By Connie Davis Bushey
News Editor, Baptist and Reflector
BRENTWOOD — Jay Barbier, minister of high school students, First Baptist Church, Millington, is from South Louisiana, so when one of his students offered to “drop a lure” his first thought was fishing. Then the young man and Joseph Brasher, minister of education at the church, said they needed some bottled water to give away to Pokémon Go players.
Barbier admitted he doesn’t play the game for mobile devices so he was out of the loop. But he quickly got involved when he learned about the opportunity, he said.
About a month ago on a Tuesday evening a Pokémon Go “lure” was dropped at First Baptist, Millington. Then about 20 Pokémon Go players arrived over the next hour. Students, Brasher, and Barbier were there to meet them. The church facility already was open for visitation activities.
About half of the gamers arrived by car because the church sits on a large lot outside of town. Millington is located about 20 minutes from downtown Memphis.
The Pokémon players, many who were not church members, were met at the front door of the church, welcomed, and encouraged by the church members as they moved about and launched Poké balls using the touch screen of their mobile devices to try to catch Pocket monsters or Pokémon. When they weren’t busy, they were offered a bottle of water.
The church members also were able to engage them in gospel conversations, said Barbier.
“They think they’re just coming to get Pokémon and we give them Jesus,” he added.
The names and phone numbers of the Pokémon players were collected so they could be contacted the next time a lure would be dropped. The church also plans to contact them to further “reach out to them,” said Barbier.
Church leaders and students announced the event on social media to spread the word.
The about 180 students involved at First, Millington, are “all into playing this Pokémon Go,” Barbier reported. Parents have reported that one good outcome is that players are getting out of the house to play it. Another good result is the opportunity to witness to “people who might not ever come to a church again,” he noted.
“It’s good for a church to think outside the box. This is taking advantage of something that’s popular … to point someone to Jesus,” he added.
Cody Clark, student minister, Living Hope Baptist Church, Clarksville, downloaded the free app about a month ago and discovered the church facility had two Poké Stops, one right in front of its fitness center, and a Pokémon Gym. So Clark had a sign posted outside the church’s fitness center welcoming Pokémon players. The fitness gym is open all day long.
Then about a month ago Living Hope Baptist purchased a lure for the stop at the fitness center and had refreshments available for Pokémon players. Clark got some of these ideas from a podcast by David Evans of the Tennessee Baptist Convention staff on the TBC’s Reaching app. Clark also posted an announcement about the lure including an invitation to Pokémon players on the church’s Facebook page and his personal Facebook page. Eight young adults in their 20s came to play.
Next Clark planned a movie night and Pokémon event one evening for students. The students helped him promote it using social media including Instagram. Instead of 25 students, about 45 students attended, including many who had never been to an event at the church before, reported Clark. Living Hope draws about 60 students to weekly church activities.
Finally the church held a middle-school lock-in and Pokémon event. The event once again drew many new students as friends invited friends, said Clark.
“Students appreciate it when churches are interested in trying to reach them and interested in the things that they are interested in,” he observed.
He said the lures cost about $5 and sometimes are free.
Clark highly encourages church leaders to use Pokémon to reach youth and young adults.
“It’s not often that the world gives us a chance to bring unchurched people to the church to show them that we do care for the community.”
He noted that Pokémon Go has some negative issues related to security but it encourages fitness and “gives the church a huge opportunity to share the love of Jesus Christ and learn how to be receptive to non-traditional church visitors.”
Also, using Pokémon Go can help players “feel more comfortable in entering the doors of a church. They can see that we will not attack them … , that we just want to love on them,” explained Clark.
David Evans, evangelism specialist of the TBC, said, “Pokémon Go is definitely one of the most relevant things happening right now.”
Because Millennials (Generation Y) and Homelanders (Generation X) are “so in tune to the life of technology,” Pokémon Go has become wildly popular quickly, he noted.
“People can utilize this modern technology to share the gospel. This is contextualization of the gospel at its best.”
He explained that even if a lure module isn’t made available by a church, many churches are Poké Stops or Gyms because they are considered “public art, unique architecture, and public gathering places” by the creators of the game. The game combines the well-known Pokémon game with the newer Google Maps technology to create a real world game playing space.
Other characteristics of the game are that it is amoral and just fun, said Evans.
He also encouraged Baptists to go to places such as parks, community facilities, and retail establishments which are Poké Stops and Gyms to “be missional.”
“Pokémon Go gives us a different access to the unchurched and the social world than we’ve had before. … This is such a major boon in our society for Christians,” stated Evans.