Pokemon Go: a ministry opportunity?

By July 15, 2016

USA (MNN) — Cities across the world are being overrun by Pokemon, who are being chased by people on phones.

(Photo Credit: Eduardo Woo via Flickr) Pokemon Go app

(Photo Credit: Eduardo Woo via Flickr) Pokemon Go app

It’s an odd phenomenon to watch, but it’s true. The Pokemon Go app, released July 6, has been blowing up the internet. There have been tons of posts about catching Pokemon, chasing Pokemon, or the occasional post questioning what this app even is.

But, as this novelty allows numerous people to relive childhood games or learn a new one, the question is being asked, ‘can this app be used in ministry?’ Greg Jao, with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, says it can.

“The Pokemon Go app demonstrates how deeply everybody wants an immersive experience. And so, for those who aren’t familiar with it, in Pokemon Go you’re able to use the app to see Pokemon creatures scattered throughout your daily world,” Jao explains.

“And so, our evangelists and outreach folk are asking, ‘Can we use Pokemon Go lures to attract Pokemon characters to where we might be doing an outreach, so we can meet them early on campus? Are there ways of deploying student teams to invite their non-Christian friends to play together?’”

For the first time in a long while, large amounts of people are choosing to get out of their comfort zone and go explore areas they maybe are or are not used to. It’s providing a rare chance for ministries to engage with strangers they might not have been able to engage with previously.

But, what if this Pokemon Go novelty is short lived? What if, after a few months, it fizzles out once everyone has had their fun? InterVarsity has a plan for that too.

“I think what our staff and students are actually asking, is instead, ‘What are other ways to pull students out of their normal patterns of behavior? And so, if we can’t develop an app, is there a different way to move students from the places where they’re already comfortable, and into new environments so they can encounter the Gospel in a new way?’”

It’s clear that as humans, we love and desire immersive experiences. Because of this, the Pokemon Go app is helping prompt InterVarsity to the challenge of figuring out how to help others, especially college students, have an immersive experience in Scripture and the Christian community.

“So, I think for InterVaristy that means everything from supplementing classical, Biblical preaching with in-depth experiences in Bible study where students aren’t passive recipients of a speaker, but actively engaged in studying and learning about cultural context,” Jao explains.

(Images courtesy Wikipedia)

(Images courtesy Wikipedia)

However, this doesn’t mean the Church should mimic the Pokemon Go app and create a spiritual version of it. What is does mean though is an opportunity, possibly using this technology to engage with others, build relationships, and share the Good News of the Gospel.

The same concept can apply to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and more. It’s important to explore how to use the technology available to share God’s Word, whether it’s through a picture, a quote, or by just building relationships with others.

“I think we’re going to have to explore the positive opportunities provided by this, and not merely copy it, but actually look for ways where we enrich peoples’ experience of hearing the Word of God with actually doing it and seeing it around them,” Jao says.

Still, the Pokemon Go app represents a new movement for how people are able to interact with games, specifically digital games. As Jao says, this is possibly the first time the digital gaming experience can go beyond the computer screen and mix with reality. This shift in gaming nature is also marking a chance for a new way for Christians to engage in the gaming community for Christ.

And as InterVarsity navigates these new-ish waters of a mixed imaginary world with reality, pray for InterVarsity’s wisdom and ministry as it works to engage college students and others actively with the Gospel.

Want to learn more about InterVarsity’s ministry to college students? Click here!

For the Apple version Pokemon Go app, click here! For the Android version, click here!

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