Online video gaming and ministry? Is there such a thing? Yes, and it is becoming a fertile evangelism and ministry opportunity. In this episode of Radio B&R, Pastor Jason Davis discusses how he is using gaming as a tool to reach people for Christ.
Jason Davis: I’m Jason Davis and you’re listening to Radio B&R.
Chris Turner: Hello and welcome in to this addition of Radio B&R. I am your host Christ Turner director of communications here at the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board and today we’re going to talk about gaming in ministry. And it’s amazing that both of those two things can be said in the same sentence but that really is where our world is going in many ways and so today we have someone who is very familiar with that Pastor Jason Davis who is pastor at Grace Park Baptist Church in Spring Hill, Tennessee. And Jason has been there about 15 years but has also been involved in the gaming community. So Jason welcome in to our Radio B&R.
Jason Davis: Thank you very much.
Chris Turner: Well to talk about gaming, online gaming, if people don’t really understand what that means we’ll get into that in a little bit, but to talk about gaming and ministry in the same sentence those two things haven’t necessarily gone together that much in the past. First let’s just, give us an idea of what we’re talking about when we say gaming.
Jason Davis: Okay well pretty much gaming here is any video game that people are playing and one of the big phenomenon that started is people watch other people play games.
Chris Turner: Yeah.
Jason Davis: And so things like Twitch and Mixer and other places, people will actually go to watch other people play because they’re entertaining or they learn tips and tricks. But so now you start seeing kids not just playing video games, but especially they started watching other people play video games. So that’s really where it started for me was trying to figure out connecting to kids, how do you play this game? So I would watch some of these clips that other people provided.
Chris Turner: Yeah when we talk about gaming of course all of these game consoles like Xbox, like Xbox One, PlayStation. All of these have a component to it where it’s not just self contained and you don’t just put a game in a disk and then play locally, you actually can get online and play globally.
Jason Davis: Right, right.
Chris Turner: And so there is this whole online community that’s out there that our youth are sitting in their rooms gaming and could literally be playing with someone from Saudi Arabia or from China or somewhere else where that’s really the community that they’re in. Is that right?
Jason Davis: Absolutely. And that’s what people are looking for. They’re looking for that community and they find it in games, they start playing with certain people that they get to know and so relationships are formed, people again to look forward to seeing people online. And so that’s where they’re finding their community. Like you said, the gaming community that’s what they do.
Chris Turner: Yeah and so when you talk about this intersecting with ministry what does that kind of look like?
Jason Davis: Well for me I’m a pastor first and I really don’t have a lot of time for games right now. I grew up starting with the first Atari and played video games all through college, but then when we planted the church that had to take a backseat. But we are looking to foster a teenager and so when we have a foster teenager with us all of a sudden they play video games and so to connect with them started playing with them or at least watching them play and then out of that right now we’re just open to fostering. I started looking into ways to connect with our teenagers at our church. I do the disciple group for our high school boys and so they get the same question from pretty much every adult. It’s, how’s school? How is sports or how is band or whatever their activity is. And so those two kind of questions are, they’ve become numb to those and so realizing that actually asking them about the video game they play all of a sudden they started talking to me like they’d never done before.
Jason Davis: And I had to learn the terminology. I had to know what a squad meant or what they were doing when they would say these things. And so that was really how I got connected into that was looking for ways to connect with our students and [inaudible 00:03:57] a son for myself.
Chris Turner: Yeah I don’t think people really fully understand how big online gaming is. I mean you’re 42 so it’s not like you still live in your mom’s basement or something, playing video games. I mean you’re married. You’ve got a family. You’ve got a church and so you’re further on the road, but I don’t think most adults really understand how big gaming is globally. Do you have any idea how you can sort of frame that for the people?
Jason Davis: Well for instance like Fortnite which was one of the bigger games right now and they had over 60 million registered players. A new game came out a few weeks ago and they had 12 million people sign up in the first week.
Chris Turner: Wow.
