According to the Daily Mail (please don’t stop reading at that), something called Pokemon Go (or Pokémon GO for the accentually pedantic and orthographically precise) is set to bring revival. The app has become something of a craze: millions upon millions have downloaded it and have become somewhat obsessed, if not addicted.
The objective is to search for Pokémon (are you still reading?), which pop up periodically as their location is tracked by GPS, which could, it is averred, lead people to your church. When a Pokémon appears, it has to be captured on your iPhone camera (please persevere..). It’s a ‘seek and ye shall find’ thing. And in Pokémon GO, there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither introvert nor extrovert, there is neither male nor female, there is neither young nor old, for ye are all one in Pokémon. The game brings smartphone salvation to anyone and everyone.
“Church of England clergy were told yesterday to exploit the fashion for Pokemon Go as a means of boosting their congregations,” the Mail reports. The advice is given by Tallie Proud, a member of the Archbishops’ Council and Digital Media Officer. In a piece entitled ‘Why your church needs to know about Pokémon GO‘, Miss Proud explains:
Your church might be a ‘PokéStop’ – real life buildings and landmarks that players have to visit to get certain items they need to play the game. Your church could also be a ‘Gym’ where players can battle their Pokémon. (Being Gym means people spend significantly more time battling Pokémon.)
Pokémon Go is therefore giving churches around the country a great opportunity to meet people from their area who might not normally come to church.
Church attendance is declining, and people are living pretty much as they did in the days of Noah. It’s always good to consider new ways of getting people into church, and at least Pokémon GO gets people out of the house seeking fellowship with other Pokémon players.
These places, known as PokéStops, are designated areas where you can restock on important virtual items necessary for success in your seeking quest. If your apprehension of mission can attract mothers with coffee mornings (60% of churches do), or provide debt counselling and financial advice (22% do), or run night shelters (10% do) or do youth work (24% do), what’s wrong with Pokémon for Jesus if it gets people through the door?
If we are to become a Jew to reach Jews; live under the law to evangelise those under the law; live without the law to gain those without law; become weak to win the weak (1Cor 9:19-22), what’s wrong with downloading and playing Pokémon GO to win those who play Pokémon GO? ‘I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you‘ (vv22f).
If you find people roaming along the transept searching for Pokémon, tell them they’re really searching for Jesus. That’ll work. If players are dashing up the nave and sitting in the pews seeking Pokémon here, seeking Pokémon there, seeking Pokémon everywhere, ask them if they’ve ever thought of seeking treasure in heaven. That’ll work. “Everyone who seeks this Pokémon will be forever disappointed. But whoever seeks the Pokémon Jesus gives will never be disappointed. Indeed, the Pokémon he gives will become in him an app springing up to eternal life..”
The most effective church mission seeks to serve: it meets human needs. The most effective evangelists aren’t trying to serve up coffee with a gospel tract; or dispense financial advice with the way of salvation; or play pool with teenagers while plotting mini sermons about eternal damnation. They simply seek to serve, to listen, to love. And by their fruits they are known and Jesus is made manifest.
The main problem with your church being a PokéStop is the temptation to use it as bait, rather like offering sweets to children before hitting them with the command to honour their parents. Some might consider it deceitful and disingenuous; an abuse of spiritual authority; the exploitation of the unsuspecting young and vulnerable. Is the Pokémon Blessing really going to herald repentance, holiness, faithfulness and revival? Might it really lead to a spiritual conviction of the divinity and reality of all that is found in the gospel? Could Pokémon actually show the way to life and truth, or does the neck-bending fixation with iPhones hinder the natural communion of man and man, depriving a generation of the face-to-face beauty that may be found in the eyes of saints?