If you haven’t heard yet (which would be very impressive, since it seems people are talking about it everywhere I turn), Pokémon GO has swept the world off its feet—even people who aren't into video games. More and more people are using it every single day! But we’re not just talking about it because it's new and trendy—your church should care, too, for a lot of reasons.
For those who don’t know, Pokémon GO is a free mobile game that works by using your phone’s GPS to track your real world location as you hunt for little animated "pocket monsters." Players have to actually roam and walk outside to look for Pokémon. When you stumble upon a Pokémon, you can catch it on your phone by using your camera and an animated Pokéball trap. For example, I once found a Rhyhorn in the parking lot by my car. Why, yes, I am very excited about that, thank you.
Hello Joanna. You may not see another one of me for a while.
Another aspect of the game is finding PokéStops and “gyms” for battle. PokéStops are places players can go to and collect necessary items to play (i.e. Pokéballs to catch Pokémon and potion to heal Pokémon after battle). Gyms are a bit more complicated: players can "power up" their Pokémon and then fight other Pokémon to defeat or help defend each gym. There is a complicated system of types and strengths for how all the Pokémon fight and how well they hold up against each other. Players may have to stand at your church for several minutes to win. I don't fully understand it—personally, I prefer the hunt. But here’s why you should care: most churches are PokéStops or gyms.
If you’ve noticed many people roaming on or near your church grounds staring at their phones (or sitting in your parking lot), odds are they’re trying to catch a Pokémon or trying to battle the gym on your church. Some people may think it’s a nuisance, but this could actually be a great advantage.
Here’s how to handle the hype and get more visitors to your church website.
Don’t Shoo Them Away
Believe it or not, there are many stores and shops that post signs saying, “Pokémon are for customers only.” We want to discourage you from posting “Pokémon and Pokéballs are for Church Members and Church Visitors only” because they’re unwelcoming and just, well, kind of mean. Plus, you have no way to actually control that—so you'd look a little out of touch.
Instead, use this opportunity to go beyond just tolerating these visitors—welcome them with open arms. You can provide players a place to charge their phones (leave an extension cord over night even, if you can), have water and snacks, plenty of garbage cans to toss whatever they need to toss, or even open your doors just to offer them a place to cool off from the hot summer weather.
DO Talk to Your Congregation
It's likely that a decent percentage of your congregation is already playing Pokemon GO—and not just the kids. Pokemon GO is pretty popular across a range of ages. Anyone with a smart phone and a data plan can participate.
Encourage your congregation to be welcoming to anyone they may see hanging around. There's a competition element to the game, but it's also a great opportunity to swap stories and tell each other about "nests" that you've found and other favorite hunting grounds. This is a rare opportunity for people to find your church in a totally "neutral" way.
Use this opportunity to help your congregation practice the idea that outreach isn't just for the professionals. Pokemon GO is a great easy entry point for people to talk to strangers—about church even—in a friendly context.
Don’t Use “Bait and Switch” Tactics
If you find people roaming your grounds playing Pokemon, they just want to play Pokemon. Don't hand out Bibles or other religious materials to players because you'll end up being pushy and preeeetty invasive. More to the point, it's best not to require Pokémon GO players to say a prayer or join a Bible study in order to play on your grounds—you'll just make them very uncomfortable. Just be friendly. Once you start to recognize some regulars, you can start to develop some relationships and have conversations. But, remember, you're talking to someone you met through a game on a phone, not a theological discussion in a classroom or therapy session waiting room. Just play together and become friends.
DO Join In On the Fun
Players are already on their phones and can easily check out your website there on the spot. But how can you get them to actually visit? As an alternative to the "Pokemon are only for church members" sign, help them up their game. Plan a Pokemon Meetup. Many zoos and museums are already way ahead of us on this. It can be complicated, or just a simple BBQ with someone keeping the "Lures" live to keep the Pokemon coming.
If you're looking for something a little more low-key, try a blog post or special page on your church website. Give them a simple URL (i.e. www.yourchurch.com/pokemon) that directs them to a blog post or special page on your church website offering helpful Pokémon GO tips and tricks. They're already on their phones, they can easily give your site a visit! Just make sure your church website is optimized for mobile.
If you don’t play Pokémon GO, a quick Google Search can give you a lot of insight on fun tips and tricks for the game. Or ask someone on your staff, someone is probably playing.
Give Proper Next Steps On Your Website Page.
After giving them helpful Pokémon GO advice, you can invite them to join a small group, attend an event, or they can just "poke" around your church website on their own time. Just don't make that the focus of the whole page—they're there for Pokémon after all! If their QR code directs them to a page that looks like you're trying to spam them into joining a Bible study, they'll definitely be turned off.