Jason Davis: 12 million people when you’re trying to figure this out is just mind boggling. When you think that many people are interested in one game and it’s a connection point like Twitch streams these games. And so you can get on at any point of the day, but especially after school and you’ll start seeing that a couple 100000 people are watching one game. A couple 100000 are watching another. Sometimes it gets up to 500000 people are watching the same game. Now different streamers, but it’s all the same game so they’re finding people to connect with that way as well.
Chris Turner: So it’s like a virtual online spectator sport for all these people that are watching. So it has an audience. I’m sure it has commercial sponsors that come in. So I mean it’s like a sporting event and when you’re talking about 60 million people that are registered and a half a million people that might be watching an episode of a game going on. That’s a significant audience.
Jason Davis: Right.
Chris Turner: And so …
Jason Davis: They had the first gamer on the cover of ESPN a few months ago. His name is Tyler Blevins and so he’s been like mentioned in Forbes magazine and other places because he started having several hundred thousand people watching his stream alone. So ESPN now has an Esports category and so for a diehard football fan who are like, “That’s not a sport.” For these kids that’s definitely an area, they consider that Esports. And so they look up to someone like him on the cover of ESPN.
Chris Turner: Yeah so when you’re talking about something like that you had mentioned earlier we’re living in a generation of kids who don’t necessarily want to grow up to be a pro football player or pro baseball player, but you mentioned a couple things that kids now are starting to turn to of aspiration of what they want to be in life. What is that?
Jason Davis: Right. So they asked a couple 1000 kids what would you like to be when you grow up? And over 60% mentioned they wanted to be a video blogger or a YouTuber which is a term for creating social media content on a full-time basis. And for the first time that’s actually a reality. People are making a good living playing video games. It’s actually hard work to do that for eight hours a day and that’s what you do as your brand, but that’s what they look forward to trying to do themselves.
Chris Turner: Yeah it’s just mind boggling that when you say YouTuber I’m thinking of a guy named Casey Neistat who really barely got out of high school, really didn’t do college, but he and his brother got into shooting video, taught themselves video, created their own programs, sold to HBO for $6 million. That launched a whole career and now he does video marketing for movies and all kinds of stuff. Has like 5 million followers on YouTube and he’s monetized that whole thing. So these are things most parents don’t really, they don’t know. They don’t get this.
Jason Davis: Right, right. And that’s where I was at. I’m a parent of teens and I’m mentoring teens and I’m going, “How do I connect with them?” And so when you find what they’re interested in, whatever video game it is and you know Fortnite one of the things I liked about it, A, it was free. So I could download it and check this thing out and check out online, but it’s not as gory as some of the other games when someone … It’s a shoot-em-up kind of game, but when you hit someone there’s no blood spatter or anything and so I felt a little more comfortable. “Okay if I’m playing this at least if I stream it or something like that it’s not like I’m showing gore and violence in that sense. So that’s where the kids are and so that’s what I chose to run with.
Chris Turner: Yeah and you had mentioned some research that really statistically talks about the kids and where they are. Just what are some key points from some of the research that’s out there on it?
Jason Davis: Well the first thing is they want to play the video games and be paid to do it and they see people are making good money doing that. People that are making 30000 a month up to 700000 a month depending on what they do, but there’s also, not just the gamers there are people that are creating the content for instance. And so a lot of kids are finding that’s where YouTuber comes in. They find clips. A lot of people get clips of gamers and they make a montage. And so that’s what they’re looking to do is they’re learning video production, editing, sound production all of that and so that they can actually use this as a career.
Chris Turner: Yeah and you think about all of these games have a narrative to it that has to be created. So they are opportunities out there. And so when your dad yells at you, “Go get a job.” You’re response to that if you’re a teenager these days maybe, “I’m gonna go game.” So it’s really a whole different world. So we’ve mentioned Fortnite which is a game, but there’s a lot of folks that we hope will be listening that might not understand what Twitch is. So define Twitch for us.
