GUILDERLAND, N.Y.—When Pokémon Go grew in popularity, pastors around the nation saw the phenomenon as a ministry opportunity.
Pastor Rick Hanna of Grace Baptist Church moved to the Guilderland area only a year ago. He and his wife, Heather, had been praying about how they might reach people in their community.
“We live in the church parsonage, right on church property,” Rick says, “and we had started to notice some folks walking around our parking lot looking at their cell phones or in some cases in their cars parked outside the church.
“Our son, Christian, who works at the local YMCA camp, told us that it was probably Pokémon Go players. So, the next day, when I saw a car pull onto our lot, I went out and talked with a mom and her son and found out that we were a PokéStop and that is why folks were stopping by.”
Grace Baptist isn’t the only church to discover that it’s a PokéStop or PokéGym, required destinations for players of the augmented reality game, and see that fact as a ministry opportunity. So did Urbandale (Iowa) Baptist Church and Faith Church, Lafayette, Indiana.
Pastor Nathan Gast of Urbandale Baptist Church “witnessed car after car and pedestrian after pedestrian” enter the church parking lot to use its Pokéstop. “Almost every church, park, and local public sightseeing location is a Pokéstop,” Gast explains. He knew that he could either encourage people to come onto the church property or tell them, “No trespassing.” He chose to welcome them with a sign. While the front welcomes people to the church, the back reads, “Thank You For Stopping By! Now Find US Online @ www.urbandalebaptistchurch.org.”
“I have gotten so many good responses from people just passing by!” he says. “I realize that I’m not exactly sharing the gospel. I realize that we are not really winning people to Christ, but what I do understand is that we are just welcoming people, and trying to find ways to rub shoulders with the people of our community.”
Rick Hanna had the same idea: to reach people in his community. When he learned that his church was a PokéStop, his family of eight talked about that fact during dinner that night. They began thinking that since it was so hot outside, they could offer ice cream and water bottles to players who stopped by the church.
“So we borrowed a tent from a family in the church and my daughter and I set up shop under the tent and greeted the players as they came, offering them ice cream, water, and an evangelistic book containing the Gospel of John,” Hanna says.
“In our brief stay out there (spread over two days), we were able to connect with a few people, engage in a couple good conversations, and let people know that we are here and we care about our community. One conversation in particular led to a good discussion with a young man about what the difference is between our church and the Catholic church where he attends.”
“Pokémon Go is literally driving players out of their homes and to the very doorsteps of church,” notes Aaron Earls for the Washington Post. “Some players have said their first trip in years to a church building happened because of the game.” Pastors, he says, “want to be a positive part of their community, and they want to get to know the people around their church building. Pokémon Go is the latest creative means to spark those connections.”
Faith Church in Lafayette, Indiana, is also taking advantage of the game’s popularity. When players step inside the doors of the church—the site of two PokéStops and a PokéGym— they’ll find not only the virtual PokéBalls they’re looking for, but also a Refueling Station offering drinks, snacks, and device-charging areas. Member Shelly Worrell, whose husband, Mark, is a military chaplain with Regular Baptist Chaplaincy, says, “I love the way our church loves its community where they are.”
“Often it’s best to show love to your neighbors in ways that make sense to them,” says Steve Viars, pastor of Faith Church. He credits his church’s creative team for implementing the idea.
As pastors across the nation capitalize on the mobile game to reach their churches’ neighbors, they would likely echo the thoughts of Rick Hanna: “We are thankful for the opportunity to make connections like these and continue to pray that God will use us as a faithful and fruitful testimony for Him.”