Reports nationwide are outlining how purported churches across the country are being pulled in by one of the latest societal crazes: Pokemon Go, a mobile game that has users on their feet and out on the town in an effort to capture Pokemon characters at various “PokeStops” set by the game’s creators.
Gamers seek to “catch ’em all” as they scout out various Pokemon creatures—some comical, some crabby—such as a Weedle, a Jigglypuff, a Poliwag, a Hypno, a Jynx and Vaporeon. Users may find Pokemon eggs at PokeStops, which will “hatch” when the player walks a certain distance, or they may throw a PokeBall to catch spotted Pokemon.
According to reports, the game, which was rolled out earlier this month, currently has over 7.5 million daily users.
As number of congregations have discovered that they have been set up as “PokeStops” or “gym,” many have decided to play along along with gamers by posting on the signs outside their houses or worship, “Poke stop here!” or “We are a PokeStop. Get supplies outside; find Jesus inside.”
In other words, some assemblies have announced to players, “We’re game.” Christian-identified blogs are consequently posting about how church leaders can use the foot traffic to attract the lost to their assembly or to accommodate existing members.
Aaron Earls of the blog “The Wardrobe Door” wrote on July 11, “You probably don’t want your student pastor spending his entire day playing Pokemon on your front steps, so put up a sign to let players know they can come inside.”
“If it is hot, people will be thankful to step inside and hang out in an air conditioned area while they pick up some items, see what Pokemon are around or battle a gym leader,” he said. “If AC won’t bring someone inside the doors, maybe some free pizza and a soft drink will.”
Earls suggested that assemblies advertise a set “Pokemon day” at their house of worship.
“Players can come and hang out in the church, get free food, and talk about their latest catches,” he wrote.
Earls also outlined in an article for the Washington Post entitled “Come for Jigglypuff, Stay for Jesus: Church in the Age of Pokémon Go” that Pokemon has become a theme of discussion among members of his church—as well as a potential distraction.
“Before we started our class Sunday, the young adults I teach wanted to talk Pokemon Go. We shared our best catches and embarrassing failures. Before I began the lesson, I joked, ‘Don’t play during class unless you see a rare Pokemon. Then you have to let me know, so I can catch it, too,'” he wrote.
“But for a few, the temptation was too great. They didn’t want to miss any Pokemon that might virtually wander in while we talked Bible,” Earls acknowledged.
Ridge Community Church in Greenville, Wisconsin even distributed a free Pokemon collectible to players during its Thursday night “happy hour.”
But while some believe that Christians should use the cultural phenomenon as an opportunity to build bridges with the unchurched, others note that the biblical Church was never meant to use carnal means to win the lost.
“For the Church to dish out the pablum of the world that can be picked up on every street corner (or in this case, on every mobile device) only serves to diminish the quality, the power, and the integrity of the amazing life-changing truth we have to offer,” Eric Ludy, pastor of the Church at Ellerslie and president of Ellerslie Mission Society in Windsor, Colorado, told Christian News Network.
“The simple rule of thumb is this: If we compete with the world with worldly means, the world will always best us. The Church only wins when it labors God’s way, with God’s truth, power, purity, love and ingenuity,” he said.
Ludy stated that he sees the Pokemon craze as being “emblematic of the current drift of the Christian culture.” And while some professing Christians see frittering away their time playing the game as a personal liberty since they do not consider Pokemon to be intrinsically sinful, Ludy noted that there are much better ways for Christians to spend their fleeting lives.
“Long and short, a maturing Christian doesn’t ask the question, ‘What can I get away with?’ but rather, ‘What can I do to love my God more?'” he explained. “I think many immature Christians right now are seeking to justify their petty addictions instead of allowing some good soul-searching questions to reverberate in their souls. We have one life to live for Jesus Christ. Is this really how we should be spending our time?”