Jason Davis: So Twitch is a streaming platform. So you can actually watch people cook all kinds of different areas people want to do can be on there, but one of the big things like I had a friend, he’s gotten into pinball. And so they actually have a pinball channel now and so they actually video the heads-up display of the pinball machine as people play pinball. And there’s 1000s of people watching this so that’s how he connected ’cause he goes to pinball tournaments in Nashville and so he’ll see how that game is played he jumps on. So Twitch is just an area to watch people play games that usually have a webcam and they interact with the chat. So it’s not just a guy in his basement playing a video game. He’s talking back and forth. They get to subscribe or follow these people and so that gives them a connection to that person kind of like fans.
Jason Davis: And so he’s interacting with his fans on the Twitch chat channel and Amazon saw the need for this so much that they bought Twitch a couple years ago. So that’s when it really became a big deal that Twitch is the legit streaming platform. YouTube has some live gaming. Mixer on the Xbox, but the number one when you want to see who’s really streaming they tend to run on Twitch.
Chris Turner: So we’re talking billions of dollars being invested in this. Would you say that most parents have a clue as to what this space is with their teenager?
Jason Davis: Got you. I think a lot of times when you see a kid playing a video game their heads down, they’re on their phone or they’re in their room. It’s really hard to really connect with them unless you go into that space and sit and watch them play, see who they’re talking to and for most parents that I’ve talked to they have no idea. I was at a high school baseball game and they were recognizing the seniors and one of the kids bio was, he enjoys basketball and baseball and getting wins in Fortnite. And all the kids cheered, I laughed and all the parents just kind of looked around and the guy reading it, he actually said, “I wonder what I’m reading sometimes.” And it’s like he was one of the parents of one of the teens, but he did not know what Fortnite was.
Jason Davis: And so that’s where you start running into, you want to connect with your kids where they’re at. And if they’re playing a game that’s a conversation you can have. It gives you a common language when they’re talking about things. They use slang. You don’t know what they’re talking about it’s probably from the video game. Right now they stand around and do these funny dance moves from the game. You’ll see random kids doing this thing called the Floss everywhere and that’s where it comes from. It comes from the game.
Chris Turner: Well and other part of that story you were talking about was that your mom or the young man’s mom said he doesn’t interact with adults. And you said you felt like you could get him to interact.
Jason Davis: Oh yeah. Yeah I’ve run into that a lot because all of a sudden all the teenagers in my church come up to me on Sundays they want to tell me what’s been going on. And the parents look at it like, “How did you connect with them?” And all I did was I entered into that space and I can understand the language. I don’t even fully understand what’s going on sometimes because I’m not the greatest gamer, but it allowed me to ask questions about something that they’re interested in. So that one kid I said, “Yeah I can ask him a question he’ll talk to me for the next ten minutes nonstop.” And she said, “Okay I want to see this.” So I asked him a simple question about the game Fortnite and he literally talked my ear off for the next 20 minutes. And I would just look at her and then look at him and he would just keep talking and she’d never seen that. But it’s because I understood what he was playing and what he was interested in.
Chris Turner: Why is it so important for parents to get a handle on this space?
Jason Davis: Well for one thing it’s highly addictive. I mean if they have their way they’re gonna say I want to be a gamer and what they think is I’m gonna play video games all the time like I do now, but get paid to do it. And the reality is that’s not necessarily going to be a reality for everyone, but for a parent it’s just so important to know what is their reason behind the game? Some games are very much about some kind of achievement that you achieve something and so they maybe they’re not doing so well in school, but they’re really good in this game and the people that are in the game with them recognize that so they get that achievement. They get recognition they may not get at school. And so being able to talk to them about why they play the game and tell me about the game.
Jason Davis: It’s as simple as just tell me about Fortnite and what do you like about it? And they can tell you and you may not understand everything they say, but you keep eye contact, you nod appropriately and you try to catch as much as you can so that the conversation can continue.
Chris Turner: Well so some of the games like Fortnite and some of the others they’re harmless as far as just the emotional damage that can happen to a kid, but not all the games that are out there are things that parents want their kids involved with. There’s a dangerous element to it too which I imagine is another reason why parents really need to be paying attention to what their kids are getting into.
