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Pokémon What?

Unless you have been vacationing in a remote location without internet access, you most likely have heard the buzz about Pokémon Go, the newest app to hit the online world by storm. Having launched just a month ago, this app combines the popular video game with an augmented reality form of geocaching. Using your phone’s GPS this free-to-download app makes the magical, monster creatures of Pokémon appear around you (on your phone). The point of the game is to capture these creatures by tapping on the image and throwing a Poké Ball at it to capture the Pokémon inside.

As you advance in the game you become familiar with words like PokéStop, Raze Berries, Lure Patches, Gym Battles, PokéCoins and Lucky Eggs. You can level up and incubate eggs and battle with friends at a Gym. The game quickly became the biggest mobile game ever, surpassing Angry Birds, Candy Crush Saga and even Twitter. Within the first seven days after being launched it was downloaded 7.2 million times. This is why you can go just about anywhere now, especially outdoors, and find people walking around looking at their cell phones, saying they’ve “gotta catch ‘em all.”

So what does this have to do with the local church?

Interestingly enough, in my town every church I have driven by is basically a PokéStop, which is a place in the game used to stock up on Poké Balls, which are used to capture the creatures. The game often uses landmarks like museums, parks, and churches for Gyms in the game. This means whether you play the game or not if you are a pastor or church leader, then you will almost certainly cross path with folks playing Pokémon Go.

You have a choice to engage with these newcomers, that may or may not normally ever come on your property; or you can miss this chance and simply look perplexed at their interest in this game.

4 Ways to Capitalize on the Pokémon Go Craze:

Jump in and participate – Even if you don’t regularly play the game, at least download the app and play around until you are familiar with how the game works. The game is unique in the way it engages players of all ages and allows them to play together. It is most likely that you have congregants of all ages that play the game and talking about the game is a great way to connect. Just as significant is the chance that you will be able to engage with people that are not part of your congregation through Pokémon Go. So go for it! Download the app!

Share on social media – Players love to see on social media where there are PokéStops and Gyms. If your church is one then post a picture of a staff member with an invite for players to come! Or post pictures of staff members at other significant PokéStops near your church. If churches want to draw players that might not normally come visit, showing interest in something that interests them helps! Make sure to use #pokémongo or #pokéstop so they can find your post.

Intentionally attract players – Lure Modules. Pokémon Go allows you to purchase a Lure Module, which will attract Pokémon to a PokéStop for a 30 minute time period. Share on your church Twitter, Facebook and Instagram when the Lure will happen. Make it a fun and friendly event with greeters that are familiar with Pokémon Go, free water or refreshments and discreet but informative signage about upcoming church events. The goal is to meet people and perhaps have a friendly conversation, not sign someone up for baptism. Keep things light and friendly and use the opportunity to make an impression.

Host an event – Pokémon Go Plus, which is a wearable device that allows play without looking at your phone. Invite parents, grandparents and children to come and take part in an instructional time to learn how to play and get more detailed play info. Take the youth group around town in the church van to hunt Pokémon and encourage them to invite friends because food will be served!

The Pokémon Go craze may have fizzled and passed by next summer, but what a great opportunity right now to connect with friends and neighbors that may naturally be harder to meet. Even if you initially have no interest in playing, this easy to navigate game can be a catalyst for building relationships and bridging differences in a very non-intimidating way.

What can your church plan in the next few weeks to seize this moment in pop culture and build a bridge with folks in your community using Pokémon Go?

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