Pastor uses online video games for evangelism
By David Dawson
Baptist and Reflector
Jason Davis, pastor at Grace Park Baptist Church, Spring Hill, is using that philosophy in a unique way. He is forming relations and building bonds — and even evangelizing — through his knowledge of, and interest in, video games.
“I’m a parent of teenagers and I’m also mentoring teens, and I’ve often found myself asking, ‘How do I connect with them?’ ” said Davis. “And (the key is) to connect with the kids where they’re at. … It gives you a common language.”
Davis has found that playing online video games — where multiple players can compete and communicate with each other — can be used as a platform for sharing the gospel. Davis discussed this outlet for outreach during a recent podcast on Radio B&R. The podcast, marked Episode 29, can be found here.
“I’m a pastor,” said Davis, “and no matter what I’m doing, even video games, I tend to become a pastor in the sense of answering questions … and just trying to help people understand what Christianity is all about.”
Although video games have been popular for decades, the “gaming” industry has reached new heights in the past few years, thanks in large part to the enormous popularity of “Fortnite” — a game that was released in 2017, and now has more than 200 million registered players worldwide (according to numbers published in late 2018).
Advances in online streaming have also aided the boom in video games by transforming the games into a social outlet, of sorts.
The online games enable players from around the world to play against each other or watch others play.
Davis said he first got into gaming “simply out of curiosity,” but said he quickly realized that playing video games could become a branch of his ministry, and that his knowledge of gaming could open countless doors to start conversations and form friendships.
“All of the sudden, the teenagers in my church are coming up to me on Sundays and they want to tell me what’s been going on,” Davis said. “And the parents look at me (and say), ‘How did you connect with them?’ And all I did was I entered into that space and I can understand the language.”
Davis said playing video games creates a sense of belonging for many teens.
“That’s what people are looking for — they’re looking for community,” said Davis, “and they find it in games. They start playing with certain people that they get to know and relationships are formed.”
The video game industry has become a lucrative business for some of the most hard-core “gamers” — mainly those who get paid handsomely to broadcast themselves playing the games on live-streaming outlets, such as Twitch and Mixer.
“(Watching someone else play the games) is one of the big phenomenons,” Davis said, noting that some online-streaming events draw thousands of viewers.
“Professional gamers” also get paid to write articles and blogs that provide tips on how to play the games and which games are the most fun, etc.
“People are making a good living playing video games,” said Davis, who noted that a recent survey revealed that 60 percent of students said they want to be video bloggers or “YouTubers” for a living.
Although the gaming community is often perceived as a subculture, the industry is becoming more and more mainstream — and is becoming recognized as more than just a hobby.
Davis noted that ESPN, the widely-known all-sports cable network, has launched an “E-Sports” branch that is dedicated to video games.
In the years ahead, it is likely that the popularity of video games will continue to explode, and Davis said parents and youth leaders would be wise to pay attention to what’s going on, especially if they wish to be able to relate to their teens.
“I think a lot of times when you see a kid playing a video game, they’ve got their head down, they’re on their phone or they’re in their room,” said Davis. “It’s really hard to connect with them unless you go into that space and sit and watch them play.”
Davis said that his online username — “Pastor JD” — can sometimes open doors for spiritual conversations.
“I let it be known (that I’m a pastor), and I get questions like, ‘What’s a pastor?’ he said. “Some people might think, well, surely everybody knows what a pastor is … But (some of) these kids have never been to church.”
The common perception is that video games are played mostly by teenagers and 20-somethings. But that’s not necessarily accurate, Davis said.
“We’re finding the gamer generation … spans all ages,” he said. “I run into people in their 50’s and 60’s playing games all the way down to 10 to 12 year olds and even younger sometimes.”
Davis believes the video game industry is a mission field.
“If we are followers of Christ, and we’re connecting with (the gamers) in an area that they already like, it’s just a natural component to share Jesus wherever we can,” he said. “And we’ve been able to do that.”
Davis said he approaches his time online as a chance to be used by the Lord.
“Every time I get on, I’m praying,” he said, “because when I get online, there might be that divine moment like we had just a few weeks ago when (one of the gamers) said, ‘Tell me more about Jesus,’ ” said Davis. “And we get to actually do that.”