Jason Davis: Absolutely because you mentioned they can talk to somebody from around the world.
Chris Turner: Yeah.
Jason Davis: So what … And I’m very careful. I stream and so I talk to people and I go by pastor JD so they know I’m a pastor, I let that be known, and so I get questions like, “What’s a pastor?” From a kid in North America and some people might think surely everybody knows what a pastor is or about Christianity. These kids have never been to church, but they’re impressionable and so if they’re a certain age I don’t tend to talk to them about certain conversations that their parents would be uncomfortable with me talking about. I’m on the stream, it’s live, it’s all being recorded but I tend to watch myself, but not everybody’s like that. So there is a danger of being in an online world that’s wide open.
Chris Turner: Yeah.
Jason Davis: But there are controls, age appropriate controls you can put on there. They can only game with their friends for instance and so we have several of the kids sometimes they can’t game with me because the parental controls and that’s fine with me. That means they’re being protected.
Chris Turner: Yeah so you talked about this is a tool that you’re using to connect with the kids in your church and other, but there is that other side of it you’re starting to use this as an evangelism opportunity as well. So just talk a little bit about the opportunity that you have and then I want to come back and ask you about just why Christians need to be in this space but talk a little bit about what you’re doing and how you’re trying to leverage this platform as an opportunity to spread the gospel in an area where it’s obvious that this is where kids are gathering.
Jason Davis: Right. So I first got into just simply out of curiosity, but pretty quickly I’m a pastor and no matter what I’m doing, even video games, I tend to become a pastor in the sense of answering questions and so I just put myself out there, change my username to pastor JD so people knew I was a pastor from the moment we jumped in and you can actually play with random strangers. So on Tuesday and Thursday nights I actually streamed the game and I do it on Sundays with some of the kids from church or just to have fun or to explain why I do the channel. That’s the good time to ask those questions. Tuesdays and Thursdays actually have to mark the language mature. Because if you’re going to go to random strangers there’s no telling what they’re gonna say as soon as they jump on or what they want to say and so that’s for the adults. I don’t let the kids, when you mark it mature the kids can’t jump on.
Jason Davis: But we have conversations like, I’ll tell people a lot of times I’ve stole this from a friend. It’s like, “You know I have this really bad habit of praying for people. How can I be praying for you today?” And one guy was like, from New Zealand he’s like, “I’m an atheist.” I said, “So what have you got to lose?” And so we got to talking and now we’re friends and a relationship was formed. Other people they’re Christians already and so they’re like this is great to see. I don’t see this anywhere else. And just trying to help people understand what Christianities all about. Just the other day we had our first answered prayer in an actual game, but his prayer was that we would win and that’s actually hard to do with random strangers but we actually won, we friended back up and then the next thing he said was, “I just told my friends a pastors on Fortnite on this stream.”
Jason Davis: So they jumped into my chat and one of those kids said, “I really, I believe in Jesus but I don’t believe some of the stuff in the Old Testament.” So I was able to ask him, “What are those things?” And it was things like you had to believe the world is flat. I was like, “No you don’t have to believe that.” And so we answered those questions and then we became friends out of that. So using it as an opportunity to redefine those perceptions, connecting with a kid outside of Texas for instance that is not connected to church and he would like to. So trying to find a connection point with a pastor that would understand this kid and he would find a place to hear about Jesus on a regular basis.
Chris Turner: And it really brings up a great point. I mean it really sounds like we as Christians really need to, especially in this day and age where technology is becoming so prevalent. We need to rethink the way we go about connecting with people in the world around us because it sounds like it’s not just down at the local coffee shop or we’ve got a whole generation that really has migrated online. Digital natives that this is the world that they know.
Jason Davis: Absolutely.
Chris Turner: And it’s almost like an unreach people group to some extent, this online gaming community wouldn’t you say?
Jason Davis: Right and that’s what talking with Tennessee Baptist we’re finding the gamer generation is the largest group, people group, because it spans all ages. I run into people in their 50’s and 60’s playing this game all the way down to 10 to 12 year olds and stuff and even younger sometimes. They’re pretty, they call squeakers when they’re that young on the game, but you find all these different age groups, but they found some common ground.
Chris Turner: Yeah.
Jason Davis: And that’s what brings them into the community and that’s with anything. Tribes it’s whether it’s motorcycles or a book club or something like that. They found some people that they fill like they can connect with. And so if we are followers of Christ, if we’re connecting with them in an area that we already like it’s just a natural component to share Jesus wherever we can. So we’ve been able to do that as a result.
Chris Turner: Well and the interesting thing it sounds like since it’s a global community to a large extent like international missions through this game. You don’t physically have to go to New Zealand to witness to somebody. You are able to do it sitting in the comfort of your gaming room.
Jason Davis: Yeah I’m trying to learn some Spanish because we run into a lot of Spanish speakers and my Spanish is really rusty, but one of the things you do at the beginning of a game is you say, “Where we dropping boys?” And somebody will say that usually, but if they’re all Spanish I’ve gotten Google Translate on my stream and I’m like, “[foreign language 00:19:33]?” And they just laugh at me, but at least I’m connecting as best I can for this point, but it’s a wide world and they’re all in the game so why not make use of that.
Chris Turner: So you’ve got some things planned. I mean you got into this because you wanted to have a way to connect in your house with kids that you have in your house. It’s expanded your church. It’s expanded beyond that to other gamers that you’re connecting with globally. But you’re about to go a step beyond that. Talk a little bit about what it is that you have on the horizon?
Jason Davis: Well with Amazon buying Twitch they created this thing called Twitch Prime. So anybody that has Amazon Prime can actually support a streamer. Once a month you can support one streamer a month so that’s $5 a month. Well you already paid Amazon and so you’re basically taking half of what you give Amazon every year and instead of giving it to Amazon you can give that to a streamer. So I created a stream that’s actually affiliated so there’s about 30 people in our church or people that I know that actually subscribe to this, I don’t take a salary from it. We’re looking to build a building for families with special needs is one of our callings so we’re gonna use that money any other proceeds will go to that.
Jason Davis: So we’re ready to start putting that out there for people to know, “Hey this is a stream you can watch to hear interactions about Jesus. You can answer questions in chat.” People can jump in and be a part of this community. And so I’m trying to create that space where people can jump in either through content creation or be on the chat or even just support it financially because that’s always that people can see this grow from here.
Chris Turner: So when you kind of look across the landscape and see that really we as Christians are lagging behind parents in your church and other churches this is just a disconnect with their kids. It sounds like there’s a larger ministry opportunity that’s associated with this whole gaming thing like what you were just talking about. Where can parents go to begin to understand?
Jason Davis: Well really that’s … When I jumped in there isn’t any information out there and so basically we’re starting to create that. Starting with my next goal will be to actually do some videos where I talk about, “How do you talk to your kids about video games?” Or, “How do you talk to a gamer about Jesus?” Using some clips from the game of when I actually do that because I mean it’s intense. There’s spiritual warfare going on. You’re having conversations with people and they’ll ask things like, “Who is Jesus?” Or, “What do you think about certain things?” And you’ve got to be ready to answer those things.
Jason Davis: So that puts me on the spot and I think a lot of Christians, we’re scared of being put on the spot. Being a pastor, a church planner very comfortable with talking to people that are not familiar with Jesus that might be more of my sweet spot, but I’ll tell you right now it’s still intense. Every time I get on I’m praying because when I get in there might be that divine moment like we had just a few weeks ago where the guys like, “Tell me more about Jesus.” And we get to actually do that.
Chris Turner: Yeah and so when you’re also thinking about the whole idea of the gaming and your parents what can a parent do with their own child? What do they need to start with their own child?
Jason Davis: I mean I think it’s just a conversation. You know instead of saying, “Are you playing that video game again?” ‘Cause we all get frustrated when our kids are like that. You can start with, I mean if it’s dinner time it’s time to come up, but looking for a chance to say, “Hey tell me about this game you’re playing. Really trying to invest in our kids. Carlos Whittaker of the Orange curriculum had this great clip a few months ago it’s called Date Your Child’s Hobbies. And so his kid was into Pokemon Go. Well one Saturday morning he got up and went and did Pokemon Go. I’ve never done Pokemon Go. I don’t know anything about it. Apparently he didn’t either, but his kid loved spending that time then going for a drink or coffee or something like that afterwards, but it means a lot to the kid that you’re showing an interest in what they care about. And that’s really what this is about. Whatever, if it’s not gaming, there’s probably something else your kid is interested in and trying to find a way to bridge that gap.
Chris Turner: Yeah I think we look at it a lot of times and we’ll say, we’ll look at the game as this waste of time. Which your kid probably associates with your perception of their value to some degree because they see the game as something larger and possibly a career opportunity. So it’s almost the same as saying, “You’re never going to amount to something.” When you just poo poo what it is that they’re doing. So really trying to build that bridge to understand and get them to understand. One of the things that I got to imagine that that does is it gives you an idea of not only connecting, but what it is that their kid is being exposed to.
Jason Davis: Right absolutely.
Chris Turner: Which is obviously very important just because of the nature of what’s out there online. So as you kind of see what’s on the landscape, what do you feel like there’s we as Christians need to do next in relation to kind of the whole gaming thing? I mean this is out there. It’s a huge space, multi-billion dollar space and we really don’t have much presence. What do you feel like we need to see as the opportunity we need to see is moving forward?
Jason Davis: Well we need to raise up missionaries. That’s what I feel called to in this as I’m going into a space that there’s not really any … It’s an unreached people group so to speak. I mean I run into people that would call themselves Christians, but most of the time it’s the opposite. And so if you’ve got a student or somebody that’s already in the gaming world, but they are followers of Christ helping equip them to have conversations with their friends. Not necessarily talking to strangers all the time like I do, but that does open that door for me. They know real quickly that I’m a follower of Christ and if they want to … If there’s something I can be praying for them about that usually opens the doors. And so for a parent it’s either helping encourage your kids in the right way or monitoring or knowing what’s out there or even just being aware that they are kids in North America that have never been to church.
Jason Davis: They don’t know the difference between Jesus and the Easter bunny. So when you’re talking to them it’s an awareness. When somebody says, “What’s a pastor?” A lot of people are taken back by that but it happens on the stream. And so watching the stream either mine or something else there’s clean streams out there, but that’s what we’re trying to create now since there is no community so maybe that’s where we start. And especially on Sundays answering those questions on the stream, how to get involved in this, ways to support it, but the main goal is so that it’s not just myself, but others are taking ownership that this is a huge ministry opportunity and going to those spaces.
Chris Turner: Yeah and if we are going to reach the world we have to go where the world is. I mean that’s what Jesus did when he went to different places and infuse the Gospel into places and if this is such a prominent place that we’re moving as a culture and have moved honestly, I mean it’s not, we’re there. I mean especially younger generations are there. We need to know how to reach that so well we’ll be looking forward to your book or something on this and give us some guidance in the future on how to reach this. Thanks for taking just a little bit of time to dive into this with us and hopefully we’ll come back and revisit this and get some more handles.
Jason Davis: Well if you’d like more information you can just go to Pastor JD.tv. I’m gonna be creating content there so people can find out how to get to the stream, Pastor_jd is my Twitch stream for those that already know Twitch. But that Pastor JD.tv is gonna be kind of that introductory. You go to that site we’ll talk them through what is gaming and all of that and that’s our hope is to create that community starting with myself, but create that network of people that’ll help make it happen.
Chris Turner: That sounds awesome and it sounds like we need to check that out. Jason thanks so much for being part of it.
Jason Davis: Thank you so much.
Announcer: Thank you for listening to Radio B&R a podcast production of the Baptist and Reflector. The official journal at the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board. This and other episodes can be downloaded at BaptistandReflector.org/radiobr. The ministries of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board are supported through the cooperative program and gifts received through the golden offering for Tennessee Missions. For more information visit TNBaptist.org.