’s a Pokémon related reason for them to hang out at your church. I have already experienced this myself. A local Baptist church is also the location of a Pokémon Gym. So I did battle while I was waiting in the parking lot. I lost the fight terribly, but I instantly recognized that this thing would be driving traffic to local churches for a while.

I’m not quite sure how the developers, Niantic Labs, decided which locations were Pokéstops and Gyms, but these locations seem to be centered around public points of interest and popular locations from Google Maps, or another public mapping database. If your church is either one of these things, you can expect to see quite a few people exploring church property over the coming year, and maybe even longer.

Pokéstops are points of interest that allow players to collect special items every five minutes as long as they are physically next to that point of interest. Pokéstops are essentially the best case scenario regarding foot traffic ending up at your location. This is because every five minutes, there’s another benefit to gain from sticking around. It’s kind of like a free stuff dispenser. Plus, the game is setup so these are some of the best spots to catch more pokémon.

Gyms are places where people can fight their Pokémon against someone else. Think of a Gym kind of like a “King of the Hill” style concept that allows people to publicly be the reigning champion in a specific location. If your church has been marked as a gym, you may not get as much traffic as a Pokéstop, but that’s alright. You better believe people will be showing up to try and take down the reigning champion.

The only way to find out whether or not your church is either one of these is by downloading the app and checking for yourself. But if you’ve been seeing quite a few people prancing through the front yard with their iPhones, I’d be willing to bet your church is something in the Pokémon Go world.

this causes more people to see your church up close, and maybe even to visit for real

One of the main reasons people who have never really gone to church, continue not to go to church, is the simple fact that they wouldn’t even know where to start if they wanted to go. If someone has an awesome Pokémon experience with their kids or their friends on your church property, there’s a good chance they’ll remember your church name the next time it comes up in conversation. This means they’re more likely to visit in the future.

However, Pokémon Go is just like anything else. It’s a craze that you can strategically embrace or something that you write off and pretend it’s not a big deal.

These are five ways to get the most out of the Pokémon Go craze at your church:

#1 Don’t chase people off your property. Let people play and enjoy themselves.

#2 Go strike up a conversation with your new Pokémon training guests. If someone on your staff has been spending too much time on Pokémon Go, this is your best conversation starter.

#3 Have bottles of water, and a welcome kit ready to give out to those passing through on their pokémon hunt.

#4 Offer a place for players to charge their smart phones while on their adventure.

#5 Install a Lure Module in the Pokéstop on your property. This little add-on costs about one real life dollar, and it makes your location the best place to hunt pokémon for about thirty minutes. If you spend 16 bucks, you can cover an entire work day. You can do this via the game app. Plus church members who play will love you for it.

your church should get involved even if it’s not a pokéstop in the pokémon go world

If your church doesn’t correlate with anything special in the world of pokémon go, that’s alright. Right now there are rumors that the developers will soon allow you to sponsor your location to attract folks to your business or organization. So if the automated system didn’t pick up your location, keep following the trend, because a solution may just be on the way.

Of course, don’t let a little thing like this stop you from strategically embracing the craze. You can still find popular points of interest and give out bottles of water, or provide chargers for people’s phones. Tell them they’re awesome. Remind them to be safe. Then invite them out to your church. How can you say no to a church full of people who are cool enough to play the same mega popular game as you?

So keep it real out there, spread the good news, and catch ’em all.

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TK Dennis

TK Dennis

Chief Executive Officer

TK has worked in the church for over a decade and brings years of executive leadership experience along with years of experience in media and technology. TK has a Masters in Public Administration and is an expert of navigating the minefield of procedural issues churches experience. He’s not quite so stuffy though; he is vibrantly creative and understands what it takes to create and plan a weekend from start to finish including video, music, and production.