If you’ve missed it, then you haven’t been anywhere near a television, social network, radio or local park in the last two weeks.

It is the biggest phenomenon to hit our smartphones since, well, since our smartphones.

What is it? “Pokémon Go,” of course.

According to USA Today, the mobile app reached 10 million downloads faster than any other app, and it already has 30 million downloads.

All of a sudden large numbers of people across demographic lines are participating in the same activity. They are out of their homes, walking around and engaging with their communities in a new way.

Why should congregations care?

Simple. We are part of those communities. If our community is doing a new thing and people are engaging our community in a new way, it matters to us because the community in which we live, worship and serve matters.

What is ‘Pokémon Go’?

“Pokémon Go” is a mobile app game. The player is a trainer attempting to find various Pokémon (the word is both singular and plural and is short for “pocket monster”).

These Pokémon can only be found by walking through a neighborhood or area (the app uses your phone’s GPS). Once found, they are captured by throwing a Pokéball at them.

Besides the Pokémon, there are two other things for trainers to find as they are out and about in the neighborhood:

  • Pokéstops—locations where the trainer can replenish their supply of Pokéballs.
  • Gyms—locations where trainers can battle the Pokémon they have captured against the Pokémon of other trainers.

The gyms and Pokéstops can be found at set locations; they do not move. They are usually located at points of interest and gathering places in a neighborhood: parks, shopping centers and … churches!

Pokémon and the church

Given the facts of the Pokémon craze, what should a congregation do?

  1. Be welcoming. There may be new people on your church property. Being welcoming first means not being surprised or offended that these Pokémon trainers have paid a visit. Beyond that, some congregations have come up with creative ways to welcome these visitors:
    — Put out some water or offer a shady spot to give people a chance to cool off.
    — Offer outlets and chargers to give people a chance to recharge their devices.
    — Have a staff member or volunteer outside to greet people and have conversation.
  1. Gather players. While each person plays “Pokémon Go” on their own devices, it is much more fun to play with others. Gather your youth group or an inter-generational group and have a “Pokémon Go” night. Gather at the church and head out to a local park together. Help each other spot the Pokémon in the area and enjoy the conversation and time together.
  1. Get out there. Yes, people may come to the church while playing “Pokémon Go” on their own. And yes, you can invite people to the church to form a group to enjoy the game together. But ultimately the whole point of “Pokémon Go” is to get people out into their neighborhoods. So get out there!

Download the game and head out to your local park. Wear a shirt with your congregation’s logo and collect some Pokémon. Chat with the other people who are there and who are inevitably doing the same thing. (You will recognize them by the amount of attention they are paying to their phones while they continue to walk around.)

Sometimes our best witness is a willingness to be out in the world, out in our neighborhoods, meeting people where they are.

So get out there and collect them all!

David L. Hansen
Hansen is pastor of Spirit of Joy! Lutheran Church in The Woodlands, Texas